Posted on Fr 19 Juni 2015

The new sd-bus API of systemd

With the new v221 release of systemd we are declaring the sd-bus API shipped with systemd stable. sd-bus is our minimal D-Bus IPC C library, supporting as back-ends both classic socket-based D-Bus and kdbus. The library has been been part of systemd for a while, but has only been used internally, since we wanted to have the liberty to still make API changes without affecting external consumers of the library. However, now we are confident to commit to a stable API for it, starting with v221.

In this blog story I hope to provide you with a quick overview on sd-bus, a short reiteration on D-Bus and its concepts, as well as a few simple examples how to write D-Bus clients and services with it.

What is D-Bus again?

Let's start with a quick reminder what D-Bus actually is: it's a powerful, generic IPC system for Linux and other operating systems. It knows concepts like buses, objects, interfaces, methods, signals, properties. It provides you with fine-grained access control, a rich type system, discoverability, introspection, monitoring, reliable multicasting, service activation, file descriptor passing, and more. There are bindings for numerous programming languages that are used on Linux.

D-Bus has been a core component of Linux systems since more than 10 years. It is certainly the most widely established high-level local IPC system on Linux. Since systemd's inception it has been the IPC system it exposes its interfaces on. And even before systemd, it was the IPC system Upstart used to expose its interfaces. It is used by GNOME, by KDE and by a variety of system components.

D-Bus refers to both a specification, and a reference implementation. The reference implementation provides both a bus server component, as well as a client library. While there are multiple other, popular reimplementations of the client library – for both C and other programming languages –, the only commonly used server side is the one from the reference implementation. (However, the kdbus project is working on providing an alternative to this server implementation as a kernel component.)

D-Bus is mostly used as local IPC, on top of AF_UNIX sockets. However, the protocol may be used on top of TCP/IP as well. It does not natively support encryption, hence using D-Bus directly on TCP is usually not a good idea. It is possible to combine D-Bus with a transport like ssh in order to secure it. systemd uses this to make many of its APIs accessible remotely.

A frequently asked question about D-Bus is why it exists at all, given that AF_UNIX sockets and FIFOs already exist on UNIX and have been used for a long time successfully. To answer this question let's make a comparison with popular web technology of today: what AF_UNIX/FIFOs are to D-Bus, TCP is to HTTP/REST. While AF_UNIX sockets/FIFOs only shovel raw bytes between processes, D-Bus defines actual message encoding and adds concepts like method call transactions, an object system, security mechanisms, multicasting and more.

From our 10year+ experience with D-Bus we know today that while there are some areas where we can improve things (and we are working on that, both with kdbus and sd-bus), it generally appears to be a very well designed system, that stood the test of time, aged well and is widely established. Today, if we'd sit down and design a completely new IPC system incorporating all the experience and knowledge we gained with D-Bus, I am sure the result would be very close to what D-Bus already is.

Or in short: D-Bus is great. If you hack on a Linux project and need a local IPC, it should be your first choice. Not only because D-Bus is well designed, but also because there aren't many alternatives that can cover similar functionality.

Where does sd-bus fit in?

Let's discuss why sd-bus exists, how it compares with the other existing C D-Bus libraries and why it might be a library to consider for your project.

For C, there are two established, popular D-Bus libraries: libdbus, as it is shipped in the reference implementation of D-Bus, as well as GDBus, a component of GLib, the low-level tool library of GNOME.

Of the two libdbus is the much older one, as it was written at the time the specification was put together. The library was written with a focus on being portable and to be useful as back-end for higher-level language bindings. Both of these goals required the API to be very generic, resulting in a relatively baroque, hard-to-use API that lacks the bits that make it easy and fun to use from C. It provides the building blocks, but few tools to actually make it straightforward to build a house from them. On the other hand, the library is suitable for most use-cases (for example, it is OOM-safe making it suitable for writing lowest level system software), and is portable to operating systems like Windows or more exotic UNIXes.

GDBus is a much newer implementation. It has been written after considerable experience with using a GLib/GObject wrapper around libdbus. GDBus is implemented from scratch, shares no code with libdbus. Its design differs substantially from libdbus, it contains code generators to make it specifically easy to expose GObject objects on the bus, or talking to D-Bus objects as GObject objects. It translates D-Bus data types to GVariant, which is GLib's powerful data serialization format. If you are used to GLib-style programming then you'll feel right at home, hacking D-Bus services and clients with it is a lot simpler than using libdbus.

