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You’re booting up, preparing to do some work, edit a document, mix a composition, or just play a game… but something goes wrong.

Ubuntu won’t boot.

Sadly, as reliable as Linux is, sometimes it runs into problems, just like Windows 10 or macOS. In most cases, you’ll be able to work around this. Let’s see how. (These steps are designed for Ubuntu users, but in general can be applied to other Linux operating systems.)

1. Can You Access the GRUB Bootloader?

GRUB is the bootloader that ensures that the selected operating system boots. On a dual booting machine, it will include all installed operating systems, including Windows. Installing Windows alongside Ubuntu can lead to the bootloader being overwritten, leading to problems booting Ubuntu.

Other issues can corrupt the bootloader, such as a failed upgrade, or power failure. It isn’t unusual for a bug to ruin the Linux experience 6 Reasons Your Favorite Linux OS Is Plagued by Bugs 6 Reasons Your Favorite Linux OS Is Plagued by Bugs You found a new Linux operating system to try, and you loved it. But then it went wrong. Sometimes Linux gets buggy after a month or two. The question is, why? Read More .

grub ubuntu advanced options

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To check the GRUB bootloader, restart your PC, while holding SHIFT. You should now see a list of the installed operating systems, a menu that can be navigated using the arrow keys. If not, then the problem is that the GRUB bootloader is broken or overwritten. Repairing the bootloader is the only solution (if you’re dual booting, you’ll still be able to access Windows).

Note: If you see the GRUB Bootloader, skip down to the next section.

Repair the GRUB Bootloader

If GRUB is not loading, you can repair it using the Ubuntu installation disc or USB stick. Restart the computer with the disc inserted, and wait for it to load up. You may need to change your computer’s boot order in the system BIOS How To Change The Boot Order On Your PC (So You Can Boot From USB) How To Change The Boot Order On Your PC (So You Can Boot From USB) What happens when you start up your PC? In most cases (and putting it very simply), after the power switch has controlled the flow of electricity to the motherboard and the fans have started up,... Read More to ensure that the disk boots. Make a note of the boot order before you change it!

With the installation disc booted into the Live environment The 50 Cool Uses for Live CDs The 50 Cool Uses for Live CDs This Live CD how-to guide outlines just a few of the many uses live CDs can offer, and is a great resource for live CD beginners and enthusiasts alike. Read More , confirm you have a network connection and then open a Terminal. Enter:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:yannubuntu/boot-repair
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y boot-repair
boot-repair

This will install the boot-repair tool, and run it after the final instruction. Wait for the system to be scanned, then select the Recommended Repair option. Note that there is an Advanced options view, where you can select a default OS, default disk or partition, and other settings that may come in useful. Click Apply when done. You should now be able to restart your PC and boot into Ubuntu, or have it as an option in the GRUB bootloader menu.

Try a Dedicated Boot Disc

An alternative to running the installation disc, you might try a dedicated rescue disc, such as boot-repair-disk which you can download from Sourceforge. For the best results (especially if you’re using Windows 8/10) you should write this to a USB device, rather than CD/DVD.

This boot disc is essentially the boot-repair program detailed above, but on its own bootable media. As such, the instructions are the same — it’s just a quicker solution.

2. GRUB Bootloader Menu Recovery

If you can see the bootloader, then you don’t have to do any of the above. There is a recovery tool built into Ubuntu, which you can use to help overcome the problem.

In the bootloader menu, look for Advanced options for Ubuntu, then select the entry appended with (recovery mode), and select it with the arrow keys. Tap Enter to continue, and wait as Ubuntu is booted into a slimmed down version. If you’ve ever used the Windows Safe Mode How to Boot Into Windows 10 Safe Mode How to Boot Into Windows 10 Safe Mode Safe Mode is an inbuilt troubleshooting feature that allows you to fix issues at the root, without non-essential applications interfering. You can access Safe Mode in various ways, even if Windows 10 no longer boots. Read More , this is similar.

grub bootloader recovery dpkg

Several options are available here for repair. The three you should try, in order, are:

  1. fsck — This is the file system check tool, which scans the hard disk drive and repairs any errors it finds.
  2. clean — Use this to make free space, useful if the reason for Ubuntu not booting is a lack of HDD space.
  3. dpkg — With this, you can repair broken software packages. Failed software installations or updates can cause problems booting Ubuntu. Repairing them should solve this.

