Ubuntu 16/18 LTS – load a new kernel without rebooting the server

Here are the commands needed to load a new kernel without rebooting your server or desktop computer. Why you need this? As said in our first article for CentOS 7 – sometime rebooting a server could take 5 to 10 minutes and loading a new kernel is just up to a minute. In fact in most cases loading the new kernel and starting the system then is just under 20-30 seconds, so upgrading your server even with new kernel is super easy lately. We tested it on Ubuntu 16 and Ubuntu 18 servers and it was successful. The system uses systemd and the process is really easy and safe for the systems.

When the processes is initiated the system shutdowns normally (shutting down all running service with systemd) and then load the system immediately with the new kernel and starts the services as usual!

So no need to worry about unflushed data or not proper shutdown of a service! It’s like a normal reboot but without a hardware reboot and is a lot faster!
Here is what is required to load a kernel without hardware rebooting your computer box:

  1. kexec-tools
  2. Load the new kernel, initram file and the command line arguments with “kexec”
  3. Start a systemd target – kexec.target

Ubuntu 16/18 LTS using kexec to load a new kernel

The real commands only for Ubuntu 16/18 LTS:

sudo apt -y install kexec-tools
sudo kexec -l /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic --initrd=/boot/initrd.img-4.15.0-33-generic --command-line="root=UUID=061b2936-34bf-4da3-b7d2-b8bde0899f03 ro  quiet splash"
sudo systemctl start kexec.target

Here is a real world example with all the output:
And again update your system to see if there is a new kernel and install “kexec-tools”. In our case indeed there is a new kernel – vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic

myuser@srv:~$ sudo apt -y upgrade
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
Calculating upgrade... Done
The following package was automatically installed and is no longer required:
  libllvm5.0
Use 'sudo apt autoremove' to remove it.
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  amd64-microcode autotools-dev dblatex debhelper dh-strip-nondeterminism docbook-dsssl docbook-utils docbook-xml docbook-xsl fonts-lato fonts-lmodern fonts-texgyre
  intel-microcode iucode-tool jadetex javascript-common kernel-common kernel-package kernel-patch-scripts kernel-wedge kerneloops kerneloops-applet kernelshark kerneltop
  libfile-homedir-perl libfile-stripnondeterminism-perl libfile-which-perl libjs-jquery libllvm6.0 libmail-sendmail-perl libosp5 libostyle1c2 libpotrace0 libptexenc1
  libqpdf21 libruby2.3 libsgmls-perl libsp1c2 libsynctex1 libsys-hostname-long-perl libtexlua52 libtexluajit2 libwebpdemux1 libxml2-utils libzzip-0-13
  linux-headers-4.15.0-33 linux-headers-4.15.0-33-generic linux-image-4.15.0-33-generic linux-modules-4.15.0-33-generic linux-modules-extra-4.15.0-33-generic lmodern lynx
  lynx-common openjade po-debconf preview-latex-style prosper ps2eps python-apt rake ruby ruby-did-you-mean ruby-minitest ruby-net-telnet ruby-power-assert ruby-test-unit
  ruby2.3 rubygems-integration sgml-data sgmlspl sp tex-common tex-gyre texlive texlive-base texlive-bibtex-extra texlive-binaries texlive-extra-utils texlive-font-utils
  texlive-fonts-recommended texlive-fonts-recommended-doc texlive-generic-recommended texlive-latex-base texlive-latex-base-doc texlive-latex-extra
  texlive-latex-extra-doc texlive-latex-recommended texlive-latex-recommended-doc texlive-luatex texlive-math-extra texlive-pictures texlive-pictures-doc texlive-pstricks
  texlive-pstricks-doc tipa trace-cmd xmlto xsltproc
The following packages will be upgraded:
.....
.....
Running mktexlsr /var/lib/texmf ... done.
Building format(s) --all.
        This may take some time... done.
Processing triggers for linux-image-4.15.0-33-generic (4.15.0-33.36~16.04.1) ...
/etc/kernel/postinst.d/initramfs-tools:
update-initramfs: Generating /boot/initrd.img-4.15.0-33-generic
/etc/kernel/postinst.d/vboxadd:
VirtualBox Guest Additions: Building the VirtualBox Guest Additions kernel modules.
/etc/kernel/postinst.d/zz-update-grub:
Generating grub configuration file ...
Warning: Setting GRUB_TIMEOUT to a non-zero value when GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT is set is no longer supported.
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-4.15.0-33-generic
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-4.13.0-36-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-4.13.0-36-generic
Found memtest86+ image: /boot/memtest86+.elf
Found memtest86+ image: /boot/memtest86+.bin
done

myuser@srv:~$ sudo apt -y install kexec-tools
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
The following package was automatically installed and is no longer required:
  libllvm5.0
Use 'sudo apt autoremove' to remove it.
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  kexec-tools
0 upgraded, 1 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 77,4 kB of archives.
After this operation, 276 kB of additional disk space will be used.
Get:1 http://bg.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu xenial-updates/main amd64 kexec-tools amd64 1:2.0.16-1ubuntu1~16.04.1 [77,4 kB]
Fetched 77,4 kB in 0s (707 kB/s)      
Preconfiguring packages ...
Selecting previously unselected package kexec-tools.
(Reading database ... 253895 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack .../kexec-tools_1%3a2.0.16-1ubuntu1~16.04.1_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking kexec-tools (1:2.0.16-1ubuntu1~16.04.1) ...
Processing triggers for man-db (2.7.5-1) ...
Processing triggers for systemd (229-4ubuntu21.4) ...
Processing triggers for ureadahead (0.100.0-19) ...
Setting up kexec-tools (1:2.0.16-1ubuntu1~16.04.1) ...
Generating /etc/default/kexec...
Processing triggers for systemd (229-4ubuntu21.4) ...
Processing triggers for ureadahead (0.100.0-19) ...

