5 min read

HOWTO reclaim your Linux bootup messages

You know the drill, you bootup a Linux box and watch the boot messages scroll by on the screen, now prepended with lines telling you the seconds since boot, and then you end up at a shell prompt for login. Ahh, the way Linus intended, epic! Oh, you don’t see that? Instead you see some animated Linux distro logo or something as useless like a progress bar tracing across the screen? Uggh, I hate that, you don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes, and if Linux is anything, it’s transparent. So, let’s get that fixed for you. Basically as Linux as ‘matured’, we’ve been forced to load and watch more animated boot ‘splash’ screens for branding, and to make Linux more user-friendly, or more likely, more Windows or Mac-like. This way new users won’t run for the hills if they see something like:

[      2.125987 ] scsi 0:0:0:0: Direct-Access        ATA       ST380815AS       3.CH PQ: 0 ANSI: 5
[      2.128065 ] sd 0:0:0:0: [sda] 156301488 512-byte logical blocks: (80.0 GB/74.5 GiB)
[      2.128072 ] sd 0:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg0 type 0

Oh the horror, right? WRONG! If you’re like me and you use Linux because you love it and want to know what it’s doing all of the time, you can’t get enough details like this. So, there are a few simple ways to reclaim the way  Linux shows the bootup details; because it’s all still going on regardless of what eye-candy is hiding it. First, we want to tell Linux that we want to know what’s going on, and not be given part of the picture. Let’s edit /etc/default/rcS (in Debian GNU/Linux and Ubuntu Linux) and see what it tells us:

# /etc/default/rcS
# Default settings for the scripts in /etc/rcS.d/
# For information about these variables see the rcS(5) manual page.
# This file belongs to the "initscripts" package.


What? Verbose=no? I don’t think so. Let’s edit that to read:


Now we’re getting somewhere! Next up, we need to tell the bootloader, in this case Grub, to** give us all the yummy text goodness that a growing body needs! **For this we edit /boot/grub/menu.1st, you’ll want to scroll just past the line that reads:

## ## End Default Options ##

Now, look at the first block after that, mine says:

title           Ubuntu 10.10, kernel 2.6.35-25-generic-pae
uuid            53af9894-9fd1-45fe-b102-3ad0134eace3
kernel         /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.35-25-generic-pae root=UUID=53af9894-9fd1-45fe-b102-3ad0134eace3 ro quiet splash
initrd          /boot/initrd.img-2.6.35-25-generic-pae

And that’s the default kernel Linux is going to boot into if you don’t choose anything. See the kernel line? We can already tell that the commands like quiet and splash aren’t going to get us what we need, so we edit that to read something like:

kernel         /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.35-25-generic-pae root=UUID=53af9894-9fd1-45fe-b102-3ad0134eace3 ro

Then, since it’s Linux and we have full control over what’s going on, we can tell it how we want the text rendered; the color depth and the screen resolution. Basically it breaks down like this:







8 bit






16 bit






24 bit





So, a simple way to set the screen resolution for text display during boot is by adding the vga= option to the end of that kernel line. For the value to append to it, it all depends on things like your graphics card, the display you’re using, etc, but, most things can at least handle 1024x768 at 16 bit, so vga=791 is a popular choice. So, now the kernel line should say:

kernel         /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.35-25-generic-pae root=UUID=53af9894-9fd1-45fe-b102-3ad0134eace3 ro vga=791

Simple enough, then look at the quiet line at the end of that block, I don’t like the looks of that, so I’ll comment it out for good measure:


Now you should quit and save and then issue the command ‘reboot’, or if you want to wow them with how old skool you are:

/sbin/shutdown -r now

Ah, that’s better :) Now after your machine comes on, the Grub menu will show up for a second, then you’ll be dropped to the almighty text mode that you know you wanted all the time, so you can **see everything Linux is doing while it loads **and gets ready for work, just as it is supposed to be! Also, I once saw a scene similar to this when I was boarding a Qantas flight in Australia when the onboard entertainment center was booting up, and it looked liked this, but aisle after aisle of it!

So, what do you think, is it silly for me to wax nostalgic about such a low level thing as boot messages? Should I not worry that people learning Linux now might miss out on learning exactly what is happening? Do you have even more settings to get lower down? Great, spout off about them in the comments, but if I get criticized too much I’ll break out some, “When I was a kid, we didn’t have a mouse, keyboards were the only way to get work done, and don’t get me started on those file managers…” and so on. ;)