It is quite common in Debian and Ubuntu that when installing a package that provides a daemon, said daemon is started by the init script(s) included in the package. This is a matter of Debian Policy, though I don’t interpret that section to literally mean it is required. However, it is common enough practice that several people have asked (or ranted) about the topic.

The main issue of course is that the default configuration for the software being installed may not be appropriate before starting up the service and making it available on the network. Users of other Linux distributions may be smugly smirking as their distribution doesn’t start the service on package installation.

This post isn’t about that.

Instead, this post describes how this problem is resolved using configuration management, specifically Chef. I’m also going to discuss a couple nuances about service management, so watch carefully.

For the example service I’m going to use memcached, from the memcached package. It is started on package installation as demonstrated:

vagrant@precise-housepub:~$ sudo apt-get install memcached
Setting up memcached (1.4.13-0ubuntu2) ...
Starting memcached: memcached.
vagrant@precise-housepub:~$ service memcached status
 * memcached is running
vagrant@precise-housepub:~$ ps awux | grep memcached
 memcache 15176  0.0  0.3 323212  1180 ?        Sl   04:32   0:00 /usr/bin/memcached -m 64 -p 11211 -u memcache -l

As we can see, the memcached service is started. Of course, it is using the default configuration, which means that it has a very small memory size, and listens on localhost. While the recipe would be very simple:

package "memcached"

This wouldn’t be very useful for discussion, or practical use purposes. For now, I’m going to post the entire recipe I’m going to discuss, and then break it down.

node.set['memcached']['memory_max'] = node['memory']['total'].to_i / 1024 * 0.65

package "memcached"

service "memcached" do
  supports :restart => true, :status => true
  action :enable

template "/etc/memcached.conf" do
  source "memcached.conf.erb"
  owner "root"
  group "root"
  mode 00644
  notifies :restart, "service[memcached]"
    :memory_max => node['memcached']['memory_max']
    :ip_addr => node['ipaddress']

service "memcached" do
  action :start

This recipe is fairly straightforward. First, it sets a node attribute based on a calculation of the amount of memory installed in the system. Then, it will install the memcached package. This of course will start up the service with the unsuitable defaults already discussed.

The first service resource occurance makes sure that the service is enabled. This is the default behavior of the package manager, but this also gives clear indication as to the intention of the recipe. Next, the configuration file is managed. The exact content of the memcached.conf.erb file isn’t particularly important. Let us presume that the variables passed in are what we care about - that we want to use 65% of the system’s total memory for memcached, and listen on the default IP address. Maybe other tuning is happening, maybe not. Of course, when the configuration is updated, we need to notify the memcached service to restart.

Finally, the memcached service is started if it is not already running. This occurs at the end to help remedy an issue where the service might have been halted, or the configuration file was rendered incorrectly (a typo?), so that we can correct such configuration problems with Chef in a single subsequent run. This uses a feature of Chef where resources can be declared multiple times with different actions (or if desired, parameters).

The first time this recipe is run on a node, memcached will be installed, started, configured, restarted. We’re not aiming to prevent the auto-start from occurring at all, but we do automate the additional steps required for handling that easily.