Auto-starting Applications with Systemd Services

Posted by Ryan Himmelwright on Tue, Jul 14, 2020
Tags linux, systemd, customization
UNC-Chapel Hill Campus, Chapel Hill, NC

Recently, I’ve been hosting a Foundry VTT server (a nodejs app) in a virtual machine on my home network. I would start the application inside a tmux session, by executing a CLI command which worked… fine. However, if the VM restarted or the applications crashed, I had to ssh in and manually run the command again. So, to better automate this tedious task, I created a unit file to define the foundry server as a systemd service. Here’s how.

Unit Files

With so many distributions utilizing systemd, unit files have become a new standard for auto-starting, or re-starting, applications in Linux. Simply put, unit files are used to define resources to be managed by systemd. This includes services. So to run FoundryVTT as a service, we need to create a new systemd .service unit file.

Creating the service file

To create a unit file, I opened /lib/systemd/system/foundryvtt.service in vim and filled it with the following contents:

Description=A service to run the Foundry VTT node app

ExecStart=/usr/bin/node /home/user/foundryvtt/resources/app/main.js --dataPath=/home/user/foundrydata


This file tells systemd all the information it needs to run the service. The contents of the [Unit] section define some basic information about the unit file. The variables which define our service, are appropriately listed in the [Service] section and include:

  • Environment=NODE_PORT=30000 sets an environment variable
  • Type=simple states that our service is executing a single command, and is “started” when that command runs.
  • User=ryan tells the service to run under the ryan user
  • ExecStart defines which command to run when the service is started (this is the command I had to manually type in tmux)
  • Restart=on-failure tells the service to automatically restart on any failures.

Save and exit the file.

Start and Enable the Service

With the unit file created, the new service can be started:

sudo systemctl start foundryvtt

In addition to starting the service, I also enabled it so that it will automatically launch whenever the system reboots:

sudo systemctl enable foundryvtt

Stopping, Restarting, and Status

To check that the service is running, use the command systemctl status foundryvtt:

sudo systemctl status foundryvtt
[ryan@magmar dotfiles]$ sudo systemctl status foundryvtt
● foundryvtt.service - A service to run the Foundry VTT node app
     Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/foundryvtt.service; disabled; vendor preset: disabled)
     Active: active (running) since Sun 2020-07-12 16:34:29 EDT; 2s ago
   Main PID: 1070 (node)
      Tasks: 11 (limit: 2327)
     Memory: 93.8M
        CPU: 1.227s
     CGroup: /system.slice/foundryvtt.service
             └─1070 /usr/bin/node /home/ryan/foundryvtt/resources/app/main.js --dataPath=/home/ryan/foundrydata

... *A Bunch of Logs I removed*...

The output contains Active: active (running), which means the service is running. We can also restart or stop the service using the systemctl restart foundryvtt and systemctl stop foundryvtt commands, respectively.

For example, I can stop the service and then check the status to verify it is killed (Note the Active: inactive (dead) in the status output).

[ryan@magmar]$ sudo systemctl stop foundryvtt
[ryan@magmar]$ sudo systemctl status foundryvtt
● foundryvtt.service - A service to run the Foundry VTT node app
     Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/foundryvtt.service; disabled; vendor preset: disabled)
     Active: inactive (dead)


That’s about it. Systemd unit files might seem complicated at first, but after writing, one they aren’t that bad. Additionally, it turns out that using automation to create them isn’t too difficult either… but I’ll show that in another post. Until then, enjoy!

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