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Mix tasks to generate a systemd unit file for an Elixir project
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This library generates a systemd unit file to manage an Elixir application.

At its heart, it's a mix task which reads information about the project from mix.exs plus optional library configuration in config/config.exs and generates systemd unit files using Eex templates.

The goal is that the project defaults will generate a good systemd unit file, and standard options support more specialized use cases. If you need more customization, you can check the local copy of the templates into source control and modify them (and patches are welcome).

It uses standard systemd functions and conventions to make your app a more "native" OS citizen, and takes advantage of systemd features to improve security and reliability.

While it can be used standalone, more advanced use cases require scripts from e.g. mix_deploy.

Here is a complete example app which uses mix_deploy.


Add mix_systemd to deps in mix.exs:

{:mix_systemd, "~> 0.6.0"},


The library gets standard information in mix.exs, e.g. the app name and version, then calculates default values for its configuration parameters.

You can override these parameters using settings in config/config.exs, e.g.:

config :mix_systemd,
    app_user: "app",
    app_group: "app",
    base_dir: "/opt",
    env_vars: [

The library tries to choose smart defaults, so you may not need to configure anything. See below for more options.


The systemd.init task copies template files from mix_systemd into your project, then the systemd.generate task uses them to create output files.

First, initialize templates under the rel/templates/systemd directory:

mix systemd.init

Next, generate output files under _build/#{mix_env}/systemd/lib/systemd/system.

MIX_ENV=prod mix systemd.generate

Configuration options

The following sections describe configuration options. See lib/mix/tasks/systemd.ex for all the details.

If you need to make changes not supported by the config options, then you can check the templates into source control from rel/templates/systemd and make your own changes.


app_name: Elixir application name, an atom, from the app field in the mix.exs project.

version: version from the mix.exs project.

ext_name: External name, used for files and directories. Default is app_name with underscores converted to "-".

service_name: Name of the systemd service, default ext_name.

base_dir: Base directory for app files on the target, default /srv

deploy_dir: Directory for app files on the target, default #{base_dir}/#{ext_name}

app_user: OS user account that the app runs under, default ext_name.

app_group: OS group account, default ext_name.


We use the standard app directories, for modern Linux systems. App files under /srv, configuration under /etc, transient files under /run, data under /var/lib.

Directories are named based on the app name, e.g. /etc/#{ext_name}. The dirs variable specifies which directories the app uses, by default:

dirs: [
  :runtime,       # App runtime files which may be deleted between runs, /run/#{ext_name}
                  # Used for RELEASE_TMP, RELEASE_MUTABLE_DIR, runtime-environment
  :configuration, # App configuration, e.g. db passwords, /etc/#{ext_name}
  # :state,       # App data or state persisted between runs, /var/lib/#{ext_name}
  # :cache,       # App cache files which can be deleted, /var/cache/#{ext_name}
  # :logs,        # App external log files, not via journald, /var/log/#{ext_name}
  # :tmp,         # App temp files, /var/tmp/#{ext_name}

Recent versions of systemd (after 235) will create these directories at start time based on the settings in the unit file. For earlier systemd versions, you need to create them beforehand using installation scripts, e.g. mix_deploy.

For security, we set permissions more restrictively than the systemd defaults. You can configure them with e.g. configuration_directory_mode. See the defaults in lib/mix/tasks/systemd.ex.

systemd_version: Sets the systemd version on the target system, default 235. This determines which systemd features the library will enable. If you are targeting an older OS release, you may need to change it. Here are the systemd versions in common OS releases:

  • CentOS 7: 219
  • Ubuntu 16.04: 229
  • Ubuntu 18.04: 237

Additional directories

The library uses a directory structure under deploy_dir which supports multiple releases, similar to Capistrano.

  • scripts_dir: deployment scripts which e.g. start and stop the unit, default bin.
  • current_dir: where the current Erlang release is unpacked or referenced by symlink, default current.
  • releases_dir: where versioned releases are unpacked, default releases.
  • flags_dir: dir for flag files to trigger restart, e.g. when restart_method is :systemd_flag, default flags.

When using multiple releases and symlinks, the deployment process works as follows:

  1. Create a new directory for the release with a timestamp like /srv/foo/releases/20181114T072116.

  2. Upload the new release tarball to the server and unpack it to the releases dir

  3. Make a symlink from /srv/#{ext_name}/current to the new release dir.

  4. Restart the app.

If you are only keeping a single version, then you would deploy it to the /srv/#{ext_name}/current dir.

