Create Systemd Unit File for Java

This post explains how to create a systemd unit file for Java, so that you can run your Java application as a service in Linux. It also explains the structure of a service file, and tells your the ...

Recently I created a Systemd unit file to manage a Java program in Raspberry Pi. Today, I want to share about the structure of a service file and some commands useful after the service’s creation. This article is written under Raspbian GNU/Linux 10 (buster) and systemd 241.

Unit File Structure

Unit files typically consist of three sections:

  • [Unit] — contains generic options that are not dependent on the type of the unit. These options provide unit description, specify the unit’s behavior, and set dependencies to other units.
  • [unit type] — if a unit has type-specific directives, these are grouped under a section named after the unit type. For example, service unit files contain the [Service] section.
  • [Install] — contains information about unit installation used by systemctl enable and disable commands.

Service Unit File Sample

Here’s the Systemd unit file my-server.service that I’ve created:

Description=My Server

ExecStart=/usr/bin/java \
  -Dmyserver.basePath='/opt/my-server/repositories' \
  -Dmyserver.bindAddr='' \
  -Dmyserver.bindPort='18080' \
  -Dmyserver.hostName='A pretty name' \
  -jar '/opt/my-server/my-server.jar'


In this sample, several options are defined. Let’s take a look together:

  • Description is a meaningful description of the unit. This text is displayed for example in the output of the systemctl status command.
  • ExecStart specifies commands or scripts to be executed when the unit is started. ExecStartPre and ExecStartPost specify custom commands to be executed before and after ExecStart. Note that execution requires an absolute path for command, you need to specify /usr/bin/java instead of java.
  • ExecStop specifies commands or scripts to be executed when the unit is stopped. If not specified, the basic way for systemd to stop a running service is by sending the SIGTERM signal (a regular kill) to the process control group of the service, and after a configurable timeout, a SIGKILL to make things really go away if not responding. As for Java application, the JVM process is set up so that it gracefully shuts down the service upon reception of the SIGTERM signal using shutdown hooks. However, the JVM will still exit with code 143 in the end due to receiving SIGTERM. 143 = 128 + 15 (SIGTERM). Therefore, we need to modify systemd success exit status (SuccessExitStatus) to 143.
  • WantedBy is a list of units that weakly depend on the unit. When this unit is enabled, the units listed in WantedBy gain a Want dependency on the unit.

Create the Systemd Unit File

The systemd unit file my-server.service needs to be created in directory /etc/systemd/system and has 644 permission as root. Note that it does not need to be executable. Fill the file with the options mentioned in the previous section.

Once done, notify systemd that a new my-server.service file is created by reloading the daemon as root:

systemctl daemon-reload

After that, you can start, enable, stop a service, or check its status using the following command:

systemctl start my-server
systemctl enable my-server
systemctl status my-server
systemctl stop my-server

Trouble Shooting

Service Failed to Start

  1. Use jps - JVM Process Status Tool to check whether the process is started.
  2. See the log in journalctl, to understand what happened
  3. See the status of target service systemctl status name.service. Understand its status, its exit-code, the environment variables, the related log trace etc.

Using symbolic link for Systemd unit file might cause problem during the service enabling. I suggest to use regular file directly.

Going Further


Today we saw about how to create a systemd unit file to manage a Java program in Raspberry Pi by exploring the basic structure of a unit file (Unit, Service, Install) and the particularity about exit code 143. We also checked to basic systemctl commands to manage the service (start, enable, status, stop). Interested to know more? You can subscribe to the feed of my blog, follow me on Twitter or GitHub. Hope you enjoy this article, see you the next time!