With sd-bus we now provide a third implementation, sharing no code with either libdbus or GDBus. For us, the focus was on providing kind of a middle ground between libdbus and GDBus: a low-level C library that actually is fun to work with, that has enough syntactic sugar to make it easy to write clients and services with, but on the other hand is more low-level than GDBus/GLib/GObject/GVariant. To be able to use it in systemd's various system-level components it needed to be OOM-safe and minimal. Another major point we wanted to focus on was supporting a kdbus back-end right from the beginning, in addition to the socket transport of the original D-Bus specification ("dbus1"). In fact, we wanted to design the library closer to kdbus' semantics than to dbus1's, wherever they are different, but still cover both transports nicely. In contrast to libdbus or GDBus portability is not a priority for sd-bus, instead we try to make the best of the Linux platform and expose specific Linux concepts wherever that is beneficial. Finally, performance was also an issue (though a secondary one): neither libdbus nor GDBus will win any speed records. We wanted to improve on performance (throughput and latency) -- but simplicity and correctness are more important to us. We believe the result of our work delivers our goals quite nicely: the library is fun to use, supports kdbus and sockets as back-end, is relatively minimal, and the performance is substantially better than both libdbus and GDBus.

To decide which of the three APIs to use for you C project, here are short guidelines:

  • If you hack on a GLib/GObject project, GDBus is definitely your first choice.

  • If portability to non-Linux kernels -- including Windows, Mac OS and other UNIXes -- is important to you, use either GDBus (which more or less means buying into GLib/GObject) or libdbus (which requires a lot of manual work).

  • Otherwise, sd-bus would be my recommended choice.

(I am not covering C++ specifically here, this is all about plain C only. But do note: if you use Qt, then QtDBus is the D-Bus API of choice, being a wrapper around libdbus.)

Introduction to D-Bus Concepts

To the uninitiated D-Bus usually appears to be a relatively opaque technology. It uses lots of concepts that appear unnecessarily complex and redundant on first sight. But actually, they make a lot of sense. Let's have a look:

  • A bus is where you look for IPC services. There are usually two kinds of buses: a system bus, of which there's exactly one per system, and which is where you'd look for system services; and a user bus, of which there's one per user, and which is where you'd look for user services, like the address book service or the mail program. (Originally, the user bus was actually a session bus -- so that you get multiple of them if you log in many times as the same user --, and on most setups it still is, but we are working on moving things to a true user bus, of which there is only one per user on a system, regardless how many times that user happens to log in.)

  • A service is a program that offers some IPC API on a bus. A service is identified by a name in reverse domain name notation. Thus, the org.freedesktop.NetworkManager service on the system bus is where NetworkManager's APIs are available and org.freedesktop.login1 on the system bus is where systemd-logind's APIs are exposed.

  • A client is a program that makes use of some IPC API on a bus. It talks to a service, monitors it and generally doesn't provide any services on its own. That said, lines are blurry and many services are also clients to other services. Frequently the term peer is used as a generalization to refer to either a service or a client.

  • An object path is an identifier for an object on a specific service. In a way this is comparable to a C pointer, since that's how you generally reference a C object, if you hack object-oriented programs in C. However, C pointers are just memory addresses, and passing memory addresses around to other processes would make little sense, since they of course refer to the address space of the service, the client couldn't make sense of it. Thus, the D-Bus designers came up with the object path concept, which is just a string that looks like a file system path. Example: /org/freedesktop/login1 is the object path of the 'manager' object of the org.freedesktop.login1 service (which, as we remember from above, is still the service systemd-logind exposes). Because object paths are structured like file system paths they can be neatly arranged in a tree, so that you end up with a venerable tree of objects. For example, you'll find all user sessions systemd-logind manages below the /org/freedesktop/login1/session sub-tree, for example called /org/freedesktop/login1/session/_7, /org/freedesktop/login1/session/_55 and so on. How services precisely label their objects and arrange them in a tree is completely up to the developers of the services.

