Fear and Loathing in Les Rambles/ blog/ Upstart in Debian

Good news, everyone!

So as of last Sunday, this works on all Linux archs in Debian unstable and gives you a modern version of upstart:

echo 'Yes, do as I say!' | apt-get -o DPkg::options=--force-remove-essential -y --force-yes install upstart

Thanks to the ifupdown, sysvinit, and udev maintainers for their cooperation in getting upstart support in place; to the Debian release team for accomodating the late changes needed for upstart to be supported in wheezy; and to Scott for his past maintenance of upstart in Debian.

Benchmarking

One of the consequences is that it's now possible to do meaningful head-to-head comparisons of boot speed between sysvinit (with startpar), upstart, and systemd. At one time or another people have tested systemd vs. sysvinit when using bash as /bin/sh, and upstart vs. sysvinit, and systemd vs. sysvinit+startpar, and there are plenty of bootcharts floating around showing results of one init system or another on one distro or another, but I'm not aware of anyone having done a real, fair comparison of the three solutions, changing nothing but the init system.

I've done some initial comparisons in a barebones sid VM, and the results are definitely interesting. Sysvinit with startpar (the default in Debian) can boot a stock sid install, with no added services, in somewhere between 3.37 and 3.42 seconds (three runs). That's not a whole lot, but on the other hand this is a system with a single filesystem and no interesting services yet. Is this really as fast as we can boot?

No, even this minimal system can boot faster. Testing with upstart shows that upstart can do the same job in between 3.03 and 3.19 seconds (n=3, mean=3.09). This confirms what we'd already seen in Ubuntu, that it makes a difference to boot speed to have filesystem mounting handled by an integrated process that understands the whole system instead of as a group of serialized shell scripts.

What about systemd? The same test gives a boot time between 2.32 and 2.85 seconds (n=4, mean=2.48). Interesting; what would make systemd faster than upstart in sid? Well, a quick look at the system shows one possible contributing factor: the rsyslog package in Debian has a systemd unit file, but not an upstart job file. Dropping in the /etc/init/rsyslog.conf from Ubuntu has a noticeable impact, and brings the upstart boot time down nearer to that of systemd (2.78-3.03s, n=5, mean=2.92). Besides telling me that it's time to start spamming Debian maintainers with wishlist bugs asking them to include upstart jobs in their packages, this suggests that the remaining difference in boot time may be due to the outstanding init scripts in rcS.d that are made built-in no-ops by systemd but not (yet) by upstart in Debian (e.g., hwclock, hostname, udev-mtab). (In Ubuntu, /etc/rcS.d has long since been emptied out in favor of upstart jobs in the common case, since the time it takes to get to runlevel=2 is definitely a major issue for boot speed and boot parallelization.)

It also gives the lie to the claim that's been made in various places that spawning shells is a major bottleneck for upstart vs. systemd. More study is certainly needed to confirm this, but at least this naive first test suggests that in spite of the purported benefits of hard-coding boot-time policies in C code, upstart with its default degree of runtime configurability is at least in the ballpark of systemd. Indeed, when OpenSuSE switched from upstart to systemd, it seems that something else in the stack managed to nullify any benefit from improving the boot-time performance of apparmor. Contrary to what some would have you believe, systemd is not some kind of silver bullet for boot speed. Upstart, with its boot-time flexibility and its long history of real-world testing in Ubuntu, is a formidable competitor to systemd in the boot speed department - and a solid solution to the many longstanding boot-time ordering bugs in Debian, which still affect users of sysvinit.

I've published the bootcharts for the above tests here. Between the fact that Debian's bootchart package logs by default to /var/log/bootchart.tgz (thus overwriting on every boot) and the fact that these tests are in a VM, I haven't bothered to include the raw data, just the bootcharts themselves. The interested reader can probably generate more interesting boot charts of their own anyway - in particular, it will be interesting to see how the different init systems perform with more complicated filesystem layouts, or when booting a less trivial set of services.

Other musings

The boot charts have been created with the bootchart package rather than with bootchart2. For one thing, it turns out that bootchart2 includes systemd units, not init scripts; so when replacing bootchart with bootchart2, the non-matching init script is left behind and systemd in particular gets terribly confused. This is now reported as Bug #694403.

In an amusing twist, while I was experimenting with bootchart2, I also noticed that having systemd installed would slow down booting with other init systems, because systemd installs udev rules which take a noticeable amount of time to run a helper command at boot even though the helper should be a no-op. So if you're doing boot speed testing of other init systems, be sure you don't have systemd on the system at the time!