Adventures with slow boot

Rebooting a modern desktop computer really shouldn’t take very long, so when it was somewhat-regularly taking well over 10 minutes just to shut down, I got curious, and ended up looking at netdata, jitter, anacron, and even ansible.

By default in Ubuntu, the shutdown process is hidden, but pressing ESC showed that anacron was waiting on something indefinitely… and indeed, given a few dozen minutes, it would complete. Sure, Raising Small Elephants Is Utterly Boring1 can fix that, but something seemed wrong.

Adding some logging to anacron, it turned out that the bit which was taking so long was something called netdata-updater.


There’s lots of ways to get information about your various networked machines, but my favorite for works-out-of-the-box laziness is netdata. I like to run this on my desktop as well, so I can retroactively diagnose issues or obsess over the specific fan speeds that led to a mildly annoying hum in the quiet evening.

Netdata installs a self-update cron job, which is sensible. It’s installed in /etc/cron.daily, which by default is launched every day at 6:25 AM. This would cause all machines it’s installed on, within a timezone, to hit the servers simultaneously; to avoid this, they added jitter - the update script randomly waits between 0 and NETDATA_UPDATER_JITTER, the default being 60 minutes. So, if you’re trying to reboot just after 06:25 AM, you’re probably going to wait an extra 30-ish minutes.

Although adding jitter arguably makes sense on systems running cron, it makes far less sense on ones running Anacron.


Cron works well for machines that stay on all the time, e.g. servers. However, machines that are often off or suspended would likely miss the specific timing of the scheduled tasks. For such machines, anacron is used instead, and tries to make sure that daily tasks still occur daily: Once an hour, anacron will wake up (if the machine is on) and check whether any daily tasks still need to be run that day. That means that if I first turn on my computer in the evening, it has updates and wants to reboot, and I let it - I have a really high chance of netdata-updater being called, and of this little maneuver costing me 30-ish minute of precious gaming time.

Anacron naturally introduces jitter, and anacron has additional jitter-introducing mechanisms2. Indeed, there’s no need to add jitter to netdata-updater running under anacron, so I changed NETDATA_UPDATER_JITTER to 0, and indeed my suggestion to make this the default under anacron was accepted.

That being said, it still seemed there’s no good reason for shutdown to wait over 10 minutes for anacron to shutdown. The shutdown screen showed that the timeout was infinite, although the systemd default3 is 90 seconds. That’s because anacron.service has this line:


This was added in this commit, to resolve this bug. A more elegant solution is possible, but discouraged because anacron is meant to be replaced by something called “cronie”; I am familiar with this pain.

One way or another, I disagree with the reasoning, at least in my own particular case, and have decided to comment out the infinite timeout line.

Remembering this config

I like to version-control and automate my configuration. I’ve been doing this for my dotfiles for quite a while, but not for my overall machine config. Tweaks like this, to my system config, are something I’d rather have a script to do rather than writing it down in a checklist.

As it turns out, Ansible is considered to be a good tool for this. I thought it’s only useful for “apply some settings to a large set of servers”, but apparently “maintain config for my one server” is not such a strange use-case. I’m completely unfamiliar with Ansible; a coworker tells me that’s because I’ve worked at Google4 for almost 10 years, and that’s roughly as long as Ansible’s been well-known.

After a bit of futzing around, I’ve come up with this playbook.yml:

- name: Fix slow shutdown
  hosts: all
    - name: Finite timeout for anacron
      become: true
        path: /usr/lib/systemd/system/anacron.service
        regexp: 'TimeoutStopSec=infinity'
        line: '# TimeoutStopSec=infinity # Causes slow shutdown'
    - name: Force netdata jitter to 0
      become: true
        path: /etc/netdata/netdata-updater.conf
        regexp: '^NETDATA_UPDATER_JITTER=.*'
        line: 'NETDATA_UPDATER_JITTER="0"'

Then, to get everything to play nice with the local config, I have this ansible.cfg:

inventory = inventory

And this inventory:

localhost ansible_connection=local

Sure, this could’ve been a shell script, but this seems easier to extend and maintain. One thing I like about this is that I can run ansible-playbook --check --diff playbook.yml, and get a preview of what it’ll do. I’ll likely be looking deeper into ansible and seeing whether it’s worthwhile getting it to maintain some of my server configs.

This has been a fun dive into a slight annoyance with my system, and as always I ended up learning a few interesting things. Please do jitter your clients, but please don’t leave users hanging. Also, feel free to let me know in the comments that I’m holding Ansible wrong 😄.

  1. This is a mnemonic for Alt+SysRq+{r,s,e,i,u,b}, a somewhat aggressive mechanism to reboot a linux system↩︎

  2. In Ubuntu 24.04, this is accomplished by the anacron.timer systemd unit having RandomizedDelaySec=5m configured. ↩︎

  3. DefaultTimeoutStopSec under man 5 systemd-system.conf ↩︎

  4. Google is known for having a “tech island”, and specifically the type of problems which Ansible deals with, at least in my line of work, have preexisting in-house solutions, so I never had the chance to learn Ansible. ↩︎