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How to Use Systemctl to Manage Systemd Services and Units

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In this guide, you are going to learn how to use the systemctl command to manage systemd services and units, manage and check statuses of the services, check the state of a system and work with the configuration files.

Systemctl is the central management tool to control the init system and service manager. Systemd is an init system and service manager for Linux operating system. It is an upgrade for the traditional SysV init systems. It is well-known for its power, flexibility, and capability to help users do their job with minimal hassle possible and for its massive adoption as it can make administering services simpler.

Service Management

For all the service management tasks, the target unit is service units with .service suffix. But, you can leave .service suffix for most of the service management commands as systemd can know that you want to operate on a service.

Start and Stop Services

Use the start command to start a systemd service. You need to use sudo before the command if you are executing with a non-root account user.

$ sudo systemctl start application.service

Or, you can simply use the below as systemd knows to show services files for service management commands.

$ sudo systemctl start application

But, In this guide, we use .service suffix for better understanding and clarity.

Use the stop command to stop a currently running service.

$ sudo systemctl stop application.service

Restart and Reload Services

Use the restart command to restart a running service.

$ sudo systemctl restart application.service

Use the reload command if the application can reload its configuration files without restarting it.

$ sudo systemctl reload application.service

Use reload-or-restart command when you are not sure if the service can reload its configuration. This command will reload the available configuration or restart the service to pick up the new configuration.

$ sudo systemctl reload-or-restart application.service

Enable and Disable Services

Use the enable command to start services automatically at boot.

$ sudo systemctl enable application.service

Use the disable command to stop services from starting automatically at boot.

$ sudo systemctl disable application.service

Check The Status of Services

Use the status command to check the status of a service if it has any problems and you may be required to take actions to resolve the errors.

systemctl status application.service



You can also check a specific state of a service using different commands. Use the is-active command to check if a service is currently running/active or not.

systemctl is-active application.service

Use the is-enabled command to check if a service is enabled or not.

systemctl is-enabled application.service

Use the is-failed command to check if a service is in failed state or not.

systemctl is-failed application.service

System State Overview

Now, you are going to learn a few systemctl commands that are useful to explore the current status of the system.

Current Units

Use the list-units command to know a list of all the active units that systemd knows.

systemctl list-units


UNIT                                      LOAD   ACTIVE SUB     DESCRIPTION
atd.service                               loaded active running ATD daemon
avahi-daemon.service             loaded active running Avahi mDNS/DNS-SD Stack
dbus.service                            loaded active running D-Bus System Message Bus
dcron.service                           loaded active running Periodic Command Scheduler
dkms.service                           loaded active exited  Dynamic Kernel Modules System
[email protected]                  loaded active running Getty on tty1
. . .

You will get the same output if you call systemctl with no additional flags.


You can get different types of information as output by adding additional flags. For example, if you want to know all the units that systemd has loaded and attempted to load into memory regardless of the current state of the unit (active/inactive), use --all flag.

systemctl list-units --all

Use the --state= flag to get only in-active units or active units.

systemctl list-units --all --state=inactive

The above command calls systemctl to display only the in-active units. Replace in-active with active to get only the active units.

systemctl list-units --all --state=active

And, by using --type= flag, you can call systemctl to display only the services which you are interested in.

For example, use --type= flag to call systemctl to display only the active service units.

systemctl list-units --type=service

Listing All Unit Files

Unlike list-units, list-unit-files displays every unit file available in the systemd path, including those that systemd has not attempted to load into memory.

systemctl list-unit-files



In the above output, you can see some of the unit files are in ‘static’ state. It means they don’t have an install section to enable a unit.

Unit Management

In this section, you are going to learn how to get precise information about a particular unit file using some additional commands.

Display a Unit File

Use cat command to display a unit file that systemd has loaded into its memory.

For example, run the below command to display the unit file of the atd scheduling daemon.

systemctl cat atd.service



The above output is the unit file known to the currently running systemd process.

