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Convenience code for dealing with systemd-nspawn machines

Project description

Nspawn Tools

This is a small project designed to provide helper code for interacting with systemd-nspawn machines. At the moment, it contains two programs. Their capabilities are described below. It also contains some associated library code that can be used and extended for other purposes. These are designed to work with machines that are using an init system such as runit or s6-overlay (possibly also systemd, depending on the program).

This project is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License Version 3 as published by the Free Software Foundation. No other version currently applies to this project. This project is distributed without any warranty. Please see LICENSE.txt for the full text of the license.


This is a wrapper for the nsenter utility from the util-linux package. Without this, you would have to manually work out what the PID of the leader process is, then run nsenter manually and remember all the flags you need to ensure you enter all of the same namespaces that the leader process is running under.

To use nspawn-enter, run it like so:

nspawn-enter mymachinename

It is possible to avoid entering some namespaces of the leader process. You can pass the –no-network flag to avoid entering the network namespace. You can pass the –no-pid flag to avoid entering the PID namespace. I added these to aid debugging of issues within the container (especially networking issues). It can aid things such as installing packages too. As a result, these flags are not generic. If someone wants to provide a patch to make this generic for all namespace flags supported by nsenter, I will be happy to consider it.


One of the problems I encountered while setting up systemd-nspawn containers running with init systems that aren’t systemd was getting the machine to shut down cleanly when running as a systemd service unit. Initially, I was excluding the –keep-unit flag when running systemd-nspawn in the ExecStart line of the unit, and using ‘machinectl kill mymachinename –kill-who=leader’ as the ExecStop line. Unfortunately, this still resulted in the ungraceful termination of all processes within the container.

The ungraceful termination occurred because machinectl doesn’t block until the leader process has actually terminated. Instead, the ‘machinectl kill’ command (by default) simply sends the SIGTERM signal to the leader process and then exits immediately. Systemd would see that the ExecStop command had exited, and that there were still processes inside the container runnng, and kill them immediately in order to fulfill its job.

nspawn-stop gets around this issue by working out what the leader process is, calling ‘machinectl kill’ itself, then waiting until the leader process has actually terminated before exiting itself. By using this as the ExecStop program for the relevant service unit, it gives the leader process inside the container enough time to shut itself down cleanly.

To use nspawn-stop, run it like so:

nspawn-stop mymachinename

It is possible to adjust the amount of time that nspawn-stop will wait for the leader process to terminate by passing the –timeout flag:

nspawn-stop mymachinename –timeout 10

The default timeout is 60 seconds. Note that nspawn-stop will not kill processes inside the container itself. If the timeout expires and there are still processes running inside the container, it is up to the caller to kill them. When used as the ExecStop program for an nspawn machine, the caller is systemd, and it will kill these remaining processes (as described above).

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