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This chapter is from the book

init and Understanding Runlevels

It is difficult to discuss the init program without first having an understanding of what it controls. The init process is invoked by the kernel itself and becomes the parent of all other processes on a machine. At startup, the /etc/inittab file is interpreted by init and all identified routines are processed. The default runlevel for the system is maintained within inittab.

You can think of a Linux operating system runlevel as the "application state" of the machine. For each distinct state, select processes are functional. Table 3.1 displays the known list of runlevels and their impact on user access.

TABLE 3.1: RUNLEVELS

Runlevel

Script Directory

Definition

0

rc0.d

System is stopped

S

rc1.d

Single user mode accessed from the boot prompt

1

rc1.d

Single user mode

2

rc2.d

Multiuser mode but no network available

3

rc3.d

Multiuser mode with full network access

4

rc4.d

N/A, an unused runlevel

5

rc5.d

Multiuser network enabled including the X Windows System

6

rc6.d

Forces a machine to reboot


You initiate transitions between states by running the init routine followed by the runlevel. Each transition, in turn, changes which processes are running. The application startups or shutdowns triggered by a change in the runlevel are managed through a series of script files. The directory /etc/init.d is the base directory for a collection of directories, each of which, represents a distinct runlevel. Within each level’s directory resides a collection of appropriate scripts for the applications required for the specific runlevel.

When the system enters a particular state, it initiates all the appropriate routines for that state by executing all the script files that begin with the letter S (Start) in the corresponding directory.

Similarly, when the system is leaving a source level for another, the scripts residing in the source directory beginning with the letter K (Kill) are processed. This ensures that all applications that are supposed to run only in a particular level are shut down properly before the system moves onto the next runlevel.

The one exception is one of efficiency. If a start script for a specific application exists in the target level, the stop (Kill) script in the source level is ignored.

As an example, you can examine the change of state from runlevel 3 and runlevel 5 on the xdm application. Xdm is the X Windows System display manager. Referring to Table 3.1, X is available only at runlevel 5. Listing 3.3 show the files associated with xdm in the /etc/init.d/rc5.d directory.

LISTING 3.3: xdm FILES ASSOCIATED WITH RUNLEVEL 5

Castor:/etc/init.d # ls -l rc5.d | grep -e xdm
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root  6 Jan 5 04:53 K06xdm -> ../xdm
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root  6 Jan 5 04:53 S16xdm -> ../xdm
Castor:/etc/init.d #

From Listing 3.3, it is possible to see that xdm is both started and stopped as the system enters or leaves runlevel 5. What is also apparent is that both the startup and shutdown scripts are simply links to the same script residing in /etc/init.d. This linking minimizes duplication of the scripts, ensuring a consistent application startup and shutdown independent of target runlevel.

The init process can therefore be defined as a tool used to control which applications are active on a system. You can identify which applications are active within a runlevel by looking at content of the subdirectory for the level in question.

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