Home > Geekery, Systems Administration, Useful or Not > Getting Started with Upstart in Ubuntu

Getting Started with Upstart in Ubuntu

What’s Upstart

Ubuntu has had upstart installed as a replacement for init scripts since as far back as 2006, but it hasn’t yet been really used until the latest beta release of Karmic (Ubuntu 9.10).  Upstart is a more robust services management daemon that allows for things like dependencies, custom events/triggers, pre/post initialiation and resource limitations, amongst other things. You can go check out their home page at http://upstart.ubuntu.com.

I recently upgraded some servers to Karmic, and I decided to write a simple upstart script to start/stop my Django development server when I wanted.

The great thing about upstart is that it actually handles user configurable events, which is a super-powerful feature that I’m not really using yet, but it allows you to create chained initialization and shutdown processes.  Another great feature is the ability to run pre/post initialization tasks.  I’m using this in my example below to ensure the database is sync’d before starting up.

For my django server, I really just needed the bare minimum though of upstart’s features, and from my research into it so far, it looks like upstart is regularly changing, so putting too many directives in my config file might only cause problems later. Karmic is still not yet out of beta, as it is.

So, consider this a super-brief tutorial on how to use upstart for your own tasks, as a replacement for init scripts, or in addition to them (upstart doesn’t interfere with init scripts).

Installing/Using Upstart

Incidentally, if you haven’t got upstart on your system (you’ll know if the command initctl is missing). then you can install it using apt-get or yum depending on what system you are using. Upstart is supposedly defaulted in Fedora as well, but I’ve been Ubuntu-ized for a few years now so I haven’t played with my old friend Red Hat in a while.

Once you have upstart installed, one change you’ll notice right away is that upstart uses .conf files in the /etc/init directory as scripts instead of the ones in /etc/init.d.

You run these scripts by using the “start/stop/status” commands which are shortcuts to “initctl start“, “initctl stop” and “initctl status” accordingly. You can even list all services with “initctl list“, which gives you something more like a Windows Services list with statuses and PIDs.

In my example, I’ll be starting my django server with the command:

$ start django

and stopping it with:

$ stop django

The directives in your .conf files are called “stanzas”, and each type of stanza tells upstart what to do. If upstart doesn’t understand a stanza, it will behave as if the service doesn’t exist.

Pretty easy. So let’s take a look at the file.

Sample Upstart Script

# my upstart django script
# this script will start/stop my django development server
# optional stuff
description "start and stop the django development server"
version "1.0"
author "Jim Kass"

# configuration variables.
# You'll want to change thse as needed
env DJANGO_HOME=/home/django/myproject
env DJANGO_PORT=8000
env DJANGO_HOST= # bind to all interfaces

# tell upstart we're creating a daemon
# upstart manages PID creation for you.
expect fork

pre-start script
exec /usr/bin/python manage.py syncdb
emit django_starting

end script

# My startup script, plain old shell scripting here.
exec /usr/bin/python manage.py runserver $DJANGO_HOST:$DJANGO_PORT &
# create a custom event in case we want to chain later
emit django_running
end script

That’s it! You can actually use the shortcut stanza “exec” on a single line. chdir is actually also a stanza, but at this time it doesn’t support variable expansion, so I’ve instead used the script stanza. If you wanted to hard-code all your values and not use variables, your script could be even shorter.

See the wiki/docs here. These docs are for an older version of upstart, and there doesn’t appear to be an updated list, so I had to learn a few things from trial/error. For instance, console logged is not a valid stanza, but console output still is. Your mileage may of course vary.

For reference, the Upstart Stanza Wiki Page has a description of all the stanzas I used, and a lot more.

Upstart can do a LOT more than just start/stop things, you can chain scripts using custom events – you can even fire events manually from initctl (useful for testing things).

As mentioned, if you have directives in your script that upstart doesn’t understand, it will tell you “unknown job:” when you try to run it. As upstart is pretty new and changing frequently, not all “stanza” directives work on all versions. Check docs for your version as needed.

Hope that helps!