Display Dependencies

Use the list-dependencies command to display a unit’s dependency tree. It will display a hierarchy mapping dependencies that are required to start a unit in question. Here, dependencies include the units that are required by the units above it.

systemctl list-dependencies sshd.service



Add --reverse flag to the command to display reverse dependencies. And, add --before and --after flags to command to display a specific unit starting before and after themselves respectively.

Check Unit Properties

Use show command to display low-level properties of a unit. Using a key=value format, it will display a list of properties that are set for the specified unit.

systemctl show sshd.service



Use -p flag with the property name to display a single property. For example, use the below command to display the conflicts that the sshd.service unit has.

systemctl show sshd.service -p conflicts



Mask and Unmask Units

The systemd can also mark a unit as absolutely unstartable by linking it to /dev/null. You can do this by using the mask command.

sudo systemctl mask nginx.service

In the above command, we have masked nginx services. It will prevent nginx service from starting either automatically or manually.

If you try to start the nginx service, you can see the following output.

sudo systemctl start nginx.service



Use the unmask command to unmask a specific unit.

sudo systemctl unmask nginx.service

Edit Unit Files

The systemctl provides inbuilt mechanisms to edit unit files if you want to modify them. This feature is added in systemd version 218.

Use edit command to open a unit file snippet for the unit.

sudo systemctl edit nginx.service

It will open a blank unit file to override or add directives to the unit definition. A directory will be created within the /etc/systemd/system directory with the .d affix. For example, nginx.service.d directory will be created for nginx.service directory. A snippet, override.conf, will be created within the directory. When the unit is loaded, the systemd will consolidate the snippet with the full unit file.

Use --full flag to edit the full unit file instead of creating a snippet.

sudo systemctl edit --full nginx.service

The above command will open a current unit file in an editor, where you can edit it. The modified unit file will be written to /etc/systemd/system, which will take priority over the system’s unit definition (somewhere in /lib/systemd/system).

Delete the unit’s .d configuration directory to remove any modifications you have made to the directory.

sudo rm -r /etc/systemd/system/nginx.service.d

Run the below command to remove a full modified unit file.

sudo rm /etc/systemd/system/nginx.service

After deleting the directory or file, reload the systemd process using the below command to no longer refer these files and revert for using the system files.

sudo systemctl daemon-reload

Adjust System State with Targets

Target files are individual unit files that represent the state of a system. The files that define targets are identified by their suffix, .target. Target files are used to group other units.

Get and Set the Default Target

When booting the system, the systemd process has a default target.

Use the set-default command to set a different default target.

sudo systemctl set-default

Run the below command to display the default target for your system.

systemctl get-default



List Available Targets

Multiple targets can be active at one time. If a target is active, it means the systemd has attempted to start all the units that are tied to the target.

Use the below command to display a list of available targets on your system.

systemctl list-unit-files --type=target

Use the below command to display all the active targets.

systemctl list-units --type=target

Isolate Target

By using the isolate command, you can start all the units tied to a target and stop all that units that are not a part of the dependency tree.

For example, if you are working in a graphical environment with active, you can change the system into a multiuser command line by shutting down the graphical system and isolating the

And, make sure you are not stopping crucial services before isolating any target. Use the below command to display a list of dependencies of the

systemctl list-dependencies

After checking the list of dependencies and satisfied with the units, you can isolate it using the below command.

sudo systemctl isolate

Use Shortcuts for Important Events

The following are some of the systemctl shortcuts for essential events to enhance its functionality.

Use rescue instead of isolate to put the system into rescue.

sudo systemctl rescue

Use the below command to halt the system.

sudo systemctl halt

Use the below command to shut down the system.

sudo systemctl poweroff

Use the below command to reboot the system.

sudo reboot


In this guide, you have learned how to use the systemctl command to manage systemd services and units, manage and check statuses of the services, check the state of a system and work with the configuration files.