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Key Takeaways

  • The service and systemctl commands in Linux are vital and extremely similar, with systemctl being a more versatile and powerful command.
  • Both service and systemctl allow users to configure and interact with system services, but they belong to different initialization systems (SysVinit and systemd, respectively).
  • Service operates on initialization system files in /etc/init.d, while systemctl works with files in /lib/systemd. Familiarizing yourself with both commands is important for managing system services effectively.

service and systemctl are both vital and extremely similar commands in Linux. They’re so similar that it’s easy to wonder what differences there are between them at all—and whether you can use the two commands interchangeably.

Knowing the finer details about service and systemctl will allow you to work with them seamlessly.

What Is the service Command in Linux?

checking status of firewall using service command

In Linux, the service command is a wrapper script that allows users to easily configure and interact with system services. It precedes systemd and primarily works with the scripts found in /etc/init.d.

Even though systemctl overtook much of service’s previous significance, it continues to remain relevant through many legacy features.

The shift between the associated initialization systems—SysVinit to systemd—was controversial, but mounting challenges to the function of the original init system made it necessary.

systemd starts services in parallel instead of a serial sequence, making its boot-up time faster than SysVinit—and it offers slightly more sophisticated control of system daemons through the command-line interface (CLI).

What Is the systemctl Command in Linux?

checking status of firewall using systemctl in terminal

Much like service, systemctl is an incredibly versatile command that allows you to enable, reload, start, stop, and check the status of services running on your Linux system.

systemctl serves as an easy-to-use and powerful interface for configuring the files in systemd—for example, it only takes one to two commands to disable a service at boot using systemctl.

systemctl is backward compatible with the initialization system, SysVinit, primarily used with service. systemctl doesn’t serve as a direct successor to service, but it is much more versatile in terms of the tools it offers to manage system services.

You can accomplish tasks like masking or disabling a service in as little as one or two lines.

The Differences Between service and systemctl

a man simultaneously uses a laptop and desktop

service and systemctl largely serve the same purpose. Many of the similarities between them were deliberately inserted to allow users a more seamless transition from service to systemctl.

There are a few differences between the two you should be aware of as you begin to work with the initialization system on Linux, however.

1. Different Init Systems

The most significant difference between service and systemctl is that they belong to different initialization systems. service belongs to SysVinit (System V Init), otherwise known as the classic Linux initialization process.

systemctl belongs to systemd, the successor of SysVinit and the modern initialization process used on many Linux systems.

Because service and systemctl are part of different initialization processes, they operate on initialization system files in different directories. service works with the initialization system files found in /etc/init.d, whereas systemctl works with the initialization system files found in /lib/systemd.

Generally, the initialization system you’re going to encounter on out-of-the-box Linux installs is systemd—so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with using systemctl to interact with it.

If you intend to work with systems that precede or coincide with systemd’s release in 2010, it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with using the service command, too.

2. Compatibility

service continues to be an extremely useful command in terms of compatibility—as a wrapper command, it is capable of redirecting to the service manager used on different systems. You should plan to learn it and make it a part of your arsenal if you will work with a variety of Linux systems.

3. Underlying Functions

Another key difference between systemctl and service lies in how they operate. service is a high-level command that redirects to the underlying service manager used on a particular system, meaning that it’s quite versatile between systems. It may redirect to /etc/init.d, upstart, or even systemctl. systemctl commands, meanwhile, interact directly with systemd.

4. Capability

In terms of what you can accomplish, it’s safe to say that systemctl far exceeds service in power. Aside from basic functions—like starting, stopping, enabling, or disabling a particular service—you can also set up advanced configurations with systemctl.

service is more limited because of its requisite compatibility with the underlying service managers it relies on.

Configure System Services Effectively on Linux

service and systemctl are both incredibly important commands for managing system services. Whether you just want to make the best of your Linux system or intend to work on enterprise networks, familiarizing yourself with both commands is vital.

Luckily, plenty of great tutorials exist that can help you become a master at using systemctl and service in the terminal.