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User Services

A little context for those reading me; I’m writing this post a Friday night when I was planning to meet with friends (why I didn’t is a long story and not important now). After I accepted that I wouldn’t have a friendly night I decided to finish a job-related task, but unfortunately I’ve had some issues with my system. Somehow the latest radeon driver is unstable (well it’s an experimental driver after all), and it messes up compiz; in turn after a while either X crashes or I’m forced to restart it. This wouldn’t be a problem if the emacs daemon worked as expected. Since it doesn’t, I lose my workspace, with the open files, and everything related to that. It’s obnoxious. Since this happened four times already today I decided to take the night off, but I wasn’t in the mood for playing, so I settled for watching Pirates of the Carribean 2 in Blu-Ray, and write out some notes regarding the topics I wanted to write about for quite a while.

The choice of topic was related to the actual context I’ve just written above. As I said GNU Emacs is acting badly when it comes to the daemon. While the idea of the daemon would be to share buffers (open files) between ttys, network and graphical session, and to actually allow restarting those sessions without losing your settings, your data, and your open files, it’s pretty badly implemented.

A few months ago I reported that as soon as X was killed by anything (or even closed properly), the whole emacs daemon went down. After some debugging it turned out to be a problem with the handling of message logging. When the clients closed they sent a message to be logged by the emacs daemon, but since it had no way to actually write it to a TTY session, it died. That problem have been solved.

Now the problem appear to be just the same mirrored around: after X dies, the emacs daemon process is still running, but as soon as I open a new client, it dies. I guess it’s still trying to logging. As of today the problem still happens with the CVS version.

So anyway, this reminded me of a problem I already wanted to discuss with a blog: user-tied services. Classically, you had user-level software that i s started by an user and services that are started by the init system when the system starts up. With time, software became less straightforward. We have hotplugged services, that start up when you connect hardware like, for instance, a bluetooth dongle, and we have session software that is started when you login and is stopped once you exit.

Now, most of the session-related software is started when you log into X, and is stopped when you exit, sometimes, though, you want processes to persist between sessions. This is the case of emacs, but also my use case for PulseAudio since I want for it to keep going from before I login to before I shut down the system straight. There are more cases of similar issues but let’s start with this for now.

So how do we handle these issues? Well for PulseAudio we have an init script for the systemwide daemon. It works, but it’s not the suggested method to handle PulseAudio (on the other hand is probably the only way to have a multi-user setup with more than one user able to play sound, but that’s for another day too). For emacs, we have a a multiplexed init script that provides one service per user; a similar method is available for other service. Indeed, in my list of things to work on regarding PulseAudio there is to add a similar multiplexed init script to run per-user sessions of PulseAudio without using the system wide instance (should solve a bit of problems).

So the issue should be solved with he multiplexed per-user init script, no? Unfortunately, no. To be able to add the init scripts to the runlevels to be started, you need to have the root privileges. To start, stop and restart the services, you also need root privileges. While you can use sudo to allow users to run the start/stop commands to the init script, this is far from being the proper solution.

What I’d like to have one day is a way to have user-linked services, in three type of runlevels: always running (start when the machine starts up, stop when the system shuts down), after the first login (the services are started at the first login and never stop till shutdown), and while logged in (the services start at the first login, and stop when the last session logs out).

At that point it would be then possible to provide init scripts capable of per-user multiplexing for stuff like mpd too, so that users could actually have the flexibility f choosing how to run any software in the tree.

Unfortunately I don’t have any idea on how to implement this right now, but I guess I could just throw this in for the Summer of Code ideas.

Comments 4
  1. hm i dont know about launchd from mac os, only read once about it. but wasnt it too about user services? perhaps it has some nice ideas.greetings steffen

  2. I too have some radeon issues. I have an external monitor connected to my laptop and sometimes it just dies on me, like no signal is being sent from the laptop. I just disconnect the cable, do an “xrandr –auto”, connect the cable again, do “xrandr –auto” again and it works again.

  3. I’ve wondered about the same thing in the context of XMMS2. It shouldn’t be used system-wide but I’d like it to start without me being logged in so that it can serve other machines. I know some people get around this by adding it to inittab but that’s not really ideal either. Something like this shouldn’t be too hard to implement though. Some daemon could start as usual and check the user directories for ~/.user-daemons or something and that file could contain start/stop commands each each daemon.

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