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Advanced system & process supervisor for Linux
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System & Process Supervisor for Linux

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watchdogd(8) is an advanced system and process supervisor daemon, primarily intended for embedded Linux and server systems. By default it periodically kicks the system watchdog timer (WDT) to prevent it from resetting the system. In its more advanced guise it monitors critical system resources, supervises the heartbeat of processes, records deadline transgressions, and initiates a controlled reset if needed.

When a system starts up, watchdogd determines the reset cause by querying the kernel. In case of system reset, and not power loss, the reset reason is available already in a file for later analysis by an operator or network management system (NMS). This information can in turn can be used to put the system in an operational safe state, or non-operational safe state.

What is a watchdog timer?

Most server and laptop motherboards today come equipped with a watchdog timer (WDT). It is a small timer connected to the reset circuitry so that it can reset the board if the timer expires. The WDT driver, and this daemon, periodically "kick" (reset) the timer to prevent it from firing.

Most embedded systems utilise watchdog timers as a way to automatically recover from malfunctions: lock-ups, live-locks, CPU overload. With a bit of logic sprinkled on top the cause can more easily be tracked down.

The Linux kernel provides a common userspace interface /dev/watchdog, created automatically when the appropriate watchdog driver is loaded. If your board does not have a WDT, the kernel provides a softdog.ko module which in many cases can be good enough.

The idea of a watchdog daemon in userspace is to run in the background of your system. When there is no more CPU time for the watchdog daemon to run it will fail to "kick" the WDT. This will in turn cause the WDT to reboot the system. When it does watchdogd has already saved the reset reason for your post mortem.

As a background process, watchdogd can of course also be used to monitor other aspects of the system ...

What can watchdogd do?

Without arguments watchdogd runs in the background, monitoring the the CPU, and as long as there is CPU time it "kicks" the WDT chip (via the driver). If watchdogd is stopped, or does not get enough CPU time to run, the WDT will detect this and reboot the system. This is the normal mode of operation.

With a few lines in /etc/watchdogd.conf, it can also monitor other aspects of the system, such as:

  • Load average
  • Memory leaks
  • File descriptor leaks
  • Process live locks
  • Reset counter, warm boots since last power failure

To top things off there is support for periodically calling a generic script where operators can do housekeeping checks. For details on how to configure this, see the watchdogd.conf(5) man page.


watchdogd [-hnsVx] [-f FILE] [-T SEC] [-t SEC] [/dev/watchdog]

  -f, --config=FILE        Use FILE for daemon configuration
  -n, --foreground         Start in foreground (background is default)
  -s, --syslog             Use syslog, even if running in foreground
  -l, --loglevel=LVL       Log level: none, err, info, notice*, debug
  -T, --timeout=SEC        HW watchdog timer (WDT) timeout in SEC seconds
  -t, --interval=SEC       WDT kick interval in SEC seconds, default: 10
  -x, --safe-exit          Disable watchdog on exit from SIGINT/SIGTERM
                           "magic" exit may not be supported by HW/driver
  -V, --version            Display version and exit
  -h, --help               Display this help message and exit

Without any arguments, watchdogd opens /dev/watchdog, forks to the background, tries to to set a 20 sec WDT timeout, and then kicks every 10 sec. See the Operation section for more information.


watchdogd -T 120 -t 30 /dev/watchdog2


To force a kernel watchdog reboot, watchdogd supports SIGPWR, used by some init(1) systems to delegate a reboot. What it does is to set the WDT timer to the lowest possible value (1 sec), close the connection to /dev/watchdog, and wait for WDT reboot. It waits at most 3x the WDT timeout before announcing HW WDT failure and forcing a reboot.

watchdogd(8) supports optional monitoring of several system resources that can be enabled in the .conf file. First, system load average monitoring can be enabled with:

loadavg {
    interval = 300       # Every 5 mins
    warning  = 1.5
    critical = 2.0

Second, the memory leak detector, a value of 1.0 means 100% memory use:

meminfo {
    interval = 3600       # Every hour
    warning  = 0.9
    critical = 0.95

Third, file descriptor leak detector:

filenr {
    interval = 3600       # Every hour
    warning  = 0.8
    critical = 0.95

All of these monitors can be very useful on an embedded or headless system with little or no operator.

The two values, warning and critical, are the warning and reboot levels in percent. The latter is optional, if it is omitted reboot is disabled. A script can also be run instead of reboot, see the .conf file for details.

Determining suitable system load average levels is tricky. It always depends on the system and use-case, not just the number of CPU cores. Peak loads of 16.00 on an 8 core system may be responsive and still useful but 2.00 on a 2 core system may be completely bogged down. Make sure to read up on the subject and thoroughly test your system before enabling a reboot trigger value. watchdgod uses an average of the first two load average values, the one (1) and five (5) minute. For more information on the UNIX load average, see this StackOverflow question.

