Proactively ensuring you have access to GRUB and sysrq could save you lots of down time

Having access to the Serial Console and GRUB will improve recovery times of your IaaS Linux Virtual Machine in most cases. GRUB offers recovery options that otherwise would take longer to recover your VM.

The reasons to perform a VM recovery are many and can be attributed to scenarios such as:

  • Corrupt file systems/kernel/MBR (Master Boot Record)
  • Failed kernel upgrades
  • Incorrect GRUB kernel parameters
  • Incorrect fstab configurations
  • Firewall configurations
  • Lost password
  • Mangled sshd configurations files
  • Networking configurations

Many other scenarios as detailed here

Verify that you can access GRUB and the Serial console on your VMs deployed in Azure.

If you are new to Serial Console, refer to this link.


Ensure you take backups of files before making changes

Watch this video below to see how you can quickly recover your Linux VM once you have access to GRUB

Recover Linux VM Video

There are a number of methods to help recovery of Linux VMs. In a Cloud environment, this process has been challenging. Progress is being made continually to tooling and features to ensure services are recovered quickly.

With the Azure Serial Console, you can interact with your Linux VM as if you were at a system's console.

You can manipulate many configuration files including how the kernel will boot.

The more experienced Linux/Unix sys admins will appreciate the single user and emergency modes that are accessible via the Azure Serial Console making Disk Swap and VM deletion for many recovery scenarios redundant.

The method of recovery depends on the problem being experienced, for example a lost or misplaced password can be reset through Azure portal options -> Reset Password. The Reset Password feature is known as an Extension and communicates with the Linux Guest agent.

Other extensions such as Custom Script are available however these options require that the Linux waagent be up and in a healthy state which is not always the case.

Screenshot of the Agent status in the Properties page in Azure portal.

Ensuring you have access to the Azure Serial Console and GRUB means that a password change or an incorrect configuration can be rectified in a matter of minutes instead of hours. You could even force the VM to boot from an alternative kernel should you have multiple kernels on disk in the scenario where your primary kernel becomes corrupt.

Screenshot of the boot selected OS screen in GRUB, which shows multiple kernels can be chosen.

Suggested order of recovery methods

Disk Swap Video:

If you do not have access to GRUB watch this video and see, how you can easily automate the disk swap procedure to recover your VM


Not all Linux Azure VMs are configured by default for GRUB access and neither are they all configured to be interrupted with the sysrq commands. Some older distros such as SLES 11 are not configured to display Login prompt in the Azure Serial Console

In this article, we'll review various Linux distributions and document configurations on how to make GRUB available.

How to configure Linux VM to accept SysRq keys

The sysrq key is enabled on some newer Linux distros by default, although on others it might be configured for accepting values only for certain SysRq functions. On older distros, it might be disabled completely.

The SysRq feature is useful for rebooting a crashed or non-responding VM directly from the Azure Serial Console, also helpful in gaining access to the GRUB menu, alternatively restarting a VM from another portal window or ssh session might drop your current console connection thus expiring GRUB Timeouts to which are used to display the GRUB menu. The VM must be configured to accept a value of 1 for the kernel parameter, which enables all functions of sysrq or 128, which allows reboot/poweroff

Enable sysrq video

To configure the VM to accept a reboot via SysRq commands on the Azure portal, you will need to set a value of 1 for the kernel parameter kernel.sysrq

For this configuration to persist a reboot, add an entry to the file sysctl.conf

echo kernel.sysrq = 1 >> /etc/sysctl.conf

To configure the kernel parameter dynamically

sysctl -w kernel.sysrq=1

If you do not have root access or sudo is broken, it will not be possible configure sysrq from a shell prompt.

You can enable sysrq in this scenario using the Azure portal. This method can be beneficial if the sudoers.d/waagent file has become broken or has been deleted.

Using the Azure portal Operations -> Run Command -> RunShellScript feature, requires the waagent process be healthy you can then inject this command to enable sysrq

sysctl -w kernel.sysrq=1 ; echo kernel.sysrq = 1 >> /etc/sysctl.conf

As shown here:

Screenshot of the RunShellScript window when you inject the command.

Once completed, you can then try accessing sysrq and should see that a reboot is possible.

