Illustration for Preventing Pipewire from being SIGKILLed

Preventing Pipewire from being SIGKILLed


I frequently encounter the situation that the Pipewire audio server is suddenly stopped:

  • The problem usually appears when I connect/disconnect my laptop from the power adapter. My computer usually lags for a short time while switching between performance profiles.
  • systemctl --user status pipewire.service only shows that the Pipewire process was terminated by a SIGKILL signal, without any other useful log information.
  • Neither coredumpctl nor dmesg shows the existence of a core dump event.


The Pipewire process runs with realtime priority, with which its scheduling needs are satisfied first, so it can process audio data in time to prevent stuttering. To increase its process priority, Pipewire uses its libpipewire-module-rt module to send requests to the RTKit service running as root in the system. RTKit then changes process priority with its privileges.

However, if a process with realtime priority encountered a bug, for example an infinite loop, it will consume all CPU resources. Since most of the other processes (including but not limited to, SSH daemon, Xorg, and your shell) are running with a lower priority, they won't get any CPU time slices, and won't be able to handle any tasks, including your command inputs trying to fix the system.

To mitigate this problem, Linux kernel limits the execution time of realtime processes by default. Under the default settings, a realtime process must finish its computations (like Pipewire's audio processing) within 200ms, and use the sched_yield system call to return CPU time slices to other processes. It can then wait for the next event in the background (like running out of audio buffer on the sound card), when Linux kernel invokes this process again. If the realtime process does not finish within 200ms, Linux kernel will send a SIGKILL signal to terminate the process.

Because my computer was lagging while switching between performance profiles, Pipewire spent more than 200ms on handling audio data, and thus was terminated by Linux kernel.


Since I'm unable to fix the lagging while switching performance profiles, I decided to increase Pipewire's time limit to 5 seconds, enough for it to process audio data even when the computer is lagging.

First we need to change the settings for Pipewire's libpipewire-module-rt module, to make it request a longer time limit:

  "context.modules": [
      "args": {
        "nice.level": -11,
        "rt.prio": 88,
        "rt.time.hard": 5000000,
        "rt.time.soft": 5000000
      "flags": ["ifexists", "nofail"],
      "name": "libpipewire-module-rt"

The unit for 5000000 is microseconds. Pipewire will now request a 5 second time limit.

Then, since RTKit imposes an additional layer of execution time limit, we need to add a startup argument to RTKit to increase that limit as well. Run systemctl edit rtkit-daemon.service, and enter the following config:

# First, clear the original ExecStart command.
# Then replace with our command with additional arguments.
# If your distro puts rtkit-daemon elsewhere, change command to match.
ExecStart=/usr/lib/rtkit-daemon --rttime-usec-max=5000000

If you're using NixOS, you can use the following config instead:

  # Time limit in microseconds
  realtimeLimitUS = 5000000;
in {
  security.rtkit.enable = true; = [
    "" # Override command in rtkit package's service file
    "${pkgs.rtkit}/libexec/rtkit-daemon --rttime-usec-max=${builtins.toString realtimeLimitUS}"

  services.pipewire.enable = true;

  environment.etc = {
    "pipewire/pipewire.conf.d/rtprio.conf".text = builtins.toJSON {
      "context.modules" = [
          name = "libpipewire-module-rt";
          args = {
            "nice.level" = -11;
            "rt.prio" = 88;
            "rt.time.soft" = realtimeLimitUS;
            "rt.time.hard" = realtimeLimitUS;
          flags = ["ifexists" "nofail"];