Debian inches towards new init system decision amid fallout

Over three months of discussions, two stalled votes, and one failed coup, the Debian technical committee appears to have settled on systemd as the init system for Debian's upcoming jessie release.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The committee charged with solving technical disputes within the Debian project has finally completed a vote on what init system to use as the default in future Debian Linux distributions, selecting systemd.

The debate began in late October, when the technical committee was asked to make an adjudication, and months of debate followed thereafter, before the choice was finalised to a decision between: systemd, a modern, default init system of many Linux distributions nowadays that significantly decreases boot times on Linux systems, but is tightly integrated to solely Linux; Canonical's upstart, a modern init system that is found in Ubuntu; sysvinit, the existing default in Debian that is widely used and can trace its history back to the 1980s; and openrc, a Gentoo-backed init system that is similar to sysvinit in many respects.

Deciding on one init system is problematic for Debian, as the project not only creates a distribution with a Linux kernel, but also distributions with Hurd and BSD kernels — and the expected winner of the ballot, systemd, makes use of features unique to Linux, such as cgroups, and therefore the default choice of init systems for non-Linux distributions would remain in limbo.

With two failed calls to vote already taken place and unable to find a resolution, and the scope of any ballot reduced to only deciding on the default init system for Linux, technical committee chairman Bdale Garbee instigated a third ballot on the weekend.

Once again, the voting split the committee evenly into systemd and upstart camps, but under the preferential voting rules of the project, Garbee has the casting vote in the event of a 4:4 tie.

Despite the final result of the ballot being uncertain, committee member Andreas Barth has yet to vote, but has backed upstart previously. Tempers have frayed, with Ian Jackson calling for the removal of Garbee as chairman.

"AFAICT from the constitition[sic] it is not possible to immediately start a vote on the chairmanship of the TC [technical committee], unless the post is vacant. Arguably, this is a bug. However, I need to work with what I have," Jackson said.

"I hereby propose the following TC resolution. The technical committee has lost confidence in the committee's chairman, and requests that the chairman resign."

Jackson further proposed two more calls to vote before announcing that he was taking a break from the committee for a few days.

A date for Debian's jessie release has yet to be set, but the project has been working on a two-year release cadence since 2005, making the first half of 2015 the likely date for a systemd-driven release.

The last stable release of Debian, wheezy, was released in May 2013.

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