Management systemd Tips Lead image: Lead Image © Kritiya Sumpun,
Lead Image © Kritiya Sumpun,

Systemd network management and container handling

Startup Aids

Version 219 of the controversial systemd init system introduces a number of comprehensive changes. We take a closer look at the innovations in network management and container handling. By Thorsten Scherf

Most of the new features in the current version of systemd relate to the systemd-networkd and systemd-nspawn components, which have been part of systemd for a long time. However, additional functions were added to the current release that can significantly simplify working with these tools.

Setting Up Bridge Devices

The systemd-networkd network manager can now handle a variety of different network devices; its functionality has been upgraded to better support smooth operations in container environments. The following example shows how easily the daemon can be used to set up, say, a bridge device.

Networkd is not designed to replace the established Gnome NetworkManager. Instead, the daemon is intended for special environments, such as container hosts or embedded applications. Listing 1 shows the preparatory work needed to use the new network manager. For name resolution, it relies on the LLMNR (link-local multicast name resolution)-capable stub resolver, which also belongs to the systemd package.

Listing 1: Basic Setup

systemctl enable systemd-networkd
systemctl disable NetworkManager
systemctl enable systemd-resolved
cp /etc/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf.bak
ln -sf /run/systemd/resolve/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf
mkdir /etc/systemd/network

Listings 2 and 3 show the two configuration files for the regular Ethernet card (Listing 2) and bridge device (Listing 3). You can specify which device is configured by these files in the [Match] section, where you enter, for example, the device name or MAC address.

Listing 2: Network Configuration (1)


Listing 3: Network Configuration (2)


The device identified in this way is then configured in the [Network] section. Listing 3 only determines the bridge to which the network interface controller needs to be bound: In Listing 2, the bridge device is then configured to match with an IP address and other parameters.

Before the bridge device can be configured, you first need to ensure that it exists. For this purpose, you can pass the configuration files with the .netdev extension to systemd. These are read directly after starting up the service and the virtual network devices defined in it are created.

Listing 4 shows a configuration for a bridge device. The systemd documentation, which maintains the familiar high standards, describes all possible configuration options for these types of files in the two help pages for and systemd.netdev.

Listing 4: Bridge Configuration


Next, you can call up the networkctl tool to see a status overview of the existing network devices from the perspective of the systemd network manager (Listing 5).

Listing 5: The Newly Set Up Network Device

  1 lo           loopback          carrier     unmanaged
  2 enp2s25      ether             off         unmanaged
  3  enp3s25     ether             off         unmanaged
  4  enp4s25     ether             degraded    configured
  5  enp5s25     ether             off         unmanaged
  6  docker0     ether             routable    configured
  7  virbr0      ether             no-carrier  unmanaged

The previously set up DNS stub resolver now uses the DNS server defined in the configuration file. Systemd keeps this in the temporary file /run/systemd/resolve/resolv.conf. Because direct access to this file is not recommended, a soft link was set up for the /etc/resolv.conf file.

Container Manager

The systemd init framework has offered its own container service for a long time under the name systemd-nspawn. People often refer to this as "chroot on steroids," which illustrates its proximity to the well-known chroot command. The service is based on the container interface specification at [1] and can manage standalone namespace containers.

Unlike Docker, the focus is not on application containers; instead, systemd-nspawn seeks to empower its users quickly and easily to boot a standalone container, which then can be used for debugging and testing system components. Security features provided by Docker, for example, in recent versions are not implemented by systemd-nspawn.

The Container Registration Manager systemd-machined.service manages both containers and other virtual systems, providing easy access through the machinectl tool. To create a new container, you can download an image of the desired distribution in a RAW, TAR, or Docker flavor and then start a container on the basis of that image. Listing 6 shows how to download a Fedora 22 image and start a new container based on it.

Listing 6: Download and Start the Containers

# machinectl pull-raw --verify=no
# systemd-nspawn -M Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521.x86_64
Spawning container Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521.x86_64 on /var/lib/machines/Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521.x86_64.raw.
Press ^] three times within 1s to kill container.
[root@Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521 ~]#

The fact that the generated container actual does use its own namespaces can be easily confirmed by taking a look at the /proc/self/ns/ inside the container and on the host. With the exception of the user namespace, the host and container use independent namespaces. For example, the systemd process for the PID namespace uses PID 1 on the host, whereas inside the container the Bash shell uses PID 1 (Listing 7).

Listing 7: Separate Container and Host Namespaces

[root@Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521 ~]# readlink /proc/self/ns/*
# ps -p 1
1   ?     00:00:00  bash
# readlink /proc/self/ns/*
# ps -p 1
1   ?     00:02:39  systemd

You can define a container generated in this way as a system service and then log in to the container with:

machinectl start Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521.x86_64
machinectl login

This action creates a new instance of the systemd-nspawn service, which is equivalent to a systemctl container home command. The machinectl list shows an overview of all active virtual machines (Listing 8).

Listing 8: All Active VMs

# machinectl list
MACHINE                              CLASS     SERVICE
Fedora-Cloud-Base-22-20150521.x86_64 container nspawn
qemu-rhel-standalone_vagrant_rhel    vm        libvirt-qemu

Again, the help pages for systemd-nspawn, systemd-machined, and machinectl offer much useful information for these tools.


The systemd developers have again added some very useful features to the current release, once again expanding the systemd universe. Two features presented here in particular will certainly be welcomed with open arms by a container-savvy audience.