// why am I so n00b?

There’s a strong tendency to want to run everything in Docker these days, especially if you’re trying to run something as an always-on service, since passing --restart=always to your run invocation or Docker Compose configuration ensures that running containers start back up after reboots or failures, and seems to involve a little less “black magic” than actually configuring software to run as services directly on a host.

The downside to this is the approach is that running a service in a container leads to significantly longer startup times, more memory and CPU overhead, lost logs, and in my opinion offer a false sense of security and isolation since most images are still configured to run as root, and more often than not large swathes of the host filesystem are mounted as volumes to achieve simple tasks.

There’s also a belief that your software will magically run anywhere - but if you’re writing Java (or any JVM language) code - that’s one of Java’s biggest selling points - it already has its own VM your code is running in, no most platforms!

Therefore, let’s see how easy it actually is to configure our software to run as a standard system service, providing us with the ability to run it as a separate restricted user, complete with standard logging configuration, and give us control over via standard service myservice start|status|restart|stop commands.

For the below, I’m assuming we’re on a modern Debian-like Linux. Although I describe and refer to deploying Java services here, the same process can be used for any binary which runs on your target infrastructure.

Create a dedicated user

We’ll create a user to run our service as, so it can’t tamper with system-owned resources, and its own configuration may remain private. We’re creating a dedicated group, as well as user which cannot log in with a valid shell, named svcuser.

$ sudo groupadd -r svcuser
$ sudo useradd -r -s /bin/false -g svcuser svcuser

Deploy software to server

Let’s copy our service binaries to the server, and make sure they’re owned by the new user. I like to install these services under /opt/.

$ sudo mkdir /opt/myservice
# put your jar files, libraries, or whatever into /opt/myservice
$ sudo chown -R svcuser:svcuser /opt/myservice

Create configuration

If you’re migrating from Docker or Docker Compose, you likely have your service configured via environment variables. We can continue using these via an EnvironmentFile, or you can create a configuration file if your service supports reading one.

As such, this step will vary depending on your service implementation.

If you’re using environment variables, define an EnvironmentFile in the following format:


If your configuration file contains sensitive information, you may restrict it to being read by the service only, via the following, which will ensure it’s only readable by root and the svcuser user:

$ sudo chown svcuser /etc/myservice/config.env
$ sudo chmod 0640 /etc/myservice/config.env

Define the SystemD service

Create this file in /etc/systemd/system/, named myservice.service.

Description=My Service
ExecStart=/usr/bin/java -jar /opt/myservice/myservice.jar

Note the EnvironmentFile is only needed if your config is defined using environment variables.

Then, tell systemd about our new service:

$ sudo systemctl daemon-reload

It’s important to remember to do the above reload whenever making changes to a service definition.

Configure Logging

You’ll see above that we configured output to be written to syslog, and that we defined a SyslogIdentifier with a unique name for our service.

With this configuration, we can configure rsyslog to write logs to our own log file.

$ sudo vim /etc/rsyslog.d/myservice.conf

Add the following to the above configuration file. In this case $programname corresponds to the SyslogIdentifier we configured in the service, so any logging will be redirected to it’s own log file.

if $programname == 'myservice' then /var/log/myservice.log
& stop

Prepare log file permissions:

$ sudo touch /var/log/myservice.log
$ sudo chown svcuser:svcuser /var/log/myservice.log

Restart rsyslog with the updated configuration:

$ sudo service rsyslog restart

If your service generates a lot of logs, log rotation could also be configured at this point, by placing an entry in /etc/logrotate.d/. Refer to the other configuration files in that directory to get a sense of how they work.

Start it up!

You can now control your service:

$ sudo service myservice start
$ sudo service myservice status

You can also inspect or follow its logs:

$ sudo tail -f /var/log/myservice.log

Enable or disable at startup

If you want your service to automatically start each time the host reboots, simply enable the service as follows:

$ sudo systemctl enable myservice

Similarly, to prevent services from starting up (this can also be handy for other services, like a DB or web service you’ve installed for development purposes but don’t need or want running all the time):

$ sudo systemctl disable myservice

A disabled service can still be manually started and stopped with the service myservice [start|stop|restart|status] commands.


The above likely seems to be a rather lengthy process as I’ve laid it out, but it’s probably 5-10 minutes “work” in total, and you get a result much better integrated into the host system, easily manageable logs, plus it’s easier to monitor, manage and debug - especially for services you’re developing and would like to know more about how it’s behaving, without the complexity of additional layers between you and your code.

This will also work perfectly well for non-Java services, simply adjust the ExecStart parameter as required for your other applications.