Systemd as central control for the Linux system

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The switchover to systemd does not present high hurdles to either distributions or users. In the near future, systemd remains compatible with Sysvinit so that the well-known commands for manipulating services work just as well as those for shutting down, restarting, and changing run levels.

Systemd proves to be a good solution for Debian and Ubuntu, to stand among the others, such as Fedora, openSUSE, Arch Linux, and Mageia, who are already using it. If the developers have any voice, systemd will help standardize processes for all distributions, providing advantages for developers and administration alike. More details on systemd are provided in Lennart Poettering's blog [24].

Some developers are accusing Red Hat of striving for more control over Linux with systemd. Upstart, on the other hand, would pull in a system that is totally under a company's control. Viewed objectively, systemd provides the best technically suited init system for the foreseeable future. Debian would be best to recognize this and be up front about it.l

Lennart Poettering Interview

Linux User: Why do you think systemd is viewed so critically, even though it's implemented more consistently than some other software we use every day?

Lennart Poettering: Systemd may evoke a controversy, but overall the assessment has been far more positive than negative. The recent decision from Debian in favor of systemd makes it clear that not only do individual distributions opt for the approach, but the clear majority of all major distributions do as well.

Of course, there is a significant minority in the community that criticizes or even totally rejects systemd. The reasons for it vary. A big part of it is that the concept cuts off some old heads and represents a major change in the classic Unix system.

Another reason lies in the fact that systemd not only optimizes the actual boot process, but unifies many of the system's low-level components.

Still others in the community reject it for economic reasons. Thus, Canonical has put a lot of effort into developing Upstart and was understandably interested in seeing to its own project's success.

LU: Debian, after much strife, has settled on some sensitivities for systemd. Do you see the last few months as a democratic process or simply as evidence of a lack of a benevolent dictator?

LP: The various distributions are organized differently. Debian is set on a democratic process, Ubuntu rather has the concept of a "benevolent dictator." Fedora is somewhere in the middle, a kind of technocracy.

Certainly the debate on this subject was largely unpleasant at Debian. But after all the chaotic discussion, it remains to be determined that this exactly constitutes the democratic process and that democracy works perfectly well.

The process takes its time and is sometimes no fun, but this is the deal: If we want to create a universal operating system, it means that we have to bring in a lot of people, which necessarily leads to extensive discussion and a wider range of contributions – positive as well as negative.

LU: Systemd is to extend further into userland, and you want to start processes in the desktop environment with the same mechanisms as the system itself. Will systemd be brewing our coffee?

LP: What exact tasks belong to systemd and which don't is debatable. There are few modules we're still integrating. Generally speaking, components of what we call the Plumbing Layer come into play – not the kernel or interface, but the "glue" between them.

For us, it's always the general usability, so we want a generic solution, not a specific one. Systemd is thus never a product, but something from which other developers can build products. At best, it should hold the system together without users being in direct contact with it.

To come back to the coffee. According to this definition, systemd is certainly a useful component, among many others, in building an Internet-capable coffee machine – but it never brews the coffee. That would be too specialized and no longer the "glue" that holds the coffee machine together.

I personally favor Club-Mate as the coffee source. That means that there's nothing further from my mind than to build coffee machine functionality into systemd.

LU: Not only your software, but you yourself are controversial. You deal with it pretty casually. Do you understand why so many criticize you personally, and how does that affect you?

LP: Anyone trying to swap out a key component of the Linux ecosystem is open for criticism; that's unavoidable. The community does have strong convictions and if you contradict them, it's easy to become a bogeyman.

Systemd was not the first project that tried to turn the boot system inside out – there've been dozens. We've often asked ourselves why we've been successful in advocating our approach. We'd like to believe it's based on technical grounds. At least in our view systemd definitely represents the better system.

How we've managed to deal with the community's pressure also plays a major role. My colleagues and I have probably been better at maintaining a good sense of humor and developing clear convictions, and that with a deep breath.

The Linux community sometimes behaves badly. If you want to set something in motion, you can't tread too softly. It would certainly be nice if it weren't that way!


  1. Poettering on Kdbus: https://-plus.-google.-com/-u/-0/-+LennartPoetteringTheOneAndOnly/-posts/-13JZ7GpyVDb
  2. SysVinit: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Init#-SysV-style
  3. SMF: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Service_Management_Facility
  4. Launchd: http://-de.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Launchd
  5. Upstart: http://-de.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Upstart
  6. OpenRC: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-OpenRC
  7. CLA: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Contributor_License_Agreement
  8. Kexec: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Kexec
  9. Cgroups: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Cgroups
  10. Socket: http://-en.-wikipedia.-org/-wiki/-Network_socket
  11. Journal: http://-0pointer.-de/-blog/-projects/-journalctl.-html
  12. Logind: http://-www.-freedesktop.-org/-software/-systemd/-man/-systemd-logind.-service.-html
  13. ConsoleKit: http://-www.-freedesktop.-org/-wiki/-Software/-ConsoleKit/
  14. Developers list discussion: https://-lists.-debian.-org/-debian-devel/-2013/-10/-msg00444.-html
  15. Debian Technical Commmittee: https://-www.-debian.-org/-devel/-tech-ctte
  16. CTTE request: https://-lists.-debian.-org/-debian-devel/-2013/-10/-msg00703.-html
  17. Bug report to CTTE: https://-lists.-debian.-org/-debian-devel/-2013/-10/-msg00825.-html
  18. Torvalds on CLAs: http://-www.-muktware.-com/-2014/-01/-linus-torvalds-cla-fundamentally-broken/-19811/-2
  19. Kroah-Hartman on CLAs: https://-plus.-google.-com/-111049168280159033135/-posts/-NstZfwXbAti
  20. Garrett on CLAs: http://-mjg59.-dreamwidth.-org/-29160.-html
  21. Second set CTTE: http://-bugs.-debian.-org/-cgi-bin/-bugreport.-cgi?-bug=727708#-5389
  22. General Resolution: http://-www.-debian.-org/-vote/
  23. Final decision of CTTE: http://-bugs.-debian.-org/-cgi-bin/-bugreport.-cgi?-bug=727708#-6734
  24. Blog on systemd: http://-0pointer.-de/-blog/-projects/-systemd.-html

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