Create systemd service in Linux [Explained with Example]

In this guide will discuss how to manage and create systemd service. systemd is a system and service manager for Linux operating systems.

systemd provides features such as:

  1. On-demand activation of daemons
  2. Parallel start-up of system and services during boot
  3. Dependency based service control logic
  4. Start and enable services

systemd is the default systems manager for RPM-based operating systems from RHEL 7 upwards. Systemd uses a concept called systemd units.


systemd configuration files locations

These units are represented by configuration files located in different locations on Linux systems as described below:

/usr/lib/systemd/system/Systemd unit files that are distributed with installed RPM packages.
/run/systemd/system/Systemd unit files that are created at run time. This directory can overwrite the directory with installed service unit files.
/etc/systemd/system/Systemd unit files created by systemctl enable. It also contains the unit files that are manually created by a user.


Different types of systemd units

There are different types of systemd units such as:

Unit TypeFile ExtensionDescription
Service unit.serviceA system service
Target unit.targetA group of systemd units
Automount unit.automountA file system automount point
Device unit.deviceA device file recognized by the kernel
Mount unit.mountA file system mount point


Manage services using systemd service unit

This guide shall cover how to use and manage services using the systemd service unit. By the end of this guide, we shall help you understand the following:

  • What is a systemd service unit
  • What are the sections in a systemd service unit
  • What are the configuration options of the different sections of the service unit
  • What are the commands to use to manage the systemd service unit
  • How to create a systemd service unit file

A systemd service unit is a file with .service extension located in either of the described locations above which contains information about a process that is managed by systemd.


The Service Unit Sections

The service unit comprises three sections descried below:

  1. [Unit]: contains the options that are not dependent on the type of the unit. The options provide the unit description, set dependencies to other units, and specify the unit's behavior.
  2. [Service]: This contains information about the specific service type.
  3. [Install]: This contains information about the installation used by systemctl enable and disable commands.


Below is a keen analysis of each of the three sections above.


The [Unit] Section

The [Unit] section of the .servicefile contains information about the description of the unit itself. This can be broken down into:

  • Description - The description of the unit file. This is the text that will be displayed in the output of the systemctl status command.
  • Documentation - Provides a URL for the documentation of the unit
  • After/Before - This defines the order in which the units will be started. This means that the unit can only start after/before another dependant unit is started.
  • Requires - This configures dependencies on unit files. The units specified with this option are started simultaneously.
  • Wants - Configures dependencies with less magnitude. This means that the unit can activate even when the specified units haven't started.
  • Conflicts - Configures the opposite dependencies to those defined in the Requires section.

Note that these dependencies are not all required in a single unit. You could only make use of the description and the one more in case you need to start a simple service.

A sample Unit section will look like the one below:

Description=Postfix Mail Transport Agent
Conflicts=sendmail.service exim.service


The [Service] Section

The [Service] section of the service unit is where the specific command such as the start, stop are configured. The [Service] section of the unit can be broken down into the following:


Service Type

This is the configuration that specifies the type of the unit process on startup. There are different types of services as stated below:

  1. simple – The default value. The process started with ExecStart is the main process of the service.
  2. forking – The process started with ExecStart spawns a child process that becomes the main process of the service. The parent process exits when the startup is complete.
  3. Oneshot – This type is similar to simple, but the process exits before starting consequent units.
  4. dbus – This type is similar to simple, but consequent units are started only after the main process gains a D-Bus name.
  5. notify – This type is similar to simple, but consequent units are started only after a notification message is sent via the sd_notify() function.
  6. idle – similar to simple, the actual execution of the service binary is delayed until all jobs are finished, which avoids mixing the status output with shell output of services.



The ExecStart option is used to specify the command that will be executed when the service starts. This can be a path to a binary file with other commands passed on or a path to a shell script. We can add commands to be executed before and after the initialization of the unit using the ExecStartPre and ExecStartPost options respectively. Type=oneshot enables specifying multiple custom commands that are then executed sequentially.



Specifies commands or scripts to be executed when the unit is stopped.




Specifies commands or scripts to be executed when the unit is reloaded.



With this option enabled, the service is restarted after its process exits, with the exception of a clean stop by the systemctl command.



If set to True, the service is considered active even when all its processes exited. The default value is False. This option is especially useful if Type=oneshot is configured.

