Playing With Init

So this is less about me playing with init itself, but playing with multiple different distros which have different init systems. But why, you may ask? Well if you know me, you probably have also heard about the current systemd debacle, which is currently tearing a lot of communities apart – some want to use this new shiny, while others are wary of it, as it is (relatively) untested. I sit on the fence – I dont mind it being on my desktop and laptop systems, as bootup speed is sometimes actually important, but any of the servers I currently administer I am putting it nowhere near. This is mainly due to wanting ‘stable’ software, which generally means Debian Wheezy, which is exceedingly tried and tested.
I am also unlikely to try anything new on the currently running servers, mainly because ‘if it aint broke, dont fix it’, but also because its best practice to test any new dependencies first on a staging or testing environment.

So you dont mind systemd?

No, not really. Its another answer to a hard problem, although as with anything, there are always decisions made which people dont agree with that much. The one I am not such a fan of, is the use of binary logging, and also what I feel to be a slightly more obscure way of managing daemons. Now, dont get me wrong, haveing a central database of all the running daemons is damn useful, and makes it much easier to see what is actually running on a server – although using top or ps is also possible. And having an easier way of defining start/stop/restart scripts, in a standard format, is also useful.

However, limiting init scripts to JUST start/stop/restart/reload, is fairly idiotic. I know of several apps which define extra init points, allowing you to test your setup – for example, OpenNMS has a CheckJava option, which will make sure you have actually set up the java environment correctly, and it hasnt broken in an update. Also, being able to gracefully shut down Apache, as opposed to the kill -9 shutdown, means that when using something behind a load balancer you dont end up with customers sites just dying because the server they happen to be on currently before the load balancer kicks you over to another server is rebooting.

Thats all server stuff though

True, however as I am using it every day for work, I am getting very used to the way it works. And having to re-write init scripts to work with a new system, as well as introduce a full migration path for them, is something that I am really not looking forward to doing, especially with something which seems to have more power than an init system should. So, I have been looking at other Distros, to see what is available and how things work – first on a Laptop machine, so I can play without worrying about my main development machine or any of my servers. And here is what I’ve looked at.

Elementary OS

Yes, ok, its a desktop only distribution, but its been intriguing me for quite a while, and with a new release just out, I thought I’d take a quick peek at it. First thing to notice is, it’s definitely based on Ubuntu, with a very nice interface. However, the machine I installed it on doesnt have much grunt, and so due to the fact it seems to be a heavily re-skinned Gnome 3 interface, it ran very jerkily – with no way to turn off the animations among other things. So, very nice, but not for this machine. Onto the next…


Whats this? Debian without systemd? Well I have been keeping an eye on this for a while, and last week found out that they had released a pre-alpha installer, very much based on the current Debian installer. And it worked! Installed all the way through, got me to an XFCE4 desktop (my prefered DE!) and looked good! right until it disconnected from the Wi-Fi mid update and refused to re-connect. So, nice try! I will definitely come back and visit it when it’s had a chance to iron out some of the creases, as I really dont have the spare time to help with this project all that much. Which brings me onto the next Distro


This is one which I have played on while working on a client provided dev box, and in all honesty is very interesting. I have yet to install this, but it is next on the list, and intreagues me due to the way that the package management can either be done using a simple package manager, or using whats known as the ports tree – you navigate to the folder corresponding to the program you want to install, and thenmake install clean in there – and it takes care of the rest. One other bonus is, the documentation for this Distro is amazing, they have rock solid support, and you can customise your machines as much as you need. Also, no systemd, as it doesnt run on any of the *BSD’s.

So thats it for now, I felt like a little rant, and letting people know what I’ve been up to! Also this weekend I will be up at MakerFaire Newcastle, on the HACMan and LAMM stand, so look for me there! I will hopefully be posting some updates about various things I’ve been working on soon too.

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