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pam_systemd - Man Page

Register user sessions in the systemd login manager




pam_systemd registers user sessions with the systemd login manager systemd-logind.service(8), and hence the systemd control group hierarchy.

The module also applies various resource management and runtime parameters to the new session, as configured in the JSON User Records[1] of the user, when one is defined.

On login, this module — in conjunction with systemd-logind.service — ensures the following:

  1. If it does not exist yet, the user runtime directory /run/user/$UID is either created or mounted as new "tmpfs" file system with quota applied, and its ownership changed to the user that is logging in.
  2. The $XDG_SESSION_ID environment variable is initialized. If auditing is available and pam_loginuid.so was run before this module (which is highly recommended), the variable is initialized from the auditing session id (/proc/self/sessionid). Otherwise, an independent session counter is used.
  3. A new systemd scope unit is created for the session. If this is the first concurrent session of the user, an implicit per-user slice unit below user.slice is automatically created and the scope placed into it. An instance of the system service user@.service, which runs the systemd user manager instance, is started.
  4. The "$TZ", "$EMAIL" and "$LANG" environment variables are configured for the user, based on the respective data from the user's JSON record (if it is defined). Moreover, any environment variables explicitly configured in the user record are imported, and the umask, nice level, and resource limits initialized.

On logout, this module ensures the following:

  1. If enabled in logind.conf(5) (KillUserProcesses=), all processes of the session are terminated. If the last concurrent session of a user ends, the user's systemd instance will be terminated too, and so will the user's slice unit.
  2. If the last concurrent session of a user ends, the user runtime directory /run/user/$UID and all its contents are removed, too.

If the system was not booted up with systemd as init system, this module does nothing and immediately returns PAM_SUCCESS.


The following options are understood:


Takes a string argument which sets the session class. The XDG_SESSION_CLASS environment variable (see below) takes precedence. See sd_session_get_class(3) for a way to query the class of a session. The following session classes are defined:

Table 1. Session Classes

userA regular interactive user session. This is the default class for sessions for which a TTY or X display is known at session registration time.
user-earlySimilar to "user" but sessions of this class are not ordered after systemd-user-sessions.service, i.e. may be started before regular sessions are allowed to be established. This session class is the default for sessions of the root user that would otherwise qualify for the user class, see above. (Added in v256.)
user-incompleteSimilar to "user" but for sessions which are not fully set up yet, i.e. have no home directory mounted or similar. This is used by systemd-homed.service(8) to allow users to log in via ssh before their home directory is mounted, delaying the mount until the user provided the unlock password. Sessions of this class are upgraded to the regular user class once the home directory is activated.
greeterSimilar to "user" but for sessions that are spawned by a display manager ephemerally and which prompt the user for login credentials.
lock-screenSimilar to "user" but for sessions that are spawned by a display manager ephemerally and which show a lock screen that can be used to unlock locked user accounts or sessions.
backgroundUsed for background sessions, such as those invoked by cron and similar tools. This is the default class for sessions for which no TTY or X display is known at session registration time.
background-lightSimilar to background, but sessions of this class will not pull in the user@.service of the user, and thus possibly have no services of the user running. (Added in v256.)
managerThe user@.service service of the user is registered under this session class. (Added in v256.)
manager-earlySimilar to manager, but for the root user. Compare with the user vs. user-early situation. (Added in v256.)

Added in version 197.


Takes a string argument which sets the session type. The XDG_SESSION_TYPE environment variable (see below) takes precedence. One of "unspecified", "tty", "x11", "wayland" or "mir". See sd_session_get_type(3) for details about the session type.

Added in version 209.


Takes a single, short identifier string for the desktop environment. The XDG_SESSION_DESKTOP environment variable (see below) takes precedence. This may be used to indicate the session desktop used, where this applies and if this information is available. For example: "GNOME", or "KDE". It is recommended to use the same identifiers and capitalization as for $XDG_CURRENT_DESKTOP, as defined by the Desktop Entry Specification[2]. (However, note that the option only takes a single item, and not a colon-separated list like $XDG_CURRENT_DESKTOP.) See sd_session_get_desktop(3) for further details.

Added in version 240.

default-capability-bounding-set=, default-capability-ambient-set=

Takes a comma-separated list of process capabilities (e.g. CAP_WAKE_ALARM, CAP_BLOCK_SUSPEND, ...) to set for the invoked session's processes, if the user record does not encode appropriate sets of capabilities directly. See capabilities(7) for details on the capabilities concept. If not specified, the default bounding set is left as is (i.e. usually contains the full set of capabilities). The default ambient set is set to CAP_WAKE_ALARM for regular users if the PAM session is associated with a local seat or if it is invoked for the "systemd-user" service. Otherwise defaults to the empty set.

Added in version 254.