The example below show how a typical [Service] section looks like

ExecStart=/usr/sbin/postfix start
ExecReload=/usr/sbin/postfix reload
ExecStop=/usr/sbin/postfix stop


The [Install] Section

The [Install]  section is where we can specify options related to the service installation. Some of the attributes specified in this section are:

  1. Alias - Provides a space-separated list of additional names for the unit. Most systemctl commands, excluding systemctl enable, can use aliases instead of the actual unit name.
  2. RequiredBy - A list of units that depend on the unit. When this unit is enabled, the units listed in RequiredBy gain a Require dependency on the unit.
  3. WantedBy - A list of units that weakly depend on the unit. When this unit is enabled, the units listed in WantedBy gain a Want dependency on the unit.
  4. Also - Specifies a list of units to be installed or uninstalled along with the unit.
  5. DefaultInstance - Limited to instantiated units, this option specifies the default instance for which the unit is enabled.


Create systemd service unit file manually

As discussed before, to create systemd service unit file, we shall need to create a .service file under /etc/systemd/system/.

Let's say we want to create a service that will be used to manage Emacs text editor. We shall create a file called emacs.service at /etc/systemd/system/.

# touch /etc/systemd/system/emacs.service
# chmod 664 /etc/systemd/system/emacs.service

We will add the following sections to our systemd service unit file:

Description=Emacs: the extensible, self-documenting text editor

ExecStart=/usr/bin/emacs --daemon
ExecStop=/usr/bin/emacsclient --eval "(kill-emacs)"


Make sure that you have Emacs installed installed.

[root@rockylinux-lab ~]# yum install emacs

Execute the command below to reload the system daemon and start the emacs service.

# systemctl daemon-reload
# systemctl start emacs.service


Managing systemd services using systemctl (cheatsheet)

With the configuration done, let's look at how to manage these services using the systemctl utility.

The systemctl utility can be used to displaystartstoprestart a system service. This is further described below:

systemctl start name.serviceStarts a service.
systemctl stop name.serviceStops a service.
systemctl restart name.serviceRestarts a service.
systemctl try-restart name.serviceRestarts a service only if it is running.
systemctl reload name.serviceReloads configuration.
systemctl status name.serviceChecks if a service is running.
systemctl is-active name.service
systemctl list-units --type service --allDisplays the status of all services.
systemctl enable name.serviceEnables a service.
systemctl disable name.serviceDisables a service
systemctl status name.serviceChecks if a service is running
systemctl is-enabled name.serviceChecks if a service is enabled
systemctl list-unit-files --type serviceLists all services and checks if they are enabled.
systemctl list-dependencies --afterLists services that are ordered to start before the specified unit.
systemctl list-dependencies --beforeLists services that are ordered to start after the specified unit.


List available systemd services

For example, the output below shows what is expected when you run the command systemctl list-units --type service --all

[root@rockylinux-lab ~]# systemctl list-units --type service --all
  UNIT                                   LOAD      ACTIVE   SUB     DESCRIPTION                                                                  
  auditd.service                         loaded    active   running Security Auditing Service                                                    
  cpupower.service                       loaded    inactive dead    Configure CPU power related settings                                         
  crond.service                          loaded    active   running Command Scheduler                                                            
  dbus.service                           loaded    active   running D-Bus System Message Bus                                                     
● display-manager.service                not-found inactive dead    display-manager.service                                                      
  dm-event.service                       loaded    inactive dead    Device-mapper event daemon                                                   
  dnf-makecache.service                  loaded    inactive dead    dnf makecache                                                                
  dracut-cmdline.service                 loaded    inactive dead    dracut cmdline hook                                                          
  dracut-initqueue.service               loaded    inactive dead    dracut initqueue hook                                                        
  dracut-mount.service                   loaded    inactive dead    dracut mount hook                                                            
  dracut-pre-mount.service               loaded    inactive dead    dracut pre-mount hook                                                        
  dracut-pre-pivot.service               loaded    inactive dead    dracut pre-pivot and cleanup hook                                            
  dracut-pre-trigger.service             loaded    inactive dead    dracut pre-trigger hook                                                      



In this guide, we have seen howto manage and create systemd service in Linux with examples. We have discussed the various sections of a systemd unit file, the various commands used to manage the systemd Unit file.



Managing and create systemd service in Linux
Managing SystemD services


Further Reading

man page for systemd.service — Service unit configuration

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