Environment vars

The library sets a few common env vars in the unit file:

  • MIX_ENV: mix_env var, default Mix.env()
  • LANG: env_lang var, default en_US.UTF-8
  • RELEASE_TMP: runtime_dir, e.g. /run/#{ext_name}
  • RUNTIME_DIR: runtime_dir
  • DEPLOY_DIR: deploy_dir
  • CONFIGURATION_DIR: configuration_dir

You can set additional vars using the env_vars config var, e.g.:

env_vars: [

The unit file also attempts to read environment vars from a series of files:

  • etc/environment within the release, e.g. /srv/app/currrent/etc/environment
  • #{deploy_dir}/etc/environment, e.g. /srv/app/etc/environment
  • #{configuration_dir}/environment, e.g. /etc/app/environment
  • #{runtime_dir}/runtime-environment, e.g. /run/app/runtime-environment

Later values override earlier values, so you can set defaults which get overridden in the deployment or runtime environment.

Systemd and OS

limit_nofile: Limit on open files, systemd LimitNOFILE, default 65535.

umask: Process umask, systemd UMask, default 0027

restart_sec: Time to wait between restarts, systemd RestartSec, default 1 sec.

service_type: :simple | :exec | :notify | :forking. Default :simple.

Modern applications are not supposed to fork, they run in the foreground and rely on the supervisor to manage them as a daemon. To do this, set service_type to :simple or :exec. Note that in simple mode, systemd doesn't actually check if the app started successfully, it just keeps going. If something depends on your app being up, :exec may be better.

Set service_type to :forking, and this library sets pid_file to #{runtime_directory}/#{app_name}.pid and sets the PIDFILE env var to tell the boot scripts where it is.

The Erlang VM runs pretty well in foreground mode, but it is really expecting to run as a standard Unix-style daemon, so forking might be better. Systemd expects foregrounded apps to die when their pipe closes. See

restart_method: :systemctl | :systemd_flag | :touch. Default :systemctl

Set this to :systemd_flag, and the library will generate an additional unit file which watches for changes to a flag file and restarts the main unit. This allows updates to be pushed to the target machine by an unprivileged user account which does not have permissions to restart processes. touch the file #{flags_dir}/restart.flag and systemd will restart the unit.

Runtime configuration

For configuration, we use a combination of build time settings, deploy time settings, and runtime settings.

The configuration settings in config/config.exs are baked into the release. We can then extend them with machine-specific configuration stored in the configuration dir /etc/#{ext_name} which are read by the app on startup.

In on-premises deployments, we might generate the machine-specific configuration once when setting up the app.

In cloud and other dynamic environments, we may run from a read-only image, e.g. an Amazon AMI, which gets configured at start up based on the environment by copying the config from an S3 bucket or a configuration store like AWS Systems Manager Parameter Store or etcd.

Some things change dynamically each time the app starts, e.g. the IP address of the machine, or periodically, such as AWS access keys in an IAM instance role.

This library supports three ways to get runtime config:

ExecStartPre scripts

Scripts specified in exec_start_pre run before the main ExecStart script runs, e.g.:

exec_start_pre: [

This runs the deploy-sync-config-s3 script in mix_deploy, which copies config files from an S3 bucket into /etc/foo. By default, scripts run as the same user and group as the main script. Putting ! in front makes the script run with elevated privileges, allowing it to write to /etc/foo even if the main script cannot for security reasons.

ExecStart wrapper script

Instead of running the main ExecStart script directly, you can run a shell script which sets up the environment, then runs the main script with exec. Set exec_start_wrap to the name of the script, e.g. deploy-runtime-environment-wrap from mix_deploy.

This is redundant with rel/ in Elixir 1.9, but it runs earlier, so it may still be useful.

Runtime environment service

You can run your own separate service to configure the runtime environment before the app runs. Set runtime_environment_service_script to a script such as deploy-runtime-environment-file in mix_deploy. The library will create a #{service_name}-runtime-environment.service unit and make it a systemd runtime dependency of the app.

Runtime dependencies

Systemd starts units in parallel when possible, but we may need to enforce ordering. Set unit_after_targets to the names of systemd units that the script depends on. For example, if you are using cloud-init to get runtime network information, set:

unit_after_targets: [


paranoia: Enable systemd security options, default false.


chroot: Enable systemd chroot, default false. Sets systemd RootDirectory is set to current_dir. You can also set systemd ReadWritePaths=, ReadOnlyPaths=, InaccessiblePaths= with the read_write_paths, read_only_paths and inaccessible_paths vars, respectively.

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