Debugging Upstart Jobs on Ubuntu 14.04

Before you begin, you should be (intimately) familiar with the Upstart Cookbook. It’s an incredible resource for understanding the in’s and out’s of Upstart and its configuration.

That said, unfortunately its still pretty difficult to debug Upstart jobs. You’ll get messages like “Job failed to start” or “Unknown job” without any obvious reasons why. The following is just a collection of the different methods I’ve found useful to debug Upstart jobs that are acting up.

Verify job configuration location

Upstart jobs are located in /etc/init/ and are text files named foo.conf where foo is your job name. Session jobs can be found in one of the following directories:

  • $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/upstart/ (or $HOME/.config/upstart/ if $XDG_CONFIG_HOME not set).
  • $HOME/.init/ (deprecated - supported for legacy User Jobs).
  • /usr/share/upstart/sessions/

Check the job using the built-in validators

The built in validators are pretty basic, but they can help you catch simple errors, and save you from running into migration errors.

$ init-checkconfig foo.conf
$ initctl check-config

Check the Job logs

The first and most obvious way to debug anything is to check the log files. By default all Upstart jobs will log their output to a log file located at /var/log/upstart/foo.log where foo is your job name. Note: Session/User jobs have a special log location: ~/.cache/upstart/foo.log

Enable Verbose/Debug mode

If the log files aren’t helpful enough, you can enable verbose debugging using

sudo initctl log-priority debug
sudo start foo

Grep dmesg for related information

If the logs still don’t show any new information about why the job is failing, you can try grepping the output of dmesg.

sudo dmesg | grep foo

This has helped me solve start: Job failed to start issues where the errors occured in the pre-start script stanza.

Force reload Upstart configuration

While this should be unnecesssary (Upstart watches for changes to the config directories), you can force a reload

sudo initctl reload-configuration

Solving Unknown Job errors

In my experience start: Unknown job: foo errors happen for three reasons.

  1. You are incorrectly spelling/calling the job - /etc/init/foo-job.conf should be called by start foo-job

    Solving the first case is simple, stop being stupid. You can verify that your job exists by initctl list | grep foo

  2. Theres an error in the job configuration file

    Debugging the second case is a bit more difficult. Job configuration is loaded immediately on system startup, and you will have to check syslog for errors related to your specific job. I’ve had luck grepping dmesg as well.

  3. You are attempting to start a Session job and a Upstart session has not been started.

    If you are trying to start a session job, ensure that there is a valid Upstart session running echo "$UPSTART_SESSION". Make sure that you are running your terminal as the correct user. By default Ubuntu will start a Upstart session for you.

Jason Kulatunga

Build Automation & Infrastructure guy @Adobe. I write about, and play with, all sorts of new tech. All opinions are my own.

San Francisco, CA

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