The Linux initrd mechanism (short for “initial RAM disk”) refers to a small file system archive that is unpacked by the kernel and contains the first userspace code that runs. It typically finds and transitions into the actual root file system to use. systemd supports both initrd and initrd-less boots. If an initrd is used it is a good idea to pass a few bits of runtime information from the initrd to systemd in order to avoid duplicate work and to provide performance data to the administrator. In this page we attempt to roughly describe the interfaces that exist between the initrd and systemd. These interfaces are currently used by dracut and the ArchLinux initrds.
The initrd should mount
/run/ as a tmpfs and pass it pre-mounted when
jumping into the main system when executing systemd. The mount options should
It’s highly recommended that the initrd also mounts
/usr/ (if split off) as
appropriate and passes it pre-mounted to the main system, to avoid the
problems described in Booting without /usr is
If the executable
/run/initramfs/shutdown exists systemd will use it to
jump back into the initrd on shutdown.
/run/initramfs/ should be a usable
initrd environment to which systemd will pivot back and the
executable in it should be able to detach all complex storage that for
example was needed to mount the root file system. It’s the job of the initrd
to set up this directory and executable in the right way so that this works
correctly. The shutdown binary is invoked with the shutdown verb as
optionally followed (in
argv, … systemd’s original command
line options, for example
--log-level= and similar.
Storage daemons run from the initrd should follow the guide on systemd and Storage Daemons for the Root File System to survive properly from the boot initrd all the way to the point where systemd jumps back into the initrd for shutdown.
One last clarification: we use the term initrd very generically here describing any kind of early boot file system, regardless whether that might be implemented as an actual ramdisk, ramfs or tmpfs. We recommend using initrd in this sense as a term that is unrelated to the actual backing technologies used.
Oh, and one last question before closing: instead of implementing these features in your own distro’s initrd, may I suggest just using Dracut instead? It’s all already implemented there!
It is also possible and recommended to implement the initrd itself based on systemd. Here are a few terse notes:
/etc/initrd-release in the initrd image. The idea is that it follows
the same format as the usual
/etc/os-release but describes the initial RAM
disk implementation rather than the OS. systemd uses the existence of this
file as a flag whether to run in initial RAM disk mode, or not.
When run in initrd mode, systemd and its components will read a couple of
additional command line arguments, which are generally prefixed with
To transition into the main system image invoke
The switch-root operation will result in a killing spree of all running processes. Some processes might need to be excluded from that, see the guide on systemd and Storage Daemons for the Root File System.