Remote kernel logs with netconsole and rsyslog


A couple of times now, I’ve had problems with my server. The earliest one was when a hard disk drive died. Then memory went bad and had to be replaced. Another example was when a power supply of another machine died and took out the whole rack. What all of these incidents have in common: after finding my machine unreachable, I would have loved to be able to look at a logfile that would give me a clue about what just happened. Most of the times, the relevant kernel oopses/panics were not persisted to the syslog.

Therefore, it seems like a good idea to set up netconsole and remote syslog, so that the server logs to another server. Of course, the other server should not be located right next to it, but maybe even in a different data center. It seems like a good idea to have an “I log your stuff, you log my stuff“ deal with a friend who also owns a server.

This article walks you through setting up rsyslog on the receiver (my friend’s server) and netconsole on the sender (my server).

Configuring rsyslog on the receiver

First, install rsyslog in case you haven’t installed it yet. This article was tested with rsyslog 7.4.2-1. Given that rsyslog is migrating to a newer configuration file format, the rsyslog configuration might need a few simple changes in the future. We also need the acl package that contains the setfacl command:

apt-get install acl rsyslog

We will use file system ACLs (Access Control Lists) to make sure that the unprivileged user has read access to the logfiles. This is necessary because rsyslog will create new files (when rotating) and cannot be told to use a specific owner/group on a per-file basis. If you have not mounted your filesystem with the “acl” option already, edit /etc/fstab and remount the filesystem on which /var/log is stored:

# add the “acl” mount option to /etc/fstab
vi /etc/fstab
mount -o remount,acl /

Let’s set up a couple of variables first to make the following commands easier to understand:


Now let’s create a directory for each log target (so that you can have different ACLs), give it the permissions that rsyslog will use later and set up the ACL. With the setfacl command, the user $UNPRIVUSER will have access to the directory and all files created in that directory:

mkdir -p /var/log/remote/$LOGNAME
chown -R root.adm /var/log/remote
setfacl -m d:user:${UNPRIVUSER}:r /var/log/remote/$LOGNAME

Since rsyslog does not listen for syslog on a remotely reachable UDP port by default, let’s create a config file that enables remote listening and also only stores logfiles from IP addresses that we care about persistently in the corresponding file:

cat >/etc/rsyslog.d/zkj-remote.conf <<EOT
\$ModLoad imudp
\$RuleSet remote

# For each IP address that you want to store logs from,
# add and modify the following two (!) lines:
if \$fromhost-ip=='$LOGIP' then /var/log/remote/$LOGNAME/console.log
& stop

\$InputUDPServerBindRuleset remote
\$UDPServerRun 6666

\$RuleSet RSYSLOG_DefaultRuleset

To prevent this logfile from filling up the server’s hard disk, we configure logrotate accordingly:

cat >/etc/logrotate.d/zkj-remote <<'EOT'
        rotate 30
        maxage 31
                invoke-rc.d rsyslog reload > /dev/null

Now restart rsyslog and make sure port 6666/udp is not blocked in your packet filter, if any.

Configuring netconsole on the sender

Given that the machine you are sending data from is most likely currently running, let’s focus on getting netconsole working on a running Linux box first and make it persistent later.

Let’s start with loading the necessary kernel modules, mounting the pseudo-filesystem configfs and creating a directory for this netconsole target:

modprobe configfs
modprobe netconsole
mount none -t configfs /sys/kernel/config
mkdir /sys/kernel/config/netconsole/target1
cd /sys/kernel/config/netconsole/target1

Since netconsole needs to work in as many situations as possible (think of kernel bugs), it does not do DNS or even ARP resolution, so we need to hardcode the IP and MAC addresses we want to use. Note that if you are logging to a server which is not in the same subnet as yours, you’ll need to specify the MAC address of the gateway. You can get the MAC address of your gateway using these commands:

GATEWAY=$(ip -4 -o route get | cut -f 3 -d ' ')
MAC=$(ip -4 neigh show $GATEWAY | cut -f 5 -d ' ')

So, let’s save the parameters and enable logging:

echo > remote_ip
echo > local_ip
echo $MAC > remote_mac
echo 1 > enabled

The kernel will print the configuration, so you can verify that everything was configured okay using dmesg | tail -20.

Before we test whether the setup works, we need to increase the kernel log level, which is too low by default. By setting it to 7 (debug), we log everything:

echo 7 > /proc/sys/kernel/printk

That’s it! To trigger a kernel log message you can use either of these (or both):

echo 'Hello from the sender' > /dev/kmsg
# Dump memory stats (no side effects)
echo m > /proc/sysrq-trigger

You should now see messages in the log file on the receiver.

Making the netconsole settings persistent

Ideally, we want to have early boot in the logfile, so the best way of persisting these settings is to add them to the kernel command line in /etc/default/grub:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="init=/bin/systemd panic=10 loglevel=7 \
[email protected]/eth0,[email protected]/00:1d:d4:e2:43:01"

Don’t forget to run update-grub to write these changes to /boot.