A systemd Cheat Sheet

Generally, systemd is the standard init system across Linux distributions. systemctl is its central CLI management tool. This is a brief overview and cheat sheet.


  • systemd is responsible for initializing and managing components, services, and daemons that must be started after the kernel is booted. Such components are often referred to as “userland” components.
  • resources managed by systemd are called units; these are defined in unit files
  • service management unit files are suffixed with a .service (though there are other types of units too, such as .socket, .device, .mount, etc. This overview focuses on .service units, though)

Starting/Stopping services

  • systemctl start something.service - start a service
  • systemctl stop something.service - stop a service
  • systemctl restart something.service - restart a service

Reloading configuration

  • systemctl reload something.service - reload a service’s configuration without restarting the service, assuming the service is capable of this
  • systemctl reload-or-restart something.service - reload a service’s configuration in place, if the service is capable of doing so (otherwise, restart the service to pick up the new configuration)
  • systemctl daemon-reload reloads the entire systemd process

Enabling services

  • systemctl enable something.service - enable a service, causing the service to be automatically started at boot (Note, however, this does not start the service in the current session; that still requires a start)
  • systemctl disable something.service - disable a service from starting at boot

Querying status

  • systemctl status something.service - outputs the service’s state, the cgroup hierarchy, and the first serveral log lines
  • systemctl is-active something.service - reports if a service is running
  • systemctl is-enabled something.service - reports if a service is enabled
  • systemctl is-failed something.service - reports if a service is in a failed state

Learning more about a system’s units

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

(Other options exist too.)

Learning more about a unit’s details

  • systemctl cat something.service - output the service’s unit files
  • systemctl list-dependencies something.service - outputs a hierarchy of the service’s dependencies (i.e. other services required by it)
  • systemctl show something.service - outputs the properties associated with a service

Unit files

  • unit files usually live in /lib/systemd/system
  • .conf files in .d directories like /etc/systemd/system/something.service.d containing “snippets” are merged on load with a unit definition to override or extend the unit definition with the “snippet”
  • .service unit files in /etc/systemd/system completely override the unit definition usually found in /lib/systemd/system
  • Understanding systemd Units and Unit Files offers a detailed overview of unit file “anatomy”

A very basic example:


ExecStart=/bin/bash -c "something"



journalctl is the CLI tool for journal, which is responsible for collecting and managing systemd logs.

A few examples of working with journalctl:

  • journalctl - outputs the systemd logs
  • journalctl -u something -f - outputs the logs for a service
  • journalctl --since yesterday or journalctl --since 09:00 --until "1 hour ago" can be used to filter logs to a specific window of time
  • journalctl -p err -b - shows only log entries logged at the error level or above
  • journalctl -o json-pretty - shows logs in formatted JSON (other output options exist, too)