Using Systemd to Manage Services, Run Levels and Logs on a Linux System

Systemd is not only a service manager but also a system manager for Linux. It’s designed to be backward compatible with SysV init scripts and used by many popular Linux distributions like Debian 8+, Ubuntu 15.04+, Fedora, Redhat 7+ /CentOS 7+, Arch Linux, OpenSUSE. So it will be very helpful to know the usage of Systemd.

This tutorial shows you some basic commands that will be useful to manage services, run levels and logs.

To check systemd version on your Linux distribution, run

systemd --version


systemctl --version

systemd version

Managing Services

Systemd can help you start, stop, restart services and also allows you to autostart services at boot time.

To list systemd services that are active, run

systemctl list-units --type service

Check the status of a specific service, for example, SSH daemon.

systemctl status ssh

To start a service, use the start subcommand:

sudo systemctl start ssh

Check if it’s active (running)

systemctl is-active ssh

Enable a service to autostart at boot time

sudo systemctl enable ssh

Check if it’s enabled

systemctl is-enabled ssh

Prevent a service from starting up at boot time

sudo systemctl disable ssh

Stop a service

sudo systemctl stop ssh

To prevent a service from starting maually, use the mask subcommand

sudo systemctl mask ssh

Masked services can’t be started with systemctl start command until it’s unmasked.

sudo systemctl unmask ssh

Managing Run Levels

The concept of run levels is replaced by targets in systemd. The is equivalent to run level 3 and the is equivalent to run level 5. You can still use the runlevel command to show the current run level.


Use the following command to check the status of the default target, which by default is usually the graphical target (run level 5).

systemctl status

systemd default boot target

You use systemctl isolate command to change target. For example, change to the (run level 3):

sudo systemctl isolate

And to change back to graphical target (run level 5):

sudo systemctl isolate

To set as the default target, use the following command:

sudo systemctl set-default

This command creates a symbolic link.

systemd default target

If you reboot now, you will be taken to multi-user target.


To list active targets, run

systemctl list-units --type target

Managing Logs

The systemd software suite includes a journalctl utility which can be used to manage logs on Linux. Linux traditionally saves logs under /var/log/ directory. On a Linux distribution with systemd, you may not be able to find logs such as postfix mail logs (/var/log/mail.log) in that directory.

You can view recent logs with:

sudo journalctl

Use grep to search for logs related to your search term

sudo journalctl | grep <search term>

View logs since the current boot

sudo journalctl -b

View logs since the previous boot

sudo journalctl -b -1

Here’s a little trick that show logs being generated in real time.

sudo journalctl -f

journalctl examples

Show logs of a unit, for instance, the ssh service unit.

sudo journalctl -u ssh

To view Postfix logs, run

sudo journalctl -u postfix

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