Screenshot of the Send SysRq Command option under the keyboard icon in the button bar.

Select Reboot and Send SysRq Command

Screenshot of the Reboot option in the Send SysRq Command to Guest dialog.

The system should log a reset message such as this

Screenshot of the reset message log in the command-line interface.

Ubuntu GRUB configuration

By default you should be able to access GRUB by holding down Esc key during the VM boot, if the GRUB menu is not presented you can force and keep the GRUB menu on screen in the Azure Serial Console by using one of these options.

Option 1 - Forces GRUB to be displayed on Screen

Update the file /etc/default/grub.d/50-cloudimg-settings.cfg to keep the GRUB menu on screen for the specified TIMEOUT. You are not required to hit Esc as GRUB will be displayed immediately.


Option 2 - Allows for Esc to be pressed before booting

Similar behavior can be experienced by making changes to the file /etc/default/grub and observe a 3-second timeout to hit Esc

Comment out these two lines:


and add this line:


Ubuntu 12.04

Ubuntu 12.04 will allow access to serial console but does not offer the ability to interact. A login: prompt is not seen

For 12.04 to obtain a login: prompt:

  1. Create a file called /etc/init/ttyS0.conf containing the following text:

    # ttyS0 - getty
    # This service maintains a getty on ttyS0 from the point the system is
    # started until it is shut down again.
    start on stopped rc RUNLEVEL=[12345]
    stop on runlevel [!12345]
    exec /sbin/getty -L 115200 ttyS0 vt102
  2. Ask upstart to start the getty

    sudo start ttyS0

The settings required to configure serial console for Ubuntu versions can be found here

Ubuntu Recovery Mode

Additional recovery and clean-up options are available for Ubuntu via GRUB however these settings are only accessible if you configure kernel parameters accordingly. Failure to configure this kernel boot parameter would force the Recovery menu to be sent to the Azure Diagnostics and not to the Azure Serial Console. You can obtain access to the Ubuntu Recovery Menu by following these steps:

Interrupt the BOOT Process and access GRUB menu

Select Advanced Options for Ubuntu and press enter

Screenshot shows the Serial console with Advanced options for Ubuntu selected.

Select the line displaying (recovery mode) do not press enter but press "e"

Screenshot shows the Serial console with a recovery mode version selected.

Locate the line that will load the kernel and substitute the last parameter nomodeset with destination as console=ttyS0

linux /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-1023-azure root=UUID=21b294f1-25bd-4265-9c4e-d6e4aeb57e97 ro recovery nomodeset

change to

linux /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-1023-azure root=UUID=21b294f1-25bd-4265-9c4e-d6e4aeb57e97 ro recovery console=ttyS0

Screenshot shows the Serial console with the changed value.

Press Ctrl-x to start and load the kernel. If all goes well you will see these additional Options, which can help perform other recovery options

Screenshot shows the Serial console at the Recovery Menu, which offers additional recovery options.

Red Hat GRUB configuration

Red Hat 7.4+ GRUB configuration

The default /etc/default/grub configuration on these versions is adequately configured

GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR="$(sed 's, release .*$,,g' /etc/system-release)"
GRUB_TERMINAL="serial console"
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="console=tty1 console=ttyS0 earlyprintk=ttyS0 rootdelay=300"

Enable the SysRq key

sysctl -w kernel.sysrq=1;echo kernel.sysrq = 1 >> /etc/sysctl.conf;sysctl -a | grep -i sysrq

Red Hat 7.2 and 7.3 GRUB configuration

The file to modify is /etc/default/grub – a default config looks like this example:

GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR="$(sed 's, release .*$,,g' /etc/system-release)"
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="console=tty1 console=ttyS0 earlyprintk=ttyS0 rootdelay=300"

Change the following lines in /etc/default/grub





GRUB_TERMINAL="serial console"

Also add this line:

GRUB_SERIAL_COMMAND="serial –speed=115200 –unit=0 –word=8 –parity=no –stop=1″

/etc/default/grub should now look similar to this example:

GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR="$(sed 's, release .*$,,g' /etc/system-release)"
GRUB_TERMINAL="serial console"
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="console=tty1 console=ttyS0 earlyprintk=ttyS0 rootdelay=300"