  • Each object that is identified by an object path has one or more interfaces. An interface is a collection of signals, methods, and properties (collectively called members), that belong together. The concept of a D-Bus interface is actually pretty much identical to what you know from programming languages such as Java, which also know an interface concept. Which interfaces an object implements are up the developers of the service. Interface names are in reverse domain name notation, much like service names. (Yes, that's admittedly confusing, in particular since it's pretty common for simpler services to reuse the service name string also as an interface name.) A couple of interfaces are standardized though and you'll find them available on many of the objects offered by the various services. Specifically, those are org.freedesktop.DBus.Introspectable, org.freedesktop.DBus.Peer and org.freedesktop.DBus.Properties.

  • An interface can contain methods. The word "method" is more or less just a fancy word for "function", and is a term used pretty much the same way in object-oriented languages such as Java. The most common interaction between D-Bus peers is that one peer invokes one of these methods on another peer and gets a reply. A D-Bus method takes a couple of parameters, and returns others. The parameters are transmitted in a type-safe way, and the type information is included in the introspection data you can query from each object. Usually, method names (and the other member types) follow a CamelCase syntax. For example, systemd-logind exposes an ActivateSession method on the org.freedesktop.login1.Manager interface that is available on the /org/freedesktop/login1 object of the org.freedesktop.login1 service.

  • A signature describes a set of parameters a function (or signal, property, see below) takes or returns. It's a series of characters that each encode one parameter by its type. The set of types available is pretty powerful. For example, there are simpler types like s for string, or u for 32bit integer, but also complex types such as as for an array of strings or a(sb) for an array of structures consisting of one string and one boolean each. See the D-Bus specification for the full explanation of the type system. The ActivateSession method mentioned above takes a single string as parameter (the parameter signature is hence s), and returns nothing (the return signature is hence the empty string). Of course, the signature can get a lot more complex, see below for more examples.

  • A signal is another member type that the D-Bus object system knows. Much like a method it has a signature. However, they serve different purposes. While in a method call a single client issues a request on a single service, and that service sends back a response to the client, signals are for general notification of peers. Services send them out when they want to tell one or more peers on the bus that something happened or changed. In contrast to method calls and their replies they are hence usually broadcast over a bus. While method calls/replies are used for duplex one-to-one communication, signals are usually used for simplex one-to-many communication (note however that that's not a requirement, they can also be used one-to-one). Example: systemd-logind broadcasts a SessionNew signal from its manager object each time a user logs in, and a SessionRemoved signal every time a user logs out.

  • A property is the third member type that the D-Bus object system knows. It's similar to the property concept known by languages like C#. Properties also have a signature, and are more or less just variables that an object exposes, that can be read or altered by clients. Example: systemd-logind exposes a property Docked of the signature b (a boolean). It reflects whether systemd-logind thinks the system is currently in a docking station of some form (only applies to laptops …).

So much for the various concepts D-Bus knows. Of course, all these new concepts might be overwhelming. Let's look at them from a different perspective. I assume many of the readers have an understanding of today's web technology, specifically HTTP and REST. Let's try to compare the concept of a HTTP request with the concept of a D-Bus method call:

  • A HTTP request you issue on a specific network. It could be the Internet, or it could be your local LAN, or a company VPN. Depending on which network you issue the request on, you'll be able to talk to a different set of servers. This is not unlike the "bus" concept of D-Bus.

  • On the network you then pick a specific HTTP server to talk to. That's roughly comparable to picking a service on a specific bus.

  • On the HTTP server you then ask for a specific URL. The "path" part of the URL (by which I mean everything after the host name of the server, up to the last "/") is pretty similar to a D-Bus object path.

  • The "file" part of the URL (by which I mean everything after the last slash, following the path, as described above), then defines the actual call to make. In D-Bus this could be mapped to an interface and method name.

  • Finally, the parameters of a HTTP call follow the path after the "?", they map to the signature of the D-Bus call.

Of course, comparing an HTTP request to a D-Bus method call is a bit comparing apples and oranges. However, I think it's still useful to get a bit of a feeling of what maps to what.

From the shell

So much about the concepts and the gray theory behind them. Let's make this exciting, let's actually see how this feels on a real system.

