Supervisord, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and… um… Use Supervisord

Supervisord is a nifty daemon for running and monitoring processes, that in the words of our sys admin Randol, “is everything Upstart isn’t.”

Supervisord differs from Upstart in that it uses a main background daemon that does the work of starting processes and monitoring their status, along with a UNIX socket file used by the supervisorctl command-line tool to talk to the main controller process. Let’s dive right in by installing and configuring supervisor (on Ubuntu!).

Initial setup

The default installation does not enable the web status console. This is easily remedied by using your favorite editor to open

and adding the following entry

Then, restart supervisord by running

Point your browser to http://localhost:9001/ and you will see your supervisor console! While this panel requires no authentication, it can always be added by modifying the inet_http_server section of the configuration file.

Those trying to run commands along with the article might find that the call to supervisorctl fails with a “Permission denied” error such as

While many of our readers will get away with running the command again with sudo, and succeeding, there is a better way! The permission error stems from access permissions to supervisord’s socket file, which by default is owned by root, and not writable by other users. We can make supervisord chown and chmod the file to a particular user or group on startup, granting the user or group permission to stop and start the services we’ve configured without requiring sudo.

Lets create a group, add ourselves to it by doing the following

After logging-out/logging-in (so that the new group membership takes effect), edit the supervisord configuration file to make the unix_http_server section look as follows

Notice that we have chmod’ed the file to 0770 (writable by owner and group), and chown’ed the file to root:supervisor, which will allow members of the supervisor group to make calls to supervisorctl. We must restart supervisord one last time (I promise) using sudo, and from this point onwards, users in the supervisor group will not require sudo (go ahead, dance a little… you deserve it!).

Configuring our first program

Supervisord uses “program” as a naming convention for services it is setup to handle. Supervisor allows us to configure programs that run as background services, and will restart them upon failures. We can also create one-shot programs that do not need to run in the background as services. Let’s start with the configuration file ( /etc/supervisor/conf.d/uwsgi_app.conf) of a uwsgi application running in emperor mode

Imagining that your application has a uwsgi ini file, and uwsgi can pick it up, you will be able to start or stop the application by issuing the following command

You will also be able to see uwsgi_app from the web console, where you will be able to start/stop/monitor, and even tail the logfiles we have specified. Note that the program will not start automatically when supervisor starts (good for developers who may have more than one uwsgi project on their machine), but will auto-restart if it exits unexpectedly. The program also runs as a particular user, which is useful in development/testing setups.

Configuring daemons

Applications that spawn a background process and then exit immediately pose a bit of a difficulty when managed by supervisor, who expects processes to start and stay alive rather than forking off and returning. Many of these applications leave a pidfile in /var/run, and we can couple these files with pidproxy, for services such as mysqld ( /etc/supervisor/conf.d/mysql.conf )

Vanilla installs of mysqld on Ubuntu come with some extra upstart script niceties, such as setting up mysql’s /var/run folder, or setting up the appropriate AppArmor profile for the application. In the above example, supervised_mysql is a script that contains the following

Configuring one-shot programs

The supervisor is designed to manage processes that run in the background, but it can handle one-shot programs as well. This capability is useful where you have commands that require root, yet you want to enable users without sudo permissions to run those commands. Let’s examine a script to stop and start an upstart service, such as nginx ( /etc/supervisor/conf.d/nginx.conf )

For this particular example, setting startsecs to 0 tells supervisord that this process does not need to remain alive. Furthermore, with autorestart set to false, the program won’t be restarted upon exit by supervisord.

Down the rabbit hole we go

Changing the permissions of supervisord’s UNIX socket allows us to expose programs to a group, but the problem is that this only really works with one group. Luckily, both supervisord and supervisorctl can be invoked with a -c command line parameter to specify the location of the configuration file to use. This means that separate configuration files for each group could be configured, with matching supervisors. For example, we could create a config file named /etc/supervisor/supervisor2.conf containing the following

This configuration file will point the new supervisor instance to a different socket, owned by a different group, and will include configuration files for programs from a different folder ( /etc/supervisor/conf2.d instead of /etc/supervisor/conf.d ). Let’s create a program entry in the first supervisor for our child supervisor (in /etc/supervisor/supervisor2.conf )

In the above example, the first parameter to supervisord tells it to not daemonize (so we can start and stop the process without issue), and the -c parameter allows us to specify the new configuration file to use. To manage programs from this new instance, the user would have to invoke supervisorctl as follows

Where programname matches a program defined in the /etc/supervisor/conf2.d folder. Aliasing the command through bash profiles in order to avoid stating the config file every time is left as an excercise to the reader.

Security disclaimer

This article makes no claims about security, since the aim is to provide a quick introduction to supervisord. It is important to remember that the default Ubuntu install of supervisord runs as root, and all commands will be executed by root, unless otherwise noted in the program’s configuration. This may have far-reaching security implications. Be careful, and wear a helmet when experimenting. Enjoy!