Takes an optional boolean argument. If yes or without the argument, the module will log debugging information as it operates.

Module Types Provided

Only session is provided.


The following environment variables are initialized by the module and available to the processes of the user's session:


A short session identifier, suitable to be used in filenames. The string itself should be considered opaque, although often it is just the audit session ID as reported by /proc/self/sessionid. Each ID will be assigned only once during machine uptime. It may hence be used to uniquely label files or other resources of this session. Combine this ID with the boot identifier, as returned by sd_id128_get_boot(3), for a globally unique identifier.


Path to a user-private user-writable directory that is bound to the user login time on the machine. It is automatically created the first time a user logs in and removed on the user's final logout. If a user logs in twice at the same time, both sessions will see the same $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR and the same contents. If a user logs in once, then logs out again, and logs in again, the directory contents will have been lost in between, but applications should not rely on this behavior and must be able to deal with stale files. To store session-private data in this directory, the user should include the value of $XDG_SESSION_ID in the filename. This directory shall be used for runtime file system objects such as AF_UNIX sockets, FIFOs, PID files and similar. It is guaranteed that this directory is local and offers the greatest possible file system feature set the operating system provides. For further details, see the XDG Base Directory Specification[3]. $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR is not set if the current user is not the original user of the session.


If a JSON user record is known for the user logging in these variables are initialized from the respective data in the record.

Added in version 245.

The following environment variables are read by the module and may be used by the PAM service to pass metadata to the module. If these variables are not set when the PAM module is invoked but can be determined otherwise they are set by the module, so that these variables are initialized for the session and applications if known at all.


The session type. This may be used instead of type= on the module parameter line, and is usually preferred.

Added in version 209.


The session class. This may be used instead of class= on the module parameter line, and is usually preferred.

Added in version 209.


The desktop identifier. This may be used instead of desktop= on the module parameter line, and is usually preferred.

Added in version 209.


The seat name the session shall be registered for, if any.

Added in version 209.


The VT number the session shall be registered for, if any. (Only applies to seats with a VT available, such as "seat0")

Added in version 209.

If not set, pam_systemd will initialize $XDG_SEAT and $XDG_VTNR based on the $DISPLAY variable (if the latter is set).

Session Limits

PAM modules earlier in the stack, that is those that come before pam_systemd.so, can set session scope limits using the PAM context objects. The data for these objects is provided as NUL-terminated C strings and maps directly to the respective unit resource control directives. Note that these limits apply to individual sessions of the user, they do not apply to all user processes as a combined whole. In particular, the per-user user@.service unit instance, which runs the systemd --user manager process and its children, and is tracked outside of any session, being shared by all the user's sessions, is not covered by these limits.

See systemd.resource-control(5) for more information about the resources. Also, see pam_set_data(3) for additional information about how to set the context objects.


Sets unit MemoryMax=.

Added in version 239.


Sets unit TasksMax=.

Added in version 239.


Sets unit CPUWeight=.

Added in version 239.


Sets unit IOWeight=.

Added in version 239.


Sets unit RuntimeMaxSec=.

Added in version 244.

Example data as can be provided from an another PAM module:

pam_set_data(handle, "systemd.memory_max", (void *)"200M", cleanup);
pam_set_data(handle, "systemd.tasks_max",  (void *)"50",   cleanup);
pam_set_data(handle, "systemd.cpu_weight", (void *)"100",  cleanup);
pam_set_data(handle, "systemd.io_weight",  (void *)"340",  cleanup);
pam_set_data(handle, "systemd.runtime_max_sec", (void *)"3600", cleanup);


Here's an example PAM configuration fragment that allows users sessions to be managed by systemd-logind.service:

auth      sufficient pam_unix.so
-auth     sufficient pam_systemd_home.so
auth      required   pam_deny.so

account   required   pam_nologin.so
-account  sufficient pam_systemd_home.so
account   sufficient pam_unix.so
account   required   pam_permit.so

-password sufficient pam_systemd_home.so
password  sufficient pam_unix.so sha512 shadow try_first_pass
password  required   pam_deny.so

-session  optional   pam_keyinit.so revoke
-session  optional   pam_loginuid.so
-session  optional   pam_systemd_home.so
-session  optional   pam_systemd.so
session   required   pam_unix.so

See Also

systemd(1), systemd-logind.service(8), logind.conf(5), loginctl(1), pam_systemd_home(8), pam.conf(5), pam.d(5), pam(8), pam_loginuid(8), systemd.scope(5), systemd.slice(5), systemd.service(5)


  1. JSON User Records
  2. Desktop Entry Specification
  3. XDG Base Directory Specification

Referenced By

org.freedesktop.login1(5), pam_systemd_home(8), systemd.directives(7), systemd.exec(5), systemd.index(7), systemd-logind.service(8), user@.service(5).

systemd 256.2