What sort of kernel command line arguments Fedora 20's dracut seems to want

April 11, 2014

Recently I upgraded the kernel on my Fedora 20 office workstation, rebooted the machine, and had it hang in early boot (the first two are routine, the last is not). Forcing a reboot back to the earlier kernel brought things back to life. After a bunch of investigation I discovered that this was not actually due to the new kernel, it was due to an earlier dracut update. So this is the first thing to learn: if a dracut update breaks something in the boot process, you'll probably only discover this the next time you upgrade the kernel and the (new) dracut builds a (new and not working) initramfs for it.

The second thing I discovered in the process of this is the Fedora boot process will wait for a really long time for your root filesystem to appear before giving up, printing messages about it, and giving you an emergency shell, where by a really long time I mean 'many minutes' (I think at least five). It turned out that my boot process had not locked up but instead it was sitting around waiting my root filesystem to appear. Of course this wait was silent, with no warnings or status notes reported on the console, so I thought that things had hung. The reason the boot process couldn't find my root filesystem was that my root filesystem is on software RAID and the new dracut has stopped assembling such things for a bunch of people.

(Fedora apparently considers this new dracut state to be 'working as designed', based on bug reports I've skimmed.)

I don't know exactly what changed between the old dracut and the new dracut, but what I do know is that the new dracut really wants you to explicitly tell it what software RAID devices, LVM devices, or other things to bring up on boot through arguments added to the kernel command line. dracut.cmdline(7) will tell you all about the many options, but the really useful thing to know is that you can get dracut itself to tell you what it wants via 'dracut --print-cmdline'.

For me on my machine, this prints out (and booting wants):

  • three rd.md.uuid=<UUID> settings for the software RAID arrays of my root filesystem, the swap partition, and /boot. I'm not sure why dracut includes /boot but I left it in. The kernel command line is already absurdly over-long on a modern Fedora machine, so whatever.

    (There are similar options for LVM volumes, LUKS, and so on.)

  • a 'root=UUID=<UUID>' stanza to specify the UUID of the root filesystem. It's possible that my old 'root=/dev/mdXX' would have worked (the root's RAID array is assembled with the right name), but I didn't feel like finding out the hard way.

  • rootflags=... and rootfstype=ext4 for more information about mounting the root filesystem.

  • resume=UUID=<UUID>, which points to my swap area. I omitted this in the kernel command line I set in grub.cfg because I never suspend my workstation. Nothing has exploded yet.

The simplest approach to fixing up your machine in a situation like this is probably to just update grub.cfg to add everything dracut wants to the new kernel's command line (removing any existing conflicting options, eg an old root=/dev/XXX setting). I looked into just what the arguments were and omitted one for no particularly good reason.

(I won't say that Dracut is magic, because I'm sure it could all be read up on and decoded if I wanted to. I just think that doing so is not worth bothering with for most people. Modern Linux booting is functionally a black box, partly because it's so complex and partly because it almost always just works.)

Written on 11 April 2014.
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Last modified: Fri Apr 11 02:11:02 2014
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