How to use DJ Bernstein’s daemontools

When I first started working in IT, one of the first projects I had to undertake was to set up a QMail server, which first brought me into contact with DJ Bernstein and his various software components.

One of these was daemontools, which is a “a collection of tools for managing UNIX services”, and which is most frequently used in connection with Qmail.

The deamontools website is from another time. Flat HTML files, no CSS, horizontal rules…its like visiting some sort of online museum. In fact, the website hasn’t changed in over 20 years, and daemontools has been around for that long, and hasn’t changed much in the interim.

The reason for daemontools longevity is quite simple. It works. And it works every time, all the time, which isn’t something you can say about every software product.

So if you need to run a process on a UNIX/Linux server, and that process needs to stay up for a very long time, without interruption, there probably isn’t any other software than can offer the same reliability as daemontools.

Here’s a quick HOWTO:

Firstly, install it, exactly as described here:

If you can an error during the installation about a TLS reference, edit the file src/conf-cc, and add

-include /usr/include/errno.h

to the gcc line.

Once installed, check:

1. That you have a /service directory
2. That the command /command/svscanboot exists

If this is the case, daemontools is successfully installed

Now, you can create the process/service that you want daemontools to monitor.

Create a directory under /service, with a name appropriate to your service, eg


(you can also use a symbolic link for this directory, to point to an existing service installation)

In that directory, create a file called run, and give it 755 permission

touch /service/growfile/run
chmod 755 /service/growfile/run

Next, update the run file with the shell commands necessary to run your service


while :
echo “I am getting bigger…” > /tmp/bigfile.txt
sleep 1

Your service is now set up. To have daemontools monitor it, run the following command:

/command/svscan &

(To start this at boot, add /command/svscanboot to /etc/rc.local, if the install hasn’t done this already)

To see this in action, run ps -ef and have a look at your process list. You will see

1. A process called svsscan, which is scanning the /service directory for new processes to monitor
2. A process called “supervise growfile”, which is keeping the job writing to the file alive

Also, run

tail -f /tmp/bigfile.txt

Every 1 second, you should see a new line being appended to this file:

I am getting bigger...
I am getting bigger...
I am getting bigger...
I am getting bigger...

To test deamontools, delete /tmp/bigfile.txt

rm -f /tmp/bigfile.txt

It should be gone, right?

No! Its still there!

tail -f /tmp/bigfile.txt

I am getting bigger...
I am getting bigger...
I am getting bigger...
I am getting bigger...

Finally, if you want to actually kill your process, you can use the “svc” command supplied with daemontools:

svc -h /service/yourdaemon: sends HUP
svc -t /service/yourdaemon: sends TERM, and automatically restarts the daemon after it dies
svc -d /service/yourdaemon: sends TERM, and leaves the service down
svc -u /service/yourdaemon: brings the service back up
svc -o /service/yourdaemon: runs the service once

This is the basic functionality of daemontools. There is a lot more on the website.

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