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  1. April 5, 2010 at 7:34 am | #1

    Hey great write-up, in the process of using upstart for a django project. This really helped me get started. Thanks!

    • Jim
      April 24, 2010 at 9:59 pm | #2

      Hey, no problem. Glad I could help!

  2. Stefan Stern
    May 31, 2010 at 4:36 am | #3

    I was stuck in the “upstart tells “unknown job:” when the .conf contains some unknown stanzas. Great thing I used the upstart.ubuntu.com wiki for a first version. Removing some of the not yet / any more supported pid file stanza, my script worked right away.

    Instead of repairing the conf-file, I looked into some sort of register-action that would introduce my skript to upstart, wondering that it complained about my job to be unknown.

  3. Bret
    September 19, 2010 at 9:18 am | #4

    Do you happen to have an upstart script for running FastCGI via manage.py?
    The scripts I’ve come up with all seem to hang.
    I’ve tried using expect fork and expect daemon, but neither seem to work.

    Here’s the script I tried to use:

    env DJANGO_HOME=/home/django/
    env DJANGO_PORT=8080
    env DJANGO_HOST= respawn

    expect daemon

    exec /usr/bin/python /home/django/project/manage.py runfcgi method=prefork host=$DJANGO_HOST port=$DJANGO_PORT minspare=1 maxspare=2 daemonize=false pidfile=’/home/django/project/django.pid’ –pythonpath=’/home/django/project/packages’

    Other ones that I’ve come up with do start the fcgi process, but don’t respawn it when it dies.

    Thanks for any help.

  4. Kevin
    September 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm | #5

    Good tips on using upstart, but you should probably not use manage.py runserver in production.

  5. April 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | #6

    Would be nice to mention what the filenames in /etc/init/*.conf need to be. Must be upstart.conf? Or does upstart read all the .conf files in that directory?

  6. April 27, 2011 at 9:23 am | #7

    Also you run “start django” but you don’t say that upstart reads django.conf to run that. At least I’m guessing that’s how it works since you didn’t say.

    • Jim
      May 4, 2011 at 10:47 am | #8

      when you call “start django” amongst other things, it runs the following command that actually starts the server: “usr/bin/python manage.py runserver $DJANGO_HOST:$DJANGO_PORT &”

      Loading any django.conf in the default location is implied. Upstart doesn’t do any magic specific to django, it just allows you to chain events and sequentially start processes that are dependencies. The “exec” directive tells upstart to run a shell command.

  7. Oron
    May 28, 2012 at 8:16 am | #9

    Very useful! Thanks!

  8. MSH
    October 1, 2012 at 10:11 pm | #10

    Good article, Thanks

  9. SebR
    January 3, 2013 at 8:13 am | #11

    “If upstart doesn’t understand a stanza, it will behave as if the service doesn’t exist.”

    You saved me a lot of useless searching/debugging. I had a simple typo in the author stanza ( spelled it autor ) which made my service non-existent. I wonder if there is a more verbose method to ensure that a .conf file is valid.

  10. March 8, 2013 at 10:56 pm | #12

    Great Article. This is my first time I came to know about upstart because I was in need of keeping my server(flask app server) running.. Googling around landed me here and everything seemed so easy. So I have a simple flask app and I run it through python fmyapp.py But now I have created a /etc/init/myflask.conf and have written the following under that file:

    # My conf file for flask upstart
    # author: Keshav

    start on startup

    pre-start script
    # Changing directory to flask app
    chdir /usr/src/mydir/
    end script

    gunicorn -b testflask:app
    console output
    end script

    After saving this file I haven’t rebooted my VM. Instead just doing :

    initctl start myflask

    It says running but I think it immediately dies I guess because when I do a status on that it says stop/waiting. Am I missing something here?

  1. September 1, 2010 at 2:29 am | #1
  2. November 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm | #2
  3. November 27, 2010 at 10:23 pm | #3
  4. April 2, 2013 at 8:38 am | #4
  5. May 21, 2013 at 4:20 pm | #5

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