Systemd on Guix System - How hard could it be?

To be honest, while the Shepherd has been a fun hack, I’ve been more and more feeling that yeah, it wouldn’t cut it in the long term (it’s also become clearer Scheme as convenient as C when it comes to systems programming and things like dealing with dependency graphs.)


This post explores the concept of integrating Systemd (a widely used init system in the Linux ecosystem) as the init system for GNU/Guix, a transactional package manager and Linux distribution. We trace the history of this idea, its reception, and outline how I think it could be achieved.

The current init system of Guix is GNU/Shepherd. This is a service manager written in Guile (do I need to keep adding the 'GNU/' prefix?), which is the same language as Guix.

Okay, but why?

Familiarity and Compatibility: Many users transitioning to GNU Guix may be accustomed to systemd, which is the standard in numerous Linux distributions. They might have a preference for systemd or possess existing systemd unit files they wish to continue using. This familiarity can be a significant factor in their choice of init system.

Performance: Systemd is notable for its rapid parallelization of start-up processes, potentially resulting in quicker boot times. It offers an array of features like socket activation, service monitoring, and cgroups that users (such as myself) might find advantageous.

Integration with Software: Certain applications are specifically designed to leverage systemd's capabilities in service management and logging. Users dependent on such software might naturally gravitate towards systemd for compatibility reasons.

Community and Documentation: Systemd's widespread use has led to the formation of a robust community and the development of comprehensive documentation. This extensive support can be invaluable for troubleshooting and educational purposes.

System Management: Systemd encompasses a broad array of system management tools, including journald for logging and udev for device initialization. This suite can simplify various system administration tasks.

History of Systemd in the context of Guix

  • In 2018, a playful April Fools' patch was sent to the Guix development list, proposing the addition of a Systemd package. This was initially a joke, but it sparked a conversation about the serious integration of Systemd into Guix.
  • A Google Summer of Code candidate was accepted to improve Shepherd, which would have allowed it to accept unit files and manage cgroups.
  • In 2021, an extended version of the 2018 patch was submitted to the Guix project. However, it faced rejection due to compatibility issues and a lack of significant benefits for free software packages.


Here I'm just considering Guix System services, though I expect Guix Home services would follow a similar philosophy.


Here I'm letting the variable $GUIX_SYSTEM_PROFILE correspond to the profile of the current running system. This is typically /var/guix/profiles/system/profile/.

  • $GUIX_SYSTEM_PROFILE/lib/systemd/system - This directory will contain the package service and other files.
  • /etc/systemd/system - This can be used for enabling and disabling services at each target. There are two options that I can think of for this directory:
    • One is to populate it with store items. This would allow guix system reconfigure to set up a running system without requiring the user to manually populate /etc. But it would also mean that systemctl wouldn't be able to function, as it works on /etc files.
    • Another option is to have any file in /etc shadow its corresponding profile item. This would have to be set up such that the existence of /etc/ overrides the corresponding the wants in $GUIX_SYSTEM_PROFILE/etc/ That way a unit could be removed from wants by the user. Otherwise they'd always have the default wants enabled for each target.
  • /run/systemd/system - This directory could be used to manage runtime services, with no changes envisioned.


Each unit will be implemented as a G-expressions on a Scheme <systemd-service> record. When these are lowered, they produce a file-like object containing a distinct systemd unit file, which is placed in $GUIX_SYSTEM_PROFILE/lib/systemd/system.

Systemd will be configured to look in these directories and interpret relative paths appropriately.

What could end up being a bit of headache is that disabling services won't be able to be done with systemctl, and would have to be done with guix system reconfigure.

NixOS uses Systemd. Why don't I just use NixOS?

I have to admit, I do feel a bit silly suggesting adding Systemd to Guix. NixOS, the package that Guix is based on, comes with Systemd as the sole init system. Why don't I just go and use that instead? Why do I have to corrupt the beautiful Scheme operating system with mainstream programs written in mainstream languages?

This is a good question and I don't feel like I've got a well defensible answer. I like Scheme and prefer it to Nix's bespoke language. I don't see any reason why a Scheme daemon needs to be be ran with a PID 1 interpreter.


If you think that I'm wrong, and have a clear reason why, please send me an email at I really want to know so I don't trudge through code trying to hack this darn thing together only to realize that the Shepherd guile is inseparably tangled in the threads of Guix's scheme.

Disclaimer: I hope my intended light-hearted humor came across here. I don't mean to incite any init-system war. Shepherd is a fantastic peice of engineering, I just personally miss the feeling of using Systemd, and it would be empowering for users if they could choose their own init systems.