Since a while systemd has included a tool busctl that is useful to explore and interact with the D-Bus object system. When invoked without parameters, it will show you a list of all peers connected to the system bus. (Use --user to see the peers of your user bus instead):

$ busctl
NAME                                       PID PROCESS         USER             CONNECTION    UNIT                      SESSION    DESCRIPTION
:1.1                                         1 systemd         root             :1.1          -                         -          -
:1.11                                      705 NetworkManager  root             :1.11         NetworkManager.service    -          -
:1.14                                      744 gdm             root             :1.14         gdm.service               -          -
:1.4                                       708 systemd-logind  root             :1.4          systemd-logind.service    -          -
:1.7200                                  17563 busctl          lennart          :1.7200       session-1.scope           1          -
org.freedesktop.NetworkManager             705 NetworkManager  root             :1.11         NetworkManager.service    -          -
org.freedesktop.login1                     708 systemd-logind  root             :1.4          systemd-logind.service    -          -
org.freedesktop.systemd1                     1 systemd         root             :1.1          -                         -          -
org.gnome.DisplayManager                   744 gdm             root             :1.14         gdm.service               -          -

(I have shortened the output a bit, to make keep things brief).

The list begins with a list of all peers currently connected to the bus. They are identified by peer names like ":1.11". These are called unique names in D-Bus nomenclature. Basically, every peer has a unique name, and they are assigned automatically when a peer connects to the bus. They are much like an IP address if you so will. You'll notice that a couple of peers are already connected, including our little busctl tool itself as well as a number of system services. The list then shows all actual services on the bus, identified by their service names (as discussed above; to discern them from the unique names these are also called well-known names). In many ways well-known names are similar to DNS host names, i.e. they are a friendlier way to reference a peer, but on the lower level they just map to an IP address, or in this comparison the unique name. Much like you can connect to a host on the Internet by either its host name or its IP address, you can also connect to a bus peer either by its unique or its well-known name. (Note that each peer can have as many well-known names as it likes, much like an IP address can have multiple host names referring to it).

OK, that's already kinda cool. Try it for yourself, on your local machine (all you need is a recent, systemd-based distribution).

Let's now go the next step. Let's see which objects the org.freedesktop.login1 service actually offers:

$ busctl tree org.freedesktop.login1
  │ ├─/org/freedesktop/login1/seat/seat0
  │ └─/org/freedesktop/login1/seat/self
  │ ├─/org/freedesktop/login1/session/_31
  │ └─/org/freedesktop/login1/session/self

Pretty, isn't it? What's actually even nicer, and which the output does not show is that there's full command line completion available: as you press TAB the shell will auto-complete the service names for you. It's a real pleasure to explore your D-Bus objects that way!

The output shows some objects that you might recognize from the explanations above. Now, let's go further. Let's see what interfaces, methods, signals and properties one of these objects actually exposes:

$ busctl introspect org.freedesktop.login1 /org/freedesktop/login1/session/_31
NAME                                TYPE      SIGNATURE RESULT/VALUE                             FLAGS
org.freedesktop.DBus.Introspectable interface -         -                                        -
.Introspect                         method    -         s                                        -
org.freedesktop.DBus.Peer           interface -         -                                        -
.GetMachineId                       method    -         s                                        -
.Ping                               method    -         -                                        -
org.freedesktop.DBus.Properties     interface -         -                                        -
.Get                                method    ss        v                                        -
.GetAll                             method    s         a{sv}                                    -
.Set                                method    ssv       -                                        -
.PropertiesChanged                  signal    sa{sv}as  -                                        -
org.freedesktop.login1.Session      interface -         -                                        -
.Activate                           method    -         -                                        -
.Kill                               method    si        -                                        -
.Lock                               method    -         -                                        -
.PauseDeviceComplete                method    uu        -                                        -
.ReleaseControl                     method    -         -                                        -
.ReleaseDevice                      method    uu        -                                        -
.SetIdleHint                        method    b         -                                        -
.TakeControl                        method    b         -                                        -
.TakeDevice                         method    uu        hb                                       -
.Terminate                          method    -         -                                        -
.Unlock                             method    -         -                                        -
.Active                             property  b         true                                     emits-change
.Audit                              property  u         1                                        const
.Class                              property  s         "user"                                   const
.Desktop                            property  s         ""                                       const
.Display                            property  s         ""                                       const
.Id                                 property  s         "1"                                      const
.IdleHint                           property  b         true                                     emits-change
.IdleSinceHint                      property  t         1434494624206001                         emits-change
.IdleSinceHintMonotonic             property  t         0                                        emits-change
.Leader                             property  u         762                                      const
.Name                               property  s         "lennart"                                const
.Remote                             property  b         false                                    const
.RemoteHost                         property  s         ""                                       const
.RemoteUser                         property  s         ""                                       const
.Scope                              property  s         "session-1.scope"                        const
.Seat                               property  (so)      "seat0" "/org/freedesktop/login1/seat... const
.Service                            property  s         "gdm-autologin"                          const
.State                              property  s         "active"                                 -
.TTY                                property  s         "/dev/tty1"                              const
.Timestamp                          property  t         1434494630344367                         const
.TimestampMonotonic                 property  t         34814579                                 const
.Type                               property  s         "x11"                                    const
.User                               property  (uo)      1000 "/org/freedesktop/login1/user/_1... const
.VTNr                               property  u         1                                        const
.Lock                               signal    -         -                                        -
.PauseDevice                        signal    uus       -                                        -
.ResumeDevice                       signal    uuh       -                                        -
.Unlock                             signal    -         -                                        -

