A minimal init system written in Nim
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Nim Daemon - An init system written in Nim

A minimal, self-contained, dependency-based Linux init system written in Nim.


The code in here is pretty bad: in fact, it's horrible (and it barely works). I'm just messing around to get the basics done, sorry for that, but I need to get a proof of concept done before starting to do some actually sensible programming.

I mainly made this thing for fun and as an excuse to learn more about the mysterious PID 1 and the Linux kernel in general. If you are like me and love getting your hands dirty, I truly recommend trying an endeavor like this as I haven't had this fun cobbling something together in a very long time. Sometimes programming only large scale software is boring, go figure.

Disclaimers & Functionality

This software is developed on a "It works on my (virtual) machine" basis. I don't perform any extensive testing: if this thing unmounts your root partition while you're saving your precious family photos, I can't do much (although it probably won't). I currently test NimD inside a minimal Alpine VM that runs the 5.10.0-9-amd64 version of the Linux kernel.

NimD is developed for Linux only, as that's the kernel my OS uses: other kernels are not supported at all and NimD will explode with fancy fireworks if you try to run it unmodified on other kernels (although probably things like BSD and Solaris are not that hard to add support for).

NimD is not particularly secure (although basic checks like making sure regular users can't reboot the machine are in place), but it doesn't need to be: the only thing it does is run the services you provide to it, that's it*. No nimd-modulenamed madness, no libnimd.so libraries to link against, NimD only runs your services: if it blows up, it's your fault (or it's a bug).

NimD expects the 3 standard streams to be properly connected to /dev/console (which is something all modern versions of the Linux kernel do). I tried connecting them manually, but I was out of luck: if you happen to know how to check for (or open) them and connect them manually, please make a PR, I'd love to hear how to do that.

*: Well, almost. If you don't wanna write oneshot services for simple things like creating symlinks/directories (especially if you plan running BSD ports of some program on Linux) and mounting your drives then NimD can do it for you, but just because it can doesn't mean it has to: you choose! NimD has a builtin fstab parser and can operate entirely independently of the mount command, since it directly hooks up to mount, umount and umount2 inside sys/mount.h


NimD expects to be installed like so:

  • /etc/nimd -> Contains configuration files and utilities like reboot and poweroff
    • /etc/nimd/runlevels -> Contains the runlevels (boot, default, shutdown)
    • /etc/nimd/nimd.conf -> NimD's own configuration file
  • /var/run/nimd.sock -> Unix domain socket for IPC
  • /etc/runlevels -> Symlink to /etc/nimd/runlevels
  • /sbin/nimd -> Actual NimD executable
  • /sbin/init -> Symlink to /sbin/nimd
  • /bin/{poweroff,shutdown,reboot,halt} -> Minimal utilities that communicate with NimD to poweroff/shutdown/reboot/halt the machine
  • /bin/nimdctl -> Utility to interact with NimD (add/remove/start/stop services, read logs, inspect services' status, etc)

Note: The runlevels directory contains *.conf files (or they can also be symlinks, NimD doesn't care): those are NimD's own unit files.

Unit files

Services in NimD are called unit files or just units (I know, very original). They are configuration files that tell NimD what to do once it has booted your system

Dependency management

Unlike some other init systems (most notably, runit) NimD is dependency based: to understand this relatively simple concept disguised as a fancy term, you have to understand NimD (like many others) relies on the concepts of dependents (units that depend on some others to work) and providers (units that provide services to their dependents and that may in turn have dependencies themselves). For example, if you wanna start an SSH server, you probably want to make sure your disks are mounted and that your network has been set up. To do that, you can write something like this:

name         = ssh                    # The name of the service
description  = Secure Shell Server    # A short description
type         = simple                 # Other option: oneshot (i.e. runs only once, implies supervised=false)
exec         = /usr/bin/sshd <args>   # Note: this is not passed trough the shell, it's executed directly
depends      = net,fs                 # This service will be started only when these dependencies are satisfied
provides     = ssh                    # Dependents can also be providers
restart      = always                 # Other options are: never, onFailure
restartDelay = 10                     # NimD will wait this many seconds before trying to start it again
supervised   = true                   # This is the default. Disable it if you don't need NimD to watch for it
workDir      = /usr/bin               # The service's working directory 

stderr = /var/log/sshd     # Path of the stderr log for the service
stdout = /var/log/sshd     # Path of the stdout log for the service
stdin  = /dev/null         # Path of the stdin fd for the service

Note: Unsupervised services cannot be restarted, as NimD has no control over them once they're spawned.

A dependency name can either be the name of a unit file (case sensitive, but without the .conf extension), or one of the following placeholders:

  • net -> Stands for network connection. Services like NetworkManager and dhcpcd should be set as providers for this
  • fs -> If you mount your disks using a oneshot service (recommended for the best experience), your service should provide this
  • ssh -> The service provides some sort of SSH functionality
  • ftp -> The service provides an FTP server
  • http -> The service is an HTTP webserver

Note that NimD resolves placeholders before service names: this means that if you have a service named ssh.conf, using ssh as a dependency will not set that service as a dependency and will not override the default behavior unless said unit file also has provides=ssh in it. Also note that multiple providers for the same service raise a warning by default and cause NimD to let the alphabet decide which dependency is started (i.e. they are sorted lexicographically by their filename, without the extension, and the first is picked), but this behavior can be changed (e.g. raising an error instead)

Configuring NimD

NimD's own configuration file is located at /etc/nimd/nimd.conf and its syntax is similar to those of unit files (i.e. uses an INI-like structure), but the options are obviously different. An example config would look something like this:

level   = info            # Levels are: trace, debug, info, warning, error, critical, fatal
logFile = /var/log/nimd   # Path to log file

autoMount      = true                                      # Automatically parses /etc/fstab and mounts disks
autoUnmount    = true                                      # Automatically parses /proc/mounts and unmounts everything on shutdown
fstabPath      = /etc/fstab                                # Path to your system's fstab (defaults to /etc/fstab)
createDirs     = "/path/to/dir:perms,"                     # Creates these directories with the given permissions on boot. Empty to disable
createSymlinks = "/path/to/symlink:/path/to/dest,"         # Creates these symlinks on boot. Empty to disable

controlSocket        = /var/run/nimd.sock    # Path to the Unix domain socket to create for IPC
setHostname          = true                  # Set to true to set the machine's hostname automatically from /etc/hostname
onDependencyConflict = skip                  # Other option: warn, error  
workers              = 1                     # Number of worker processes to use when spawning services
restartDelay         = 10                    # Delay (seconds) that nimd will wait before restarting itself after crashes
sigtermDelay         = 90                    # Delay (seconds) that nimd will wait before terminating child processes with
                                             # SIGKILL after sending a more gentle SIGTERM upon shutdown or exit              

Testing NimD

NimD is not quite ready for production yet, but in the scripts folder you can find a few simple bash scripts to test NimD in a minimal Alpine Linux VM using QEMU. Note that due to weirdness in how stdout is handled on the VGA port, the VM will use the serial port (ttyS0) as output by default (you can change this in the kernel parameters)