/proc/kmsg: Explanation & Insights

Contains the kernel message buffer

/proc/kmsg is a special file located in the /proc directory that contains the kernel's message buffer. This includes everything from boot messages to runtime error reports - a crucial piece of information for any Linux administrator. It's important to note that /proc/kmsg isn't a regular file but a character device file that behaves like a data pipe: once data is read, it disappears from the buffer.

What is /proc/kmsg Used For?

The primary use of /proc/kmsg is to read kernel messages. This is usually done by a system logging daemon, such as syslogd or rsyslogd, which reads messages from /proc/kmsg and writes them to a system log file for later examination. This allows you to monitor the health and operational status of your server, as well as diagnose any potential issues.

Why is /proc/kmsg Important?

Understanding /proc/kmsg is critical for system administration and troubleshooting. It's the first point of contact when diagnosing kernel-related issues, such as a high load problem or a network issue. By monitoring kernel logs, you can preemptively address potential issues before they escalate into full-blown problems.

Typical Problems and Difficulties

Although /proc/kmsg is an invaluable tool, it comes with its own set of challenges. Reading /proc/kmsg requires root privileges because it contains sensitive system information. Furthermore, only one process can read from /proc/kmsg at a time. If another process tries to read while it's already being read, it will be put to sleep until the file is available again.

Examples of Using /proc/kmsg

Before diving into examples, remember that reading from /proc/kmsg requires root privileges. If you want to read the file's content, you can use the cat command:

sudo cat /proc/kmsg

To redirect the kernel messages to a file for later analysis, you can use the tee command:

sudo cat /proc/kmsg | tee kernel_messages.txt

Examples of What /proc/kmsg May Contain

The contents of /proc/kmsg can be quite varied, depending on the state of your system. You might observe boot logs, hardware status messages, or error reports. Here's a simplified example of what you might see:

<6>[    0.000000] Initializing cgroup subsys cpuset
<6>[    0.000000] Initializing cgroup subsys cpu
<4>[    0.000000] mce: CPU supports 7 MCE banks

Each line in /proc/kmsg is a kernel message. The number in angle brackets <x> is the message's priority (0-7), with 0 being the highest priority. The numbers in square brackets [x.xxxxxx] represent the timestamp (in seconds) since the system was booted when the message was logged.


Understanding how to use and interpret /proc/kmsg is an essential skill for managing a Linux server. This unique file provides a precious insight into the kernel's activities, helping you diagnose and resolve system issues. However, remember that it requires root privileges to access and can only be read by one process at a time. By leveraging /proc/kmsg, you can ensure your server runs smoothly and efficiently.

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