If Ubuntu has never booted previously, you should also try the failsafeX tool. Graphics drivers or a problem with the Xorg graphical server can prevent Ubuntu from booting correctly. Use failsafeX to overcome this.

Advanced users, meanwhile, might select the root menu option to fix the problem manually, assuming they know what it is.

3. Reinstall Ubuntu

In the event of a dreadful failure that will could prove time consuming to resolve, you might prefer to simply reinstall Ubuntu. This can be done without overwriting your existing files and folders.

Again, boot into the Live environment on your Ubuntu CD/DVD or USB drive, and begin the installation. The installer will detect an existing instance of Ubuntu, and give you the option to Reinstall Ubuntu. Look for the option with the note “Documents, music, and other personal files will be kept…” In most cases, installed software will be retained too.

ubuntu live cd/dvd install

Of course, you should have a backup of all your Ubuntu data, either made manually using a backup utility, or using a disk cloning tool like dd. You might prefer syncing data to the cloud via Dropbox or an open source cloud solution. 10 Cloud Solutions You Should Be Using on Linux 10 Cloud Solutions You Should Be Using on Linux Some mainstream cloud storage options don't offer a decent Linux client. But you're not out of luck. Many popular services do work under Linux. You can even roll out your own cloud solution! Read More

Once the reinstallation is complete, Ubuntu should be back up and running.

Note: The Erase Ubuntu and Install option is not advised unless other options fail to run.

4. Replace Your Faulty Hardware

Another cause of Ubuntu being unable to boot comes in the shape of faulty hardware. This is typically an issue for hard disk drives and their cables, although an issue with the motherboard and processor, or even the power supply, can be the source of your problems.

Try our guide for diagnosing a hard disk drive How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data Several years ago, I experienced a hard drive failure. I was at work when my laptop suddenly started to act particularly strange. About half an hour later, the hard drive failed audibly and the laptop... Read More . You might also read up on focusing your efforts to diagnose hardware issues that prevent the computer from booting, and repairing them without breaking the bank 6 Tips to Save Money on PC Repairs 6 Tips to Save Money on PC Repairs You don’t have to pay for expensive technical assistance to repair your PC – 90 per cent of repairs are simple, and can be completed in a matter of minutes. Read More .

And don’t think that just because you’re using a laptop that you can’t repair it yourself. While it is advisable to contact the manufacturer for support when under warranty, if this has expired or you just prefer a DIY repair, you should take a look at this guide to troubleshooting and repairing broken laptops How To Troubleshoot & Repair A Broken Laptop How To Troubleshoot & Repair A Broken Laptop Laptops tend to have a rather short lifetime. They are outdated within weeks of being released, they are notoriously hard to upgrade or repair, and by nature they are subject to gradual decay or fatal... Read More .

lego workers on open hard drive
Image Credit: William Warby via Flickr

Once a faulty HDD is replaced, you’ll typically need to reinstall Ubuntu from scratch. (Unless you had previously made full disc image backup, in which case this could be restored.)

If Ubuntu won’t boot, it isn’t necessarily going to be easy to get things running again. If the GRUB bootloader cannot be repaired, it could be a long time before you have a usable computer again. Yet another argument in favor of maintaining regular backups, or at least syncing your valuable data with the cloud!

Has your Ubuntu PC failed to load? How did you repair it? Did you repair the bootloader, or simply start from scratch? Perhaps the failure prompted you to abandon Linux and delete Ubuntu from your system? Tell us in the comments.

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  1. Vladimir
    April 16, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Great article. Boot repair is great and easy to use software. I used boot repair a lot, and always solve problem. If using dual boot OS, Win and Ubuntu, in case that some of them have to be reinstalled, some overwriting usually happen and then boot repair solve problem in a minute.