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Using Solaris SMF

by Chris Josephes

In most Unix environments, the startup process consists of a handful of autonomous boot scripts. They act independently of one another; unaware of what scripts have already run or which ones will run after them. When they are invoked, there is no serious error checking and no recourse if the script fails.

For Solaris 10, Sun introduced the Service Management Facility. SMF is a framework that handles system boot-up, process management, and self-healing. It addresses the shortcomings of startup scripts and creates an infrastructure to manage daemons after the host has booted.

A System V Unix host will start the sendmail daemon with the script S80sendmail from either the /etc/rc2.d or /etc/rc3.d directory. The script contains commands to start or stop sendmail, depending its invocation. The S portion of the filename denotes that this is a startup script, and the 80 is a sequence number that says when the script should run.

When S80sendmail runs, it won't be aware of any previous problems such as a NIS failure or /var never properly mounting. You could write tests into the script, but that increases startup time and the complexity of each script.

In the SMF environment, sendmail is a service. Solaris 10 defines a service as a persistent program that handles system or user requests. Services are expected to be fault tolerant and manageable by the operating system.

Services are identified by a URI known as a Fault Management Resource Identifier. The FMRI is broken up in a category hierarchy to help identify the service and what it is responsible for.

Here is the FMRI for sendmail, ssh, and other services running on a host:


Here is the breakdown of the FMRI structure:

schema service name instance
svcs: /network /smtp :sendmail
svcs: /network /ssh :default
svcs: /system /filesystem /local :default
lrc: /etc /rc2_d S99audit  

Each service has a manifest that describes the service and its management needs. It lists the service dependencies, the control scripts, and the actions to take when the service fails. The manifest starts out as an XML file that SMF imports into a central repository, which records the properties of all the services.

Sendmail will not run without the following dependencies:

  • Local filesystems are mounted
  • Basic network services are up
  • The host is aware of its domain name
  • The /etc/nsswitch.conf file exists
  • The /etc/mail/ file exists
  • Any nameservices in use (NIS, LDAP) are running
  • The auto filesystem, if in use, is running
  • Syslog, if in use, is running

Services in the SMF environment start up in parallel, but each service will become available only when all its listed dependencies are. This means the host will have a faster boot-up, and it will reduce the chances of a cascading failure of services. There is no explicit order to service startup, so sendmail or its dependencies could start up at any time.

Almost all services under the SMF are controlled by one service known as the restarter. The restarter controls the svc.startd daemon, which in turn starts the other services, tests their dependencies, and restarts them if they fail. When Solaris 10 boots up, svc.startd is one of the first programs spawned from /sbin/init.

It's still possible to use rcN.d scripts under Solaris 10; however, the programs started from these scripts will not be under SMF control. These are referred to as legacy run scripts. They have an FMRI, like normal services do, but the schema prefix is lrc:. Legacy run scripts are not initialized until all SMF services are up and running. When the host shuts down, they are the first stop scripts run before the SMF services are disabled.

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