The RAM usage monitor only triggers on systems without swap. This is detected by reading the file /proc/meminfo, looking for the SwapTotal: value. For more details on the underlying mechanisms of file descriptor usage, see this article. For more info on the details of memory usage, see this article.

watchdogd v2.0 and later comes with a process supervisor (previously called pmon). When the supervisor is enabled the daemon runs as a real-time task with the configured priority, default 98. Monitored clients connect to the supervisor using the libwdog API.

supervisor {
    enabled = true
    priority = 98

See below for details on how to have your process internal deadlines be supervised.

When a process fails to meet its deadlines, or a monitor plugin reaches critical level, watchdogd initiates a controlled reset. To see the reset reason after reboot, the following section must be enabled in the /etc/watchdogd.conf file:

reset-reason {
    enabled = true
#   file    = /var/lib/watchdogd.state  # default

The file setting is optional, the default is usually sufficient, but make sure the destination directory is writable if you change it. You can either inspect the file, or use the watchdogctl tool.

libwdog API

To have watchdogd supervise a process, it must be instrumented with at least a "subscribe" and a "kick" API call. Commonly this is achieved by adding the wdog_kick() call to the main event loop.

All libwdog API functions, except wdog_ping(), return POSIX OK(0) or negative value with errno set on error. The wdog_subscribe() call returns a positive integer (including zero) for the watchdog id.

 * Enable or disable watchdogd at runtime.
int wdog_enable      (int enable);
int wdog_status      (int *enabled);

 * Check if watchdogd API is actively responding,
 * returns %TRUE(1) or %FALSE(0)
int wdog_ping        (void);

 * Register with process supervisor, timeout in msec
 * Return value is the `id`, or -1 on error
int wdog_subscribe   (char *label, unsigned int timeout, unsigned int *ack);
int wdog_unsubscribe (int id, unsigned int ack);
int wdog_kick        (int id, unsigned int timeout, unsigned int ack, unsigned int *next_ack);
int wdog_kick2       (int id, unsigned int *ack);
int wdog_extend_kick (int id, unsigned int timeout, unsigned int *ack);

It is highly recommended to use an event loop like libev, libuev, or similar. For such libraries one can simply add a timer callback for the kick to run periodically to monitor proper operation of the client.


For other applications, identify your main loop, its max period time and instrument it like this:

int ack, wid;

/* Library will use process' name on NULL first arg. */
wid = wdog_subscribe(NULL, 10000, &ack);
if (-1 == wid)
        ;      /* Error handling */

while (1) {
        wdog_kick2(wid, &ack);

This example subscribe to the watchdog with a 10 sec timeout. The wid is used in the call to wdog_kick2(), with the received ack value. Which is changed every time the application calls wdog_kick2(), so it is important the correct value is used. Applications should of course check the return value of wdog_subscribe() for errors, that code is left out for readability.

See also the example/ex1.c in the source distribution. This is used by the automatic tests.


By default, watchdogd forks off a daemon in the background, opens the /dev/watchdog device, attempts to set the default WDT timeout to 20 seconds, and then enters its main loop where it kicks the watchdog every 10 seconds.

If a WDT device driver does not support setting the timeout, watchdogd attempts to query the actual (possibly hard coded) watchdog timeout and then uses half that time as the kick interval.

When watchdogd backgrounds itself, syslog is implicitly used for all informational and debug messages. If a user requests to run the daemon in the foreground watchdogd will also log to STDERR and STDOUT, unless the user gives the --syslog argument to force use of syslog.

The /etc/watchdogd.conf file and the command line control toool watchdogctl can be used to enable more features and query status.


The code base has LOG(), INFO() and DEBUG() statements almost everywhere. Use the --loglevel=debug command line option to enable full debug output to stderr or the syslog, depending on how you start watchdogd. The default log level is notice, which enables LOG(), WARN() and error messages.

The watchdogctl debug command can be used at runtime to enable the debug log level, without having to restart a running daemon.

Build & Install

Note: To enable any of the extra monitors and the process supervisor, see ./configure --help

watchdogd is tailored for Linux systems and builds against most modern C libries. However, three external libraries are required: libite, libuEv, and libConfuse. Neither should present any surprises, all of them use de facto standard configure scripts and support pkg-config. The latter is used by the watchdogd configure script use to locate requried libraries and header files.

Hence, the regular ./configure && make is usually sufficient to build watchdogd. But, if libraries are installed in non-standard locations you may need to provide their paths:

PKG_CONFIG_PATH=/opt/lib/pkgconfig:/home/ian/lib/pkgconfig ./configure

If you're not building from a released tarball but instead use the GIT sources, see the Contributing section below.

Origin & References

watchdogd(8) is an improved version of the original, created by Michele d'Amico and adapted to uClinux-dist by Mike Frysinger. It is maintained by Joachim Nilsson collaboratively at GitHub.

The original code in uClinux-dist is available in the public domain, whereas this version is distributed under the ISC license. See the file LICENSE for more details on this.

The logo, "Watch Dog Detective Taking Notes", is licensed for use by the watchdogd project, copyright © Ron Leishman.


If you find bugs or want to contribute fixes or features, check out the code from GitHub:

git clone
cd watchdogd

The script runs autoconf, automake, et al to create the configure script and such generated files not part of the VCS tree. For more details, see the file CONTRIBUTING in the GIT sources.

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