I want to make an Upstart job start immediately before a System V job (/etc/rc0.d/S40umountfs). I've tried specifying:

start on starting umountfs

but Upstart doesn't recognize the name of the script:

$ initctl check-config 
  start on: unknown job umountfs

Is there any way to do this?

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SysV init scripts are run by the rc job (/etc/init/rc.conf) which just runs /etc/init.d/rc $RUNLEVEL.

So there's only an upstart event for the whole runlevel, but not for single init scripts.

You can create an event using initctl emit umountfs.

See Upstart Intro, Cookbook and Best Practices for some tips on using Upstart.

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