systemd.generator — systemd unit generators
Generators are small executables placed in
/usr/lib/systemd/system-generators/ and other
directories listed above.
systemd(1) will execute
these binaries very early at bootup and at configuration reload time — before unit files are
loaded. Their main purpose is to convert configuration and execution context parameters that are not
native to the service manager into dynamically generated unit files, symlinks or unit file drop-ins, so
that they can extend the unit file hierarchy the service manager subsequently loads and operates
systemd will call each generator with three directory paths that are to be used
for generator output. In these three directories, generators may dynamically generate unit files (regular
ones, instances, as well as templates), unit file
.d/ drop-ins, and create symbolic
links to unit files to add additional dependencies, create aliases, or instantiate existing templates.
Those directories are included in the unit load path, allowing generated configuration to extend or
override existing definitions. For tests, generators may be called with just one argument; the generator
should assume that all three paths are the same in that case.
Directory paths for generator output differ by priority:
priority higher than the admin configuration in
…/generator has lower priority than
/etc/ but higher than
vendor configuration in
priority lower than all other configuration. See the next section and the discussion of unit load paths
and unit overriding in
Generators are loaded from a set of paths determined during compilation, as listed above. System
and user generators are loaded from directories with names ending in
respectively. Generators found in directories listed earlier override the ones with the same name in
directories lower in the list. A symlink to
/dev/null or an empty file can be used
to mask a generator, thereby preventing it from running. Please note that the order of the two
directories with the highest priority is reversed with respect to the unit load path, and generators in
/run/ overwrite those in
After installing new generators or updating the configuration, systemctl daemon-reload may be executed. This will delete the previous configuration created by generators, re-run all generators, and cause systemd to reload units from disk. See systemctl(1) for more information.
Generators are invoked with three arguments: paths to directories where generators can place their generated unit files or symlinks. By default those paths are runtime directories that are included in the search path of systemd, but a generator may be called with different paths for debugging purposes. If only one argument is provided, the generator should use the same directory as the three output paths.
In normal use this is
/run/systemd/generator in case of the system
$XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/systemd/generator in case of the user
generators. Unit files placed in this directory take precedence over vendor unit configuration but
not over native user/administrator unit configuration.
In normal use this is
/run/systemd/generator.early in case of the system
$XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/systemd/generator.early in case of the user
generators. Unit files placed in this directory override unit files in
/etc/. This means that unit files placed in this
directory take precedence over all normal configuration, both vendor and user/administrator.
In normal use this is
/run/systemd/generator.late in case of the system
$XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/systemd/generator.late in case of the user
generators. This directory may be used to extend the unit file tree without overriding any other unit
files. Any native configuration files supplied by the vendor or user/administrator take
Note: generators must not write to other locations or otherwise make changes to system state. Generator output is supposed to last only until the next daemon-reload or daemon-reexec; if the generator is replaced or masked, its effects should vanish.
The service manager sets a number of environment variables when invoking generator executables. They carry information about the execution context of the generator, in order to simplify conditionalizing generators to specific environments. The following environment variables are set:
If the generator is invoked from the system service manager this variable is set to
system"; if invoked from the per-user service manager it is set to
If the generator is run as part of an initrd this is set to "
it is run from the regular host (i.e. after the transition from initrd to host) it is set to
0". This environment variable is only set for system generators.
If this boot-up cycle is considered a "first boot", this is set to
1"; if it is a subsequent, regular boot it is set to "
details see the documentation of
environment variable is only set for system generators.
If the service manager is run in a virtualized environment,
$SYSTEMD_VIRTUALIZATION is set to a pair of strings, separated by a colon. The
first string is either "
vm" or "
container", categorizing the type
of virtualization. The second string identifies the implementation of the virtualization
technology. If no virtualization is detected this variable will not be set. This data is identical to
detects and reports, and uses the same vocabulary of virtualization implementation
This variable is set to a short identifier of the reported architecture of the
system. For details about defined values, see documentation of
If set, refers to the directory system credentials have been placed in. Credentials
passed into the system in plaintext form will be placed in
and those passed in in encrypted form will be placed in
$ENCRYPTED_CREDENTIALS_DIRECTORY. Use the
command to automatically decrypt/authenticate credentials passed in, if needed. Specifically, use the
systemd-creds --system cat command.
If the service manager is run in a confidential virtualized environment,
$SYSTEMD_CONFIDENTIAL_VIRTUALIZATION is set to a string that identifies
the confidential virtualization hardware technology. If no confidential virtualization is
detected this variable will not be set. This data is identical to what
detects and reports, and uses the same vocabulary of confidential virtualization
All generators are executed in parallel. That means all executables are started at the very same time and need to be able to cope with this parallelism.
Generators are run very early at boot and cannot rely on any external services. They may not
talk to any other process. That includes simple things such as logging to syslog(3), or
systemd itself (this means: no
Non-essential file systems like
mounted after generators have run. Generators can however rely on the most basic kernel functionality
to be available, as well as mounted
/run/ file systems.
Units written by generators are removed when the configuration is reloaded. That means the lifetime of the generated units is closely bound to the reload cycles of systemd itself.
Generators should only be used to generate unit files,
for them and symlinks to them, not any other kind of non-unit related configuration. Due to the
lifecycle logic mentioned above, generators are not a good fit to generate dynamic configuration for
other services. If you need to generate dynamic configuration for other services, do so in normal
services you order before the service in question.
Note that using the
settings of service unit files (see
is possible to make arbitrary input data (including daemon-specific configuration) part of the unit
definitions, which often might be sufficient to embed data or configuration for other programs into
unit files in a native fashion.
is not available (see above), log messages have to be written to
The generator should always include its own name in a comment at the top of the generated file, so that the user can easily figure out which component created or amended a particular unit.
SourcePath= directive should be used in generated files to specify the
source configuration file they are generated from. This makes things more easily understood by the
user and also has the benefit that systemd can warn the user about configuration files that changed
on disk but have not been read yet by systemd. The
SourcePath= value does not have
to be a file in a physical filesystem. For example, in the common case of the generator looking at
the kernel command line,
SourcePath=/proc/cmdline should be used.
Generators may write out dynamic unit files or just hook unit files into other units with the
.requires/ symlinks. Often, it is nicer to
simply instantiate a template unit file from
/usr/ with a generator instead of
writing out entirely dynamic unit files. Of course, this works only if a single parameter is to be
If you are careful, you can implement generators in shell scripts. We do recommend C code however, since generators are executed synchronously and hence delay the entire boot if they are slow.
Regarding overriding semantics: there are two rules we try to follow when thinking about the overriding semantics:
User configuration should override vendor configuration. This (mostly) means that stuff
/etc/ should override stuff from
Native configuration should override non-native configuration. This (mostly) means that stuff you generate should never override native unit files for the same purpose.
Of these two rules the first rule is probably the more important one and breaks the second one sometimes. Hence, when deciding whether to use argv, argv, or argv, your default choice should probably be argv.
Instead of heading off now and writing all kind of generators for legacy configuration file formats, please think twice! It is often a better idea to just deprecate old stuff instead of keeping it artificially alive.
Example 1. systemd-fstab-generator
/etc/fstab into native mount units. It uses argv as location to place
the generated unit files in order to allow the user to override
their own native unit files, but also to ensure that
/etc/fstab overrides any
vendor default from
/etc/fstab, the user should invoke systemctl
daemon-reload. This will re-run all generators and cause systemd to reload
units from disk. To actually mount new directories added to
/path/to/mountpoint or systemctl
start local-fs.target may be used.
Example 2. systemd-system-update-generator
Example 3. Debugging a generator
dir=$(mktemp -d) SYSTEMD_LOG_LEVEL=debug /usr/lib/systemd/system-generators/systemd-fstab-generator \ "$dir" "$dir" "$dir" find $dir
systemd(1), systemd-cryptsetup-generator(8), systemd-debug-generator(8), systemd-fstab-generator(8), fstab(5), systemd-getty-generator(8), systemd-gpt-auto-generator(8), systemd-hibernate-resume-generator(8), systemd-rc-local-generator(8), systemd-system-update-generator(8), systemd-sysv-generator(8), systemd-xdg-autostart-generator(8), systemd.unit(5), systemctl(1), systemd.environment-generator(7)