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Version 251 of systemd coming soon to a Linux distro near you

'Experimental' systemd-sysupdate feature likely to get the most attention

Version 251 of the controversial systemd Linux init system is here, and you can expect it to feature in the next version of your preferred distro.

The unified system and service manager for Linux continues to grow and develop, as does Linux itself. There is a comprehensive changelog on Github, so we will just try to pick out a few of the highlights.

New releases of systemd appear roughly twice a year, so the chances are that this will appear in the fall releases of Ubuntu and Fedora.

The new version now uses the GCC compiler's C11-with-GNU-extensions standard, nicknamed gnu11.

This brings it into line with the Linux kernel itself, which uses the same standard as of version 5.18 – in turn facilitated by kernel 5.15 moving the minimum required GCC version to 5.1.

Were we betting types, we'd wager that probably the most controversial changes in the new release revolve around the new systemd-sysupdate and kernel-install features. The former is still described as an experimental feature, so relax – for now.

Change in packaging

No, this does not mean that systemd is becoming a package manager. Like it or not, though, the nature of operating systems is changing. Modern ones are large, complex, and need regular updates, and as The Register has examined in depth recently, this means that the design of Linux distributions is changing radically.

The prime example is the ever more mature ChromeOS, including Google's new move into the mass-market hardware space, ChromeOS Flex.

What that means (in brief) is that the nature and use of package managers is changing. What is disappearing is their role as the tool that allow end-users to customise and update their OS. Instead, they are becoming the tools that vendors use to build the distributions.

ChromeOS doesn't have a package manager; neither do Fedora's Silverblue and Kinoite versions. You get a tested, known-good image of the OS. Updates are distributed as a complete image, like they are today with Android or iOS.

ChromeOS has two root partitions: one live and one spare. The currently running OS updates the spare partition, then you reboot into that one. If everything works, it updates the now-idle second root partition. If it doesn't all work perfectly, then you still have the previous version available to use, and you can just reboot into that again.

When a fixed image becomes available, the OS automatically tries again on the spare instance. The idea is that you always have a known-good OS partition available, which sounds like a benefit to us.

Presumably the users are happy too: Chromebook sales may be down, and they only have a fixed lifespan, but there are still well over a hundred million of them out there.

Penguin bearing package/gift

NixOS and the changing face of Linux operating systems


So, no, systemd is not going to become a package manager, because ordinary distros won't have a package manager at all, except maybe Flatpak, or Snap or something similar. The new functionality, including managing installed kernels, is to facilitate A/B type dual-live-system partitions.

For some insight into this vision, Lennart Poettering, lead architect of systemd, has described this in a blog post titled "Bringing Everything Together."

Version 251 has other features, of course. It requires a minimum of kernel 4.15, which dates back to January 2018. There are some changes to systemd-networkd, such as systemd-resolved starting earlier in the boot sequence, and more cautious allocation of default routes.

The busctl tool for monitoring DBUS has changed its output format from the old PCap format to the newer PCapNG.

Handling of environment variables and unit statuses is improved, including setting a status for processes killed by the systemd-oomd out-of-memory killer.

If you still prefer to avoid systemd, don't despair. There are still a selection of distros that eschew it altogether, including Devuan GNU+Linux, Alpine Linux, and Void Linux. ®

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