Ubuntu just switched to systemd, the project sparking controversy throughout Linux

ubuntu linux discs
Credit: Maurice Svay via Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s official: Ubuntu is the latest Linux distribution to switch to systemd.

After a civil war in Debian that spawned a fork named Devuan, Ubuntu has now flipped the switch. Ubuntu announced plans to switch to systemd a year ago, so this is no surprise. Systemd replaces Ubuntu’s own Upstart, an init daemon created back in 2006.

As the official announcement says, “brace for impact.”

Don’t panic!

Whatever your thoughts are about the systemd project, nothing changes for you today. Your Ubuntu system won’t suddenly get an update that causes it to start running the controversial init system instead of Upstart.

grub systemd boot option

This change was just made in the beta version of Ubuntu 15.04, Vivid Vervet. Unless there are major problems, this means the final version of Ubuntu 15.04 will use systemd by default. By the time the next LTS release of Ubuntu rolls around—that’s Ubuntu 16.04 in April, 2016—it will be using systemd. Seasoned Linux geeks will notice that this is awfully late in the Ubuntu 15.04’s development process to be making such a big change, which is true. Ubuntu’s normal point releases have become more experimental, which is why Canonical recommends most people should stick with the LTS releases and skip the once-every-six-months releases.

Further reading: Meet systemd, the controversial project taking over a Linux distro near you

Luckily, if you’re sticking with the latest stable LTS releases of Ubuntu, this change is more than a year away for you. There will be plenty of time to see how things shake out.

What you need to know

This shouldn’t be a dramatic change. Systemd itself has been extensively tested. This final change is just switching a few package dependencies so the system pulls in systemd instead of Upstart. You'll find more information in the official announcement.

Currently, it’s even possible to switch back to Upstart if you have problems with systemd. I wouldn’t be surprised to see systemd become more intertwined with the Ubuntu base system going forward, however. Switching back to Upstart may eventually cause problems.

But why did Ubuntu even switch to systemd in the first place? Mark Shuttleworth explained why in a blog post named “Losing graciously” last year. As Debian chose systemd, Ubuntu followed. The entire Linux ecosystem is moving in this direction, and attempting to cling to Upstart while most other Linux distributions and software projects focus on systemd is a losing battle. It’s not just a defeat, though—systemd won on its technical merits and Ubuntu isn’t just implementing it begrudgingly.

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Not every version of Ubuntu is switching to systemd. Ubuntu Touch—you know, the version of Ubuntu that runs on those Ubuntu phones now being released—will continue to use Upstart for now. If you’re a system administrator familiar with Upstart, the “systemd for Upstart Users” guide on Ubuntu’s website will help you adjust.

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