     ┌──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────┤ Configuring kexec-tools ├───────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────┐
     │                                                                                                                                                                │ 
     │ If you choose this option, a system reboot will trigger a restart into a kernel loaded by kexec instead of going through the full system boot loader process.  │ 
     │                                                                                                                                                                │ 
     │ Should kexec-tools handle reboots (sysvinit only)?                                                                                                             │ 
     │                                                                                                                                                                │ 
     │                                                 <Yes>                                                    <No>                                                  │ 
     │                                                                                                                                                                │ 
     └────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────┘ 

On the above configuration question mark “” and press Enter.

So we performed an update and there was a new kernel vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic, which we would like to load without hardware reboot.
Here is our new kernel in “/boot”

myuser@srv:~$ ls -altr /boot/
total 130420
-rw-r--r--  1 root root   184840 Jan 28  2016 memtest86+_multiboot.bin
-rw-r--r--  1 root root   184380 Jan 28  2016 memtest86+.elf
-rw-r--r--  1 root root   182704 Jan 28  2016 memtest86+.bin
-rw-------  1 root root  3879946 Feb 17  2018 System.map-4.13.0-36-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root     2850 Feb 17  2018 retpoline-4.13.0-36-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root   213220 Feb 17  2018 config-4.13.0-36-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root  1501359 Feb 17  2018 abi-4.13.0-36-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root  7710912 May 17 16:50 vmlinuz-4.13.0-36-generic
-rw-------  1 root root  4041375 Aug 16 00:00 System.map-4.15.0-33-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root        0 Aug 16 00:00 retpoline-4.15.0-33-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root   216913 Aug 16 00:00 config-4.15.0-33-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root  1537455 Aug 16 00:00 abi-4.15.0-33-generic
-rw-------  1 root root  8108600 Aug 16 21:58 vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic
drwxr-xr-x 24 root root     4096 Sep  7 14:15 ..
-rw-r--r--  1 root root 51290506 Sep  7 14:15 initrd.img-4.13.0-36-generic
-rw-r--r--  1 root root 54451680 Sep  7 14:15 initrd.img-4.15.0-33-generic
drwxr-xr-x  3 root root     4096 Sep  7 14:15 .
drwxr-xr-x  5 root root     4096 Sep  7 14:16 grub

Now we know the kernel and initram file names we just check the kernel arguments in the kernel, load them with kexec and start an systemd target to load the new kernel:

myuser@srv:~$ grep vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic /boot/grub/grub.cfg 
        linux   /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic root=UUID=061b2936-34bf-4da3-b7d2-b8bde0899f03 ro  quiet splash $vt_handoff
                linux   /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic root=UUID=061b2936-34bf-4da3-b7d2-b8bde0899f03 ro  quiet splash $vt_handoff
                linux   /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic root=UUID=061b2936-34bf-4da3-b7d2-b8bde0899f03 ro  quiet splash $vt_handoff init=/sbin/upstart
                linux   /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic root=UUID=061b2936-34bf-4da3-b7d2-b8bde0899f03 ro recovery nomodeset 
myuser@srv:~$ sudo kexec -l /boot/vmlinuz-4.15.0-33-generic --initrd=/boot/initrd.img-4.15.0-33-generic --command-line="root=UUID=061b2936-34bf-4da3-b7d2-b8bde0899f03 ro  quiet splash"
myuser@srv:~$ sudo systemctl start kexec.target
Connection to srv closed by remote host.
Connection to srv closed.

Use the first line of the grep output above (or you can cat the file and see what is in it if you have any doubts) to take the proper kernel boot arguments and do not include anything starting with “$”.

As you can see systemd performs a normal shutdown of all services and targets.

main menu
Normal shutdown

The ssh connection is immediately closed because the reboot is initiated.
After 10-15 seconds our host is alive and the new kernel is loaded successfully:

root@test ~ $ ssh root@srv
root@srv's password: 
Last login: Wed Sep  5 17:15:08 2018 from test
[root@srv ~]# uname -a
Linux srv.local 4.15.0-33-generic #36~16.04.1-Ubuntu SMP Wed Aug 15 17:21:05 UTC 2018 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux
[root@srv ~]# 

Because we do not wanted to mess up the two output in one article we decided to split it in two separate ones, so here is the previous one for CentOS 7 – “CentOS 7 – load a new kernel without rebooting the CentOS 7 server”

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