Complete and update grub configuration using

grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg

Set the SysRq kernel parameter:

sysctl -w kernel.sysrq = 1;echo kernel.sysrq = 1 >> /etc/sysctl.conf;sysctl -a | grep -i sysrq

You can alternatively configure GRUB and SysRq using a single line either in the shell or via the Run Command. Backup your files before running this command:

cp /etc/default/grub /etc/default/grub.bak; sed -i 's/GRUB_TIMEOUT=1/GRUB_TIMEOUT=5/g' /etc/default/grub; sed -i 's/GRUB_TERMINAL_OUTPUT="console"/GRUB_TERMINAL="serial console"/g' /etc/default/grub; echo "GRUB_SERIAL_COMMAND=\"serial --speed=115200 --unit=0 --word=8 --parity=no --stop=1\"" >> /etc/default/grub;grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg;sysctl -w kernel.sysrq=1;echo kernel.sysrq = 1 /etc/sysctl.conf;sysctl -a | grep -i sysrq

Red Hat 6.x GRUB configuration

The file to modify is /boot/grub/grub.conf. The timeout value will determine how long GRUB is shown for.

serial --unit=0 --speed=9600
terminal serial
terminal --timeout=5 serial console

The last line terminal –-timeout=5 serial console will further increase GRUB timeout by adding a prompt of 5 seconds displaying Press any key to continue.

Screenshot shows a console with output.

GRUB menu should appear on-screen for the configured timeout=15 without the need to press Esc. Make sure to click in the Console in the Browser to make active the menu and select the required kernel.

Screenshot shows a console with two Linux options.


SLES 12 sp1

Either use YaST bootloader as per the official docs

Or add/change to /etc/default/grub the following parameters:

GRUB_SERIAL_COMMAND="serial --unit=0 --speed=9600 --parity=no"

Verify that ttys0 is used in the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX or GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT


Recreate the grub.cfg

grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg


The Serial Console appears and displays boot messages but does not display a login: prompt

Open an ssh session into the VM and update the file /etc/inittab by un-commenting this line:

#S0:12345:respawn:/sbin/agetty -L 9600 ttyS0 vt102

Next run the command

telinit q

To enable GRUB, the following changes should be made to /boot/grub/menu.lst

timeout 5
serial --unit=0 --speed=9600 --parity=no
terminal --timeout=5 serial console

root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-3.0.101-108.74-default root=/dev/disk/by-uuid/ab6b62bb--
1a8c-45eb-96b1-1fbc535b9265 disk=/dev/sda  USE_BY_UUID_DEVICE_NAMES=1 earlyprinttk=ttyS0 console=ttyS0 rootdelay=300  showopts vga=0x314

This configuration will enable the message Press any key to continue to appear on the console for 5 seconds

It will then display the GRUB menu for an additional 5 seconds - by pressing the down arrow you will interrupt the counter and select a kernel you want to boot either append the keyword single for single user mode that requires root password to be set.

Appending the command init=/bin/bash will load the kernel but ensures that the init program is replaced by a bash shell.

You will gain access to a shell without having to enter a password. You can then proceed to update password for Linux accounts or make other configuration changes.

Force the kernel to a bash prompt

Having access to GRUB allows you to interrupt the initialization process this interaction is useful for many recovery procedures. If you do not have root password and single user requires you to have a root password, you can boot the kernel replacing the init program with a bash prompt – this interrupt can be achieved by appending init=/bin/bash to the kernel boot line

Screenshot shows a console with the updated boot line.

Remount your / (root) file system RW using the command

mount -o remount,rw /

Screenshot shows a console with a re-mount action.

Now you can perform root password change or many other Linux configuration changes

Screenshot shows a console where you can change root password and other configuration.

Restart the VM with

/sbin/reboot -f

Single User mode

Alternatively you might need to access the VM in single user or emergency mode. Select the kernel you wish to boot or interrupt using arrow keys. Enter the desired mode by appending the keyword single or 1 to the kernel boot line. On RHEL systems, you can also append rd.break.

For more information on how to access single user mode, see this doc

Screenshot of the *Ubuntu entry in the boot the selected OS screen in GRUB.

Next steps

Learn more about Azure Serial Console