Well, the day started out promising. I'd slept well, read the paper, had breakfast, and headed downstairs with a cup of coffee to read my email.
Turn on the computer, and I'm greeted with a text screen including the words
Uncompressing Linux ... OK, booting the kernel [17179570.784000] Kernel panic - not syncing: VFS : Unable to mount rootfs on unknown-block (0,0) [17179570.784000]
and other such unpleasantness.
I remembered that a kernel upgrade had pushed through last night, so I suspected that was the trouble. After all, it was a kernel upgrade of Fedora that without sound for nearly a week a couple of years ago.
The new kernel is 2.6.15-28. (2.6.15 is the actual kernel version, the 28 is the latest Ubuntu fix.) So I shut off the box, turned it on again, and hit the ESC key when the option was offered. This brings up the GRUB menu, from which I selected the 2.6.15-27 kernel. Booting continued normally.
But what went wrong? How do I fix it? Well, after searching many forums, it appears that kernel panics happen for a lot more reasons than you'd expect, and have different causes. Mine? Well, after much searching, I was prompted to look at the GRUB menu, which is controlled by the file /boot/grub/menu.lst (that's an "ell", not a "one"). In there, I found these lines:
## ## End Default Options ## title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.15-28-686 root (hd0,0) kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.15-28-686 root=/dev/hda2 ro quiet splash savedefault boot title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.15-28-686 (recovery mode) root (hd0,0) kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.15-28-686 root=/dev/hda2 ro single boot title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.15-27-686 (recovery mode) root (hd0,0) kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.15-27-686 root=/dev/hda2 ro single initrd /initrd.img-2.6.15-27-686 boot title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.15-27-386 root (hd0,0) kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.15-27-386 root=/dev/hda2 ro quiet splash initrd /initrd.img-2.6.15-27-386 savedefault boot
See what's missing? The 15-28 kernel entries don't have the "initrd" lines. Simple enough, huh? This kernel update had problems. Maybe this manifested itself here by not updating the menu.lst file properly. Easy enough to fix, right? Just edit (as root) the menu.lst file, adding the line
in the appropriate place.
Wrong. I got an edit error, suggesting that the file system was full. Oops.
The /boot sector is a separate partition. So see how full it really is:
$ df /boot Filesystem 1K-blocks Used Available Use% Mounted on /dev/hda1 97826 97862 0 100% /boot
Oh boy. What's going on?
Well, I suffer from packratitis — the inability to throw out something that might be useful. Turns out that I had several copies of the old kernel. Well, more then several. It looks like I had a copy of every kernel since I first started with Ubuntu. Both i686 and i386 versions — though the later are completely unnecessary.
Go back to the old kernel, reboot, then go into synaptic and delete a few old kernel modules. The relevant packages are linux-image-version_number and linux-restricted-modules-version_number, where "version_number is something like 2.6.15... This freed up enough space so I could successfully edit the menu.lst file.
This time, when I booted, I got the message that the 2.6.15-28 compressed kernel was corrupted — obviously the install hadn't completed. So I went back to synaptic, reinstalled linux-image-2.16.15-28-686 and linux-restricted-modules-2.16.15-28-686, and, once again, rebooted.
- You don't need every version of the kernel that comes down the pike. The upgrade process leaves the old kernel lying around for good and sufficient reason, as we have seen, but if a kernel is working well you can delete most of the older ones.
- I don't think we need any of the 386 kernels. A Celeron chip is equivalent to at least a Pentium 4, so the 686 kernel should be sufficient.
- Every once in a while, you need to check all your partitions to see how full they are getting.
- Don't blame the upgrade process — at least until you've checked out the possibility that you've fraked yourself.
- You know, it's kind of fun working on a broken computer — just like the old days when we booted "alternative" OSes on an Apple //e.
- During my (as opposed to the kernel's) panic, I downloaded Slackware (still reading, Pete?). I tried installing it on my alternative Linux box. I failed, but I think I know why. It's certainly a more hands-on distribution. I will get it installed on the alternative Linux box, and at some time in the future I may change over entirely.
So fun's over, and we're back to running regular, updated Ubuntu Dapper. Stay tuned for more adventures in Linux debugging.