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I am setting up a service in /etc/init.d. I am looking at various scripts in there, some are implemented with start-stop-daemon ... and some with /path/to/script &.

All of them save the pid in a file and do some checks.

What is the best practice, what are the differences, what is important to know here ... ? (in general)

In my particular case I have a simple lightweight localhost http server in java that an application will call once every hour or so and it just gives a stupid random number (no more details here, I just mean it doesn't use the file system or threads or anything complicated in case this matter in my question)


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up vote 9 down vote accepted

A background-job (ie. started with &) still has it's stdin, stdout and stderr connected to the terminal it was started in. It may suddenly write (eg. error-messages) to the terminal ("disturbing" the job in the foreground) or pause waiting for input from the keyboard (you must first put it in the foreground). You may of course redirect stdout and stderr to a file or to /dev/null to prevent the background-job from writing to the terminal.

A background-job can also be put in foreground - eg. the current foreground-job is stopped, and the fg (foreground) command is used to put a background-job in the foreground. A background-job can also be reached by signals from the terminal - eg. SIGHUP when you close the terminal, which usually end (most) programs started in the terminal.

A daemon - like the ones started automatically by init.d, but which also can be started manually from a terminal - on the other hand, runs disconnected from any terminals. Even if it was manually started from a terminal, a daemon will be disconnected from the terminal, so it can neither write (stdout, stderr) nor read (stdin) it. It's also "immune" to signals sent "automatically" by the terminal. (though you can send signals to it by using kill -signal pid).

"Background" and "foreground" refers to the process' status to some terminal - wheter it's the process currently controlling the terminal or not. Since daemons are not connected to a terminal (but has been maticousily disconnected from it in every way), it can therefor not be said to be running in the background. Daemons are just processess running without being associated with a terminal - neither in the fore-or background.

If you use ps with the options that shows which terminal a process uses, you will see that both fore-and backgroundjobs are assosciated with a terminal (eg. tty2). Daemons on the other hand, have a "?" in this field.

Daemons usually beahaves as such, even if they're started manually. Creating a daemon of you own, is quite a bit of work - there are some trickery involved to totally disconnect it from the terminal. You should create it's own user/group to run as. You must usually use /tmp, /var/tmp or /var/run if you want it to create files - it usually shouldn't have rights anywhere else. Since it can't report errors to a terminal, you should have it write to a log-file (eg. it's own logfile in /var/log). Daemons should make an entry in /var/run with it's current PID, and should check if another instance of it was already running. It should respect locks (/var/lock) for files or devices where applicable. It should respond to SIGHUP by reloading it's config-files and use updated configuration.

Using nohup or disown on a background-job is usually a good enough alternative, as it keeps the process alive even if the terminal closes. It's often a good idea to redirect stdout and stderr to a file or to /dev/null though. For more interactive programs, screen is a good way to put something "away" until you need it. at, batch and crontab is also worth to concider.

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Also I remember from my old unix system courses, that when launched from a terminal the server must also leave its [process group] [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Process_group]. As far as I remember. So that the process is immune any signal from its original terminal. –  yves Baumes Oct 28 '13 at 16:40
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