Systemd unit failure notification

Mon Jun 15 2020 3 min read

UPDATE (2024-04-23): Changed Restart=never to Restart=no as the former is no longer valid in current versions of systemd. Also switched to using the %N specifier instead of hard coding service names in OnFailure setting.

Thanks Antonio Amaddio for the updates!

In this post, we will be configuring a systemd unit which will send a notification to a slack channel when a systemd unit enters the failed state. This is achieved using the OnFailure setting in the Unit section.

The alerting script

We start off by creating a script which will be run by the systemd unit. This script takes one argument, the name of the unit that failed and sends a formatted message to a slack webhook.


# Set your slack webhook url here


read -d '' payload << EOF
    "icon_emoji": ":fire:",
    "username": "alertbot",
    "attachments": [
            "fallback": "Systemd: ${unit} failed to start",
            "color": "danger",
            "title": "Systemd: ${unit} failed to start",
            "text": "The ${unit} systemd unit failed to start!"

curl \
        --silent \
        --output /dev/null \
        -X POST \
        -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
        --data "${payload}" $SLACK_WEBHOOK_URL

Once you’ve set the SLACK_WEBHOOK_URL variable, feel free to test the script using the following command:

/usr/local/bin/systemd-alert test

NOTE: Don’t forget to make the script executable using chmod 700 /usr/local/bin/systemd-alert

You should see an alert in your configured slack channel with the message:

Systemd: test failed to start

The systemd alerting unit

Next up we’re creating a systemd unit that will be started when another unit fails. Create the file /lib/systemd/system/systemd-alert@.service with the content:

Description=Systemd alert

ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/systemd-alert %i

This is a super simple unit which will just execute the script /usr/local/bin/systemd-alert, passing the instance name as an argument. The instance name is defined when we start the unit by adding it after the @ symbol in the service file name.

Example: sudo systemctl start systemd-alert@test.service will execute /usr/local/bin/systemd-alert test

Triggering the alert

Finally, we just need to add the OnFailure setting to the Unit section of another systemd unit we want to be alerted for. Once that unit enters the failed state, systemd will start the unit specified by OnFailure, sending the alert notification. We can use the %N specifier here which will get replaced with the name of the service minus the type suffix. You can see the full list of specifiers in the systemd man pages .



With that done, we should be good to go! You can test it out by making sure your unit will fail (maybe make a typo in the ExecStart command) and starting it.

This is very useful for dynamic environments such as applications running on AWS Spot Instances as you will recieve an alert if your server fails to start a critical service which could otherwise go unnoticed. In an upcoming blog post, I will be talking about how to use a tool named germinate to enrich the alert message with data from other sources at runtime. For example, loading the value of an AWS EC2 instance tag to get more context.