Systemd for Developers

Systemd not only brings improvements for administrators and users, it also brings a (small) number of new APIs with it. In this blog story (which might become the first of a series) I hope to shed some light on one of the most important new APIs in systemd:

Socket Activation – In the original blog story about systemd I tried to explain why socket activation is a wonderful technology to spawn services. Let’s reiterate the background here a bit.

The basic idea of socket activation is not new. The inetd superserver was a standard component of most Linux and Unix systems since time began: instead of spawning all local Internet services already at boot, the superserver would listen on behalf of the services and whenever a connection would come in an instance of the respective service would be spawned.

This allowed relatively weak machines with few resources to offer a big variety of services at the same time. However it quickly got a reputation for being somewhat slow: since daemons would be spawned for each incoming connection a lot of time was spent on forking and initialization of the services — once for each connection, instead of once for them all.

Spawning one instance per connection was how inetd was primarily used, even though inetd actually understood another mode: on the first incoming connection it would notice this via poll() (or select()) and spawn a single instance for all future connections. (This was controllable with the wait/nowait options.)

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That way the first connection would be slow to set up, but subsequent ones would be as fast as with a standalone service. In this mode inetd would work in a true on-demand mode: a service would be made available lazily when it was required. Continue reading…

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