How To View Systemctl Logs

View Systemctl Logs

As a Linux system administrator, understanding how to effectively view and analyze logs is crucial for maintaining the health and stability of your systems. In modern Linux distributions, systemd has become the standard init system, replacing traditional SysV init scripts. With systemd comes a powerful logging system called the systemd journal, which centralizes and structures log data for all systemd-managed services and processes. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to use the journalctl utility to view, filter, and analyze systemd logs, enabling you to troubleshoot issues and monitor your Linux systems with ease.

What is the Systemd Journal?

The systemd journal is a binary log format that differs from traditional plain-text log files. It serves as a centralized logging system, collecting and storing log data from various sources, including kernel messages, system services, and applications. The journal provides structured and indexed log entries, making it efficient to search and analyze logs. The journald daemon is responsible for managing the systemd journal, handling log rotation, and providing an API for other programs to access and manipulate log data. To interact with the systemd journal, we use the journalctl command-line utility.

Basic journalctl Usage

To get started with viewing systemd logs, open a terminal and use the journalctl command without any arguments. This will display all available log entries, starting from the oldest entry. The output is paginated using the default pager (usually less), allowing you to navigate through the logs easily. Use the arrow keys or Page Up/Down keys to scroll, press ‘q’ to quit the pager, and ‘/’ to search for specific text within the logs.

To view logs from the current boot, use the -b flag:

journalctl -b

If you want to view logs from previous boots, you can list the available boots using the –list-boots option:

journalctl --list-boots

Then, specify the boot ID or offset to view logs from a specific boot:

journalctl -b -1

To follow the live log stream, similar to the tail -f command, use the -f flag:

journalctl -f

This will display new log entries as they are generated in real-time.

If you only want to see the most recent log entries, use the -n option followed by the number of entries to display:

journalctl -n 100

Filtering Logs with journalctl

While viewing all log entries can be helpful, it’s often necessary to filter the logs to find specific information quickly. Journalctl provides several filtering options to narrow down the log output based on various criteria.

To filter logs by priority or severity level, use the -p option followed by the priority name or number. For example, to view only error-level messages and above:

journalctl -p err

You can also filter logs by time range using the –since and –until options. For example, to view logs from the last hour:

journalctl --since "1 hour ago"

To filter logs for a specific systemd unit or service, use the -u option followed by the unit name:

journalctl -u nginx.service

You can also use grep to filter log entries based on specific message text:

journalctl | grep "error"

Combining multiple filters is possible to further refine the log output. For example, to view error logs for the Nginx service in the last 30 minutes:

journalctl -u nginx.service -p err --since "30 minutes ago"

Journalctl also supports filtering using the field=value syntax, allowing you to match specific fields in the structured log entries. For example, to view logs for a specific process ID (PID):

journalctl _PID=1234

Formatting journalctl Output

By default, journalctl outputs logs in a human-readable format, paginated through the default pager. However, you can customize the output format to suit your needs.

To disable the pager and display the logs in a continuous stream, use the –no-pager option:

journalctl --no-pager

Journalctl supports various output formats, including short, json, cat, and more. To change the output format, use the -o option followed by the format name. For example, to display logs in JSON format:

journalctl -o json

JSON output is particularly useful when integrating with log analysis tools or scripts that require structured data.

By default, journalctl truncates long log lines. To display the full log entry, use the -a option:

journalctl -a

To enable colored output, which can improve readability, use the –color option:

journalctl --color

Advanced journalctl Techniques

Journalctl offers several advanced features for managing and analyzing systemd logs. Here are a few techniques to consider:

To verify the integrity of the journal files, use the –verify option:

journalctl --verify

This command checks the journal files for corruption and reports any issues.

To view the disk usage of the journal files and optionally vacuum (remove) old logs, use the –disk-usage and –vacuum-size options:

journalctl --disk-usage
sudo journalctl --vacuum-size=500M

The –vacuum-size option specifies the maximum size of the journal files to retain.

Journal files can be stored in either persistent or volatile locations. Persistent journals are stored in /var/log/journal, while volatile journals are stored in /run/log/journal. To view logs from a specific directory, use the –directory option:

journalctl --directory=/path/to/journal/directory

Systemd logs can be forwarded to traditional syslog for centralized logging. To enable forwarding, configure the ForwardToSyslog option in the journald.conf configuration file.

In addition to systemd logs, you can also examine kernel logs using the dmesg command. Journalctl integrates with dmesg, allowing you to view kernel logs alongside other systemd logs:

journalctl -k

Journalctl can be combined with other command-line tools like grep, awk, and sed for advanced log filtering and processing. For example, to count the number of error logs:

journalctl -p err | grep -c "error"

Accessing Logs as a Non-Root User

By default, only the root user has full access to view all systemd logs. However, you can grant log access to non-root users by adding them to the systemd-journal group:

sudo usermod -aG systemd-journal username

After adding the user to the group, they need to log out and log back in for the changes to take effect.

Keep in mind that granting log access to non-root users may have security implications, as logs can contain sensitive information. Carefully consider the need for log access and follow the principle of least privilege.

Best Practices

To effectively manage and analyze systemd logs, consider the following best practices:

  1. Implement a centralized log management solution to collect and analyze logs from multiple systems. Tools like Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (ELK stack) can help in aggregating and visualizing logs.
  2. Proactively monitor systemd service logs for errors and anomalies. Set up alerts and notifications for critical events to ensure timely response to issues.
  3. Establish log rotation and retention policies to manage disk space and comply with legal and regulatory requirements. Use the journald.conf configuration file to set appropriate storage limits and retention periods.
  4. Leverage other systemd tools like systemd-analyze to analyze boot performance and identify bottlenecks. Regularly review and optimize systemd unit configurations for improved system performance and reliability.


Systemd’s journalctