Serving via systemd on Debian and Ubuntu

Serving via systemd on Debian and Ubuntu

systemd is the default service management framework on Debian since version 8 and Ubuntu since version 15.04, both released in April 2015.

There are multiple ways to get a service to launch under systemd. We’re going to show two methods which correspond approximately to two of our generic Fossil server setup methods, the inetd and standalone HTTP server methods.

User Service

A fun thing you can easily do with systemd that you can’t directly do with older technologies like inetd and xinetd is to set a server up as a “user” service.

You can’t listen on TCP port 80 with this method due to security restrictions on TCP ports in every OS where systemd runs, but you can create a listener socket on a high-numbered (≥ 1024) TCP port, suitable for sharing a Fossil repo to a workgroup on a private LAN.

To do this, write the following in ~/.local/share/systemd/user/fossil.service:

    Description=Fossil user server

    ExecStart=/home/fossil/bin/fossil server --port 9000 repo.fossil


Unlike with inetd and xinetd, we don’t need to tell systemd which user and group to run this service as, because we’ve installed it as a user service under the account we’re logged into.

We’ve told systemd that we want automatic service restarts with back-off logic, making this much more robust than the by-hand launches of fossil in the platform-independent Fossil server instructions. The service will stay up until we explicitly tell it to shut down.

Because we’ve set this up as a user service, the commands you give to manipulate the service vary somewhat from the sort you’re more likely to find online:

    $ systemctl --user daemon-reload
    $ systemctl --user enable fossil
    $ systemctl --user start fossil
    $ systemctl --user status -l fossil
    $ systemctl --user stop fossil

That is, we don’t need to talk to systemd with sudo privileges, but we do need to tell it to look at the user configuration rather than the system-level configuration.

This scheme isolates the permissions needed by the Fossil server, which reduces the amount of damage it can do if there is ever a remotely-triggerable security flaw found in Fossil.

A simple and useful modification to the above scheme is to add the --scgi and --localhost flags to the ExecStart line to replace the use of fslsrv in the generic SCGI instructions, giving a much more robust configuration.

Socket Activation

Another useful method to serve a Fossil repo via systemd is via a socket listener, which systemd calls “socket activation.” It’s more complicated, but it has some nice properties. It is the feature that allows systemd to replace inetd, xinetd, Upstart, and several other competing technologies.

We first need to define the privileged socket listener by writing /etc/systemd/system/fossil.socket:

    Description=Fossil socket



Note the change of configuration directory from the ~/.local directory to the system level. We need to start this socket listener at the root level because of the low-numbered TCP port restriction we brought up above.

This configuration says more or less the same thing as the socket part of an inted entry exemplified elsewhere in this documentation.

Next, create the service definition file in that same directory as fossil@.service:

    Description=Fossil socket server

    ExecStart=/home/fossil/bin/fossil http repo.fossil


We’ll explain the “@” in the file name below.

Notice that we haven’t told systemd which user and group to run Fossil under. Since this is a system-level service definition, that means it will run as root, which then causes Fossil to automatically drop into a chroot(2) jail rooted at the WorkingDirectory we’ve configured above, shortly each fossil http call starts.

The Restart* directives we had in the user service configuration above are unnecessary for this method, since Fossil isn’t supposed to remain running under it. Each HTTP hit starts one Fossil instance, which handles that single client’s request and then immediately shuts down.

Next, you need to tell systemd to reload its system-level configuration files and enable the listening socket:

    $ sudo systemctl daemon-reload
    $ sudo systemctl enable fossil.socket

And now you can manipulate the socket listener:

    $ sudo systemctl start fossil.socket
    $ sudo systemctl status -l fossil.socket
    $ sudo systemctl stop fossil.socket

Notice that we’re working with the socket, not the service. The fact that we’ve given them the same base name and marked the service as an instantiated service with the “@” notation allows systemd to automatically start an instance of the service each time a hit comes in on the socket that systemd is monitoring on Fossil’s behalf. To see this service instantiation at work, visit a long-running Fossil page (e.g. /tarball) and then give a command like this:

    $ sudo systemctl --full | grep fossil

This will show information about the fossil socket and service instances, which should show your /tarball hit handler, if it’s still running:


You can feed that service instance description to a systemctl kill command to stop that single instance without restarting the whole fossil service, for example.

In all of this, realize that we’re able to manipulate a single socket listener or single service instance at a time, rather than reload the whole externally-facing network configuration as with the far more primitive inetd service.

Return to the top-level Fossil server article.