As before, the busctl command supports command line completion, hence both the service name and the object path used are easily put together on the shell simply by pressing TAB. The output shows the methods, properties, signals of one of the session objects that are currently made available by systemd-logind. There's a section for each interface the object knows. The second column tells you what kind of member is shown in the line. The third column shows the signature of the member. In case of method calls that's the input parameters, the fourth column shows what is returned. For properties, the fourth column encodes the current value of them.

So far, we just explored. Let's take the next step now: let's become active - let's call a method:

# busctl call org.freedesktop.login1 /org/freedesktop/login1/session/_31 org.freedesktop.login1.Session Lock

I don't think I need to mention this anymore, but anyway: again there's full command line completion available. The third argument is the interface name, the fourth the method name, both can be easily completed by pressing TAB. In this case we picked the Lock method, which activates the screen lock for the specific session. And yupp, the instant I pressed enter on this line my screen lock turned on (this only works on DEs that correctly hook into systemd-logind for this to work. GNOME works fine, and KDE should work too).

The Lock method call we picked is very simple, as it takes no parameters and returns none. Of course, it can get more complicated for some calls. Here's another example, this time using one of systemd's own bus calls, to start an arbitrary system unit:

# busctl call org.freedesktop.systemd1 /org/freedesktop/systemd1 org.freedesktop.systemd1.Manager StartUnit ss "cups.service" "replace"
o "/org/freedesktop/systemd1/job/42684"

This call takes two strings as input parameters, as we denote in the signature string that follows the method name (as usual, command line completion helps you getting this right). Following the signature the next two parameters are simply the two strings to pass. The specified signature string hence indicates what comes next. systemd's StartUnit method call takes the unit name to start as first parameter, and the mode in which to start it as second. The call returned a single object path value. It is encoded the same way as the input parameter: a signature (just o for the object path) followed by the actual value.

Of course, some method call parameters can get a ton more complex, but with busctl it's relatively easy to encode them all. See the man page for details.

busctl knows a number of other operations. For example, you can use it to monitor D-Bus traffic as it happens (including generating a .cap file for use with Wireshark!) or you can set or get specific properties. However, this blog story was supposed to be about sd-bus, not busctl, hence let's cut this short here, and let me direct you to the man page in case you want to know more about the tool.

busctl (like the rest of system) is implemented using the sd-bus API. Thus it exposes many of the features of sd-bus itself. For example, you can use to connect to remote or container buses. It understands both kdbus and classic D-Bus, and more!


But enough! Let's get back on topic, let's talk about sd-bus itself.

The sd-bus set of APIs is mostly contained in the header file sd-bus.h.

Here's a random selection of features of the library, that make it compare well with the other implementations available.

  • Supports both kdbus and dbus1 as back-end.

  • Has high-level support for connecting to remote buses via ssh, and to buses of local OS containers.

  • Powerful credential model, to implement authentication of clients in services. Currently 34 individual fields are supported, from the PID of the client to the cgroup or capability sets.

  • Support for tracking the life-cycle of peers in order to release local objects automatically when all peers referencing them disconnected.

  • The client builds an efficient decision tree to determine which handlers to deliver an incoming bus message to.

  • Automatically translates D-Bus errors into UNIX style errors and back (this is lossy though), to ensure best integration of D-Bus into low-level Linux programs.

  • Powerful but lightweight object model for exposing local objects on the bus. Automatically generates introspection as necessary.

The API is currently not fully documented, but we are working on completing the set of manual pages. For details see all pages starting with sd_bus_.

Invoking a Method, from C, with sd-bus

So much about the library in general. Here's an example for connecting to the bus and issuing a method call:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <systemd/sd-bus.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
        sd_bus_error error = SD_BUS_ERROR_NULL;
        sd_bus_message *m = NULL;
        sd_bus *bus = NULL;
        const char *path;
        int r;

        /* Connect to the system bus */
        r = sd_bus_open_system(&bus);
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to connect to system bus: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                goto finish;

        /* Issue the method call and store the respons message in m */
        r = sd_bus_call_method(bus,
                               "org.freedesktop.systemd1",           /* service to contact */
                               "/org/freedesktop/systemd1",          /* object path */
                               "org.freedesktop.systemd1.Manager",   /* interface name */
                               "StartUnit",                          /* method name */
                               &error,                               /* object to return error in */
                               &m,                                   /* return message on success */
                               "ss",                                 /* input signature */
                               "cups.service",                       /* first argument */
                               "replace");                           /* second argument */
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to issue method call: %s\n", error.message);
                goto finish;

        /* Parse the response message */
        r = sd_bus_message_read(m, "o", &path);
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to parse response message: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                goto finish;

        printf("Queued service job as %s.\n", path);


        return r < 0 ? EXIT_FAILURE : EXIT_SUCCESS;

Save this example as bus-client.c, then build it with:

$ gcc bus-client.c -o bus-client `pkg-config --cflags --libs libsystemd`

This will generate a binary bus-client you can now run. Make sure to run it as root though, since access to the StartUnit method is privileged:

# ./bus-client
Queued service job as /org/freedesktop/systemd1/job/3586.

And that's it already, our first example. It showed how we invoked a method call on the bus. The actual function call of the method is very close to the busctl command line we used before. I hope the code excerpt needs little further explanation. It's supposed to give you a taste how to write D-Bus clients with sd-bus. For more more information please have a look at the header file, the man page or even the sd-bus sources.

Implementing a Service, in C, with sd-bus

Of course, just calling a single method is a rather simplistic example. Let's have a look on how to write a bus service. We'll write a small calculator service, that exposes a single object, which implements an interface that exposes two methods: one to multiply two 64bit signed integers, and one to divide one 64bit signed integer by another.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <errno.h>
#include <systemd/sd-bus.h>

static int method_multiply(sd_bus_message *m, void *userdata, sd_bus_error *ret_error) {
        int64_t x, y;
        int r;

        /* Read the parameters */
        r = sd_bus_message_read(m, "xx", &x, &y);
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to parse parameters: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                return r;

        /* Reply with the response */
        return sd_bus_reply_method_return(m, "x", x * y);

static int method_divide(sd_bus_message *m, void *userdata, sd_bus_error *ret_error) {
        int64_t x, y;
        int r;

        /* Read the parameters */
        r = sd_bus_message_read(m, "xx", &x, &y);
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to parse parameters: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                return r;

        /* Return an error on division by zero */
        if (y == 0) {
                sd_bus_error_set_const(ret_error, "net.poettering.DivisionByZero", "Sorry, can't allow division by zero.");
                return -EINVAL;

        return sd_bus_reply_method_return(m, "x", x / y);

/* The vtable of our little object, implements the net.poettering.Calculator interface */
static const sd_bus_vtable calculator_vtable[] = {
        SD_BUS_METHOD("Multiply", "xx", "x", method_multiply, SD_BUS_VTABLE_UNPRIVILEGED),
        SD_BUS_METHOD("Divide",   "xx", "x", method_divide,   SD_BUS_VTABLE_UNPRIVILEGED),

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
        sd_bus_slot *slot = NULL;
        sd_bus *bus = NULL;
        int r;

