systemd.generator - Man Page

systemd unit generators


/path/to/generator normal-dir [early-dir] [late-dir]



Generators are small executables placed in /usr/lib/systemd/system-generators/ and other directories listed above. systemd(1) will execute these binaries very early at bootup and at configuration reload time — before unit files are loaded. Their main purpose is to convert configuration and execution context parameters that are not native to the service manager into dynamically generated unit files, symlinks or unit file drop-ins, so that they can extend the unit file hierarchy the service manager subsequently loads and operates on.

systemd will call each generator with three directory paths that are to be used for generator output. In these three directories, generators may dynamically generate unit files (regular ones, instances, as well as templates), unit file .d/ drop-ins, and create symbolic links to unit files to add additional dependencies, create aliases, or instantiate existing templates. Those directories are included in the unit load path, allowing generated configuration to extend or override existing definitions. For tests, generators may be called with just one argument; the generator should assume that all three paths are the same in that case.

Directory paths for generator output differ by priority: .../generator.early has priority higher than the admin configuration in /etc/, while .../generator has lower priority than /etc/ but higher than vendor configuration in /usr/, and .../generator.late has priority lower than all other configuration. See the next section and the discussion of unit load paths and unit overriding in systemd.unit(5).

Generators are loaded from a set of paths determined during compilation, as listed above. System and user generators are loaded from directories with names ending in system-generators/ and user-generators/, respectively. Generators found in directories listed earlier override the ones with the same name in directories lower in the list. A symlink to /dev/null or an empty file can be used to mask a generator, thereby preventing it from running. Please note that the order of the two directories with the highest priority is reversed with respect to the unit load path, and generators in /run/ overwrite those in /etc/.

After installing new generators or updating the configuration, systemctl daemon-reload may be executed. This will delete the previous configuration created by generators, re-run all generators, and cause systemd to reload units from disk. See systemctl(1) for more information.

Output Directories

Generators are invoked with three arguments: paths to directories where generators can place their generated unit files or symlinks. By default those paths are runtime directories that are included in the search path of systemd, but a generator may be called with different paths for debugging purposes. If only one argument is provided, the generator should use the same directory as the the three output paths.

  1. normal-dir

    In normal use this is /run/systemd/generator in case of the system generators and $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/systemd/generator in case of the user generators. Unit files placed in this directory take precedence over vendor unit configuration but not over native user/administrator unit configuration.

  2. early-dir

    In normal use this is /run/systemd/generator.early in case of the system generators and $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/systemd/generator.early in case of the user generators. Unit files placed in this directory override unit files in /usr/, /run/ and /etc/. This means that unit files placed in this directory take precedence over all normal configuration, both vendor and user/administrator.

  3. late-dir

    In normal use this is /run/systemd/generator.late in case of the system generators and $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/systemd/generator.late in case of the user generators. This directory may be used to extend the unit file tree without overriding any other unit files. Any native configuration files supplied by the vendor or user/administrator take precedence.

Note: generators must not write to other locations or otherwise make changes to system state. Generator output is supposed to last only until the next daemon-reload or daemon-reexec; if the generator is replaced or masked, its effects should vanish.


The service manager sets a number of environment variables when invoking generator executables. They carry information about the execution context of the generator, in order to simplify conditionalizing generators to specific environments. The following environment variables are set:


If the generator is invoked from the system service manager this variable is set to "system"; if invoked from the per-user service manager it is set to "user".


If the generator is run as part of an initrd this is set to "1". If it is run from the regular host (i.e. after the transition from initrd to host) it is set to "0". This environment variable is only set for system generators.


If this boot-up cycle is considered a "first boot", this is set to "1"; if it is a subsequent, regular boot it is set to "0". For details see the documentation of ConditionFirstBoot= in systemd.unit(5). This environment variable is only set for system generators.


If the service manager is run in a virtualized environment, $SYSTEMD_VIRTUALIZATION is set to a pair of strings, separated by a colon. The first string is either "vm" or "container", categorizing the type of virtualization. The second string identifies the implementation of the virtualization technology. If no virtualization is detected this variable will not be set. This data is identical to what systemd-detect-virt(1) detects and reports, and uses the same vocabulary of virtualization implementation identifiers.


This variable is set to a short identifier of the reported architecture of the system. For details about defined values, see documentation of ConditionArchitecture= in systemd.unit(5).

Notes About Writing Generators


Example 1. systemd-fstab-generator

systemd-fstab-generator(8) converts /etc/fstab into native mount units. It uses argv[1] as location to place the generated unit files in order to allow the user to override /etc/fstab with their own native unit files, but also to ensure that /etc/fstab overrides any vendor default from /usr/.

After editing /etc/fstab, the user should invoke systemctl daemon-reload. This will re-run all generators and cause systemd to reload units from disk. To actually mount new directories added to fstab, systemctl start /path/to/mountpoint or systemctl start may be used.

Example 2. systemd-system-update-generator

systemd-system-update-generator(8) temporarily redirects to, if a system update is scheduled. Since this needs to override the default user configuration for, it uses argv[2]. For details about this logic, see systemd.offline-updates(7).

Example 3. Debugging a generator

dir=$(mktemp -d)
SYSTEMD_LOG_LEVEL=debug /usr/lib/systemd/system-generators/systemd-fstab-generator \
        "$dir" "$dir" "$dir"
find $dir

See Also

systemd(1), systemd-cryptsetup-generator(8), systemd-debug-generator(8), systemd-fstab-generator(8), fstab(5), systemd-getty-generator(8), systemd-gpt-auto-generator(8), systemd-hibernate-resume-generator(8), systemd-rc-local-generator(8), systemd-system-update-generator(8), systemd-sysv-generator(8), systemd-xdg-autostart-generator(8), systemd.unit(5), systemctl(1), systemd.environment-generator(7)

Referenced By

dbus-daemon(1), systemctl(1), systemd(1), systemd-analyze(1), systemd-bless-boot-generator(8), systemd-cryptsetup-generator(8), systemd-debug-generator(8), systemd.directives(7), systemd-environment-d-generator(8), systemd.environment-generator(7), systemd-fstab-generator(8), systemd-getty-generator(8), systemd-gpt-auto-generator(8), systemd.index(7), systemd-integritysetup-generator(8), systemd-network-generator.service(8), systemd.offline-updates(7), systemd-rc-local-generator(8), systemd-run-generator(8), systemd-system-update-generator(8), systemd-sysv-generator(8), systemd.unit(5), systemd-veritysetup-generator(8), systemd-xdg-autostart-generator(8), zram-generator(8).

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