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A brief introduction to path units

With path units, you can monitor files and directories for events and use them to execute service units.
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A fork in the path

Today’s systemd reads its initialization configuration for each daemon from a collection of unit files, which are often just called units. With path units, you can monitor files and directories for certain events. If a specified event occurs, a service unit is executed, and it usually carries the same name as the path unit. I will show how this works with a simple example.

Let’s assume we would like to monitor a file. Whenever the file is closed after a write, a specific script should start.

The path unit: example.path

In the directory /etc/systemd/system/ we create the file example.path with the following content:

[Unit]
Description=Monitor the file for changes

[Path]
PathChanged=/home/john/testfile
Unit=example.service

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

In the [Path] section, PathChanged= specifies the absolute path to the file to be monitored, while Unit= indicates which service unit to execute if the file changes. This unit (example.path) should be started when the system is in multi-user mode.

Next, we create the corresponding service unit example.service in /etc/systemd/system/.

The service unit: example.service

If the file testfile changes (meaning that it is both written to and closed), the following service unit will be called to execute the specified script:

[Unit]
Description=Executes script when a file has changed.

[Service]
Type=simple
ExecStart=/home/john/script.sh

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

In this example, the file script.sh contains only the following code:

#!/bin/bash
echo "file changed" >/home/john/output.txt

To test the path unit, both of these new units must be activated, so run:

$ sudo systemctl enable example.{path,service}
$ sudo systemctl start example.path

If you now rewrite—or write to—the file testfile, the corresponding service unit is executed, and the file output.txt is created in user john's home directory.

The following incomplete and non-exhaustive list gives some examples where path units could make your Sysadmin Day a bit easier:

  • Start event-driven data processing.
  • Monitor files under /etc, and send a notification when changes occur.
  • Monitor the import folder for new files, and start processing.

Things to be aware of

During my tests with path units, I noticed that not all events are caught under certain circumstances. For example, set up a path unit to monitor a path for changes, and then run the following command:

$ touch /path/file && rm /path/file

I would expect the service unit to be executed twice, here: the first time for the touch command, and the second time for the rm command. I filed a Bugzilla report to see if this issue is due to design, or a glitch that can be fixed.

If you want to learn more about systemd units, including path and service units, take a look at the following man pages:

  • systemd.unit (5)
  • systemd.path (5)
  • systemd.service (5)

Also, if you are interested in the results of my bug report, you can follow it here:

Bug 1722627 - Path Unit does not catch every event

Topics:   Linux   SysAdminDay  
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Jörg Kastning

Joerg is a sysadmin for over ten years now. He is a member of the Red Hat Accelerators and runs his own blog at https://www.my-it-brain.de. More about me

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