        /* Connect to the user bus this time */
        r = sd_bus_open_user(&bus);
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to connect to system bus: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                goto finish;

        /* Install the object */
        r = sd_bus_add_object_vtable(bus,
                                     "/net/poettering/Calculator",  /* object path */
                                     "net.poettering.Calculator",   /* interface name */
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to issue method call: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                goto finish;

        /* Take a well-known service name so that clients can find us */
        r = sd_bus_request_name(bus, "net.poettering.Calculator", 0);
        if (r < 0) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Failed to acquire service name: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                goto finish;

        for (;;) {
                /* Process requests */
                r = sd_bus_process(bus, NULL);
                if (r < 0) {
                        fprintf(stderr, "Failed to process bus: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                        goto finish;
                if (r > 0) /* we processed a request, try to process another one, right-away */

                /* Wait for the next request to process */
                r = sd_bus_wait(bus, (uint64_t) -1);
                if (r < 0) {
                        fprintf(stderr, "Failed to wait on bus: %s\n", strerror(-r));
                        goto finish;


        return r < 0 ? EXIT_FAILURE : EXIT_SUCCESS;

Save this example as bus-service.c, then build it with:

$ gcc bus-service.c -o bus-service `pkg-config --cflags --libs libsystemd`

Now, let's run it:

$ ./bus-service

In another terminal, let's try to talk to it. Note that this service is now on the user bus, not on the system bus as before. We do this for simplicity reasons: on the system bus access to services is tightly controlled so unprivileged clients cannot request privileged operations. On the user bus however things are simpler: as only processes of the user owning the bus can connect no further policy enforcement will complicate this example. Because the service is on the user bus, we have to pass the --user switch on the busctl command line. Let's start with looking at the service's object tree.

$ busctl --user tree net.poettering.Calculator

As we can see, there's only a single object on the service, which is not surprising, given that our code above only registered one. Let's see the interfaces and the members this object exposes:

$ busctl --user introspect net.poettering.Calculator /net/poettering/Calculator
NAME                                TYPE      SIGNATURE RESULT/VALUE FLAGS
net.poettering.Calculator           interface -         -            -
.Divide                             method    xx        x            -
.Multiply                           method    xx        x            -
org.freedesktop.DBus.Introspectable interface -         -            -
.Introspect                         method    -         s            -
org.freedesktop.DBus.Peer           interface -         -            -
.GetMachineId                       method    -         s            -
.Ping                               method    -         -            -
org.freedesktop.DBus.Properties     interface -         -            -
.Get                                method    ss        v            -
.GetAll                             method    s         a{sv}        -
.Set                                method    ssv       -            -
.PropertiesChanged                  signal    sa{sv}as  -            -

The sd-bus library automatically added a couple of generic interfaces, as mentioned above. But the first interface we see is actually the one we added! It shows our two methods, and both take "xx" (two 64bit signed integers) as input parameters, and return one "x". Great! But does it work?

$ busctl --user call net.poettering.Calculator /net/poettering/Calculator net.poettering.Calculator Multiply xx 5 7
x 35

Woohoo! We passed the two integers 5 and 7, and the service actually multiplied them for us and returned a single integer 35! Let's try the other method:

$ busctl --user call net.poettering.Calculator /net/poettering/Calculator net.poettering.Calculator Divide xx 99 17
x 5

Oh, wow! It can even do integer division! Fantastic! But let's trick it into dividing by zero:

$ busctl --user call net.poettering.Calculator /net/poettering/Calculator net.poettering.Calculator Divide xx 43 0
Sorry, can't allow division by zero.

Nice! It detected this nicely and returned a clean error about it. If you look in the source code example above you'll see how precisely we generated the error.

And that's really all I have for today. Of course, the examples I showed are short, and I don't get into detail here on what precisely each line does. However, this is supposed to be a short introduction into D-Bus and sd-bus, and it's already way too long for that …

I hope this blog story was useful to you. If you are interested in using sd-bus for your own programs, I hope this gets you started. If you have further questions, check the (incomplete) man pages, and inquire us on IRC or the systemd mailing list. If you need more examples, have a look at the systemd source tree, all of systemd's many bus services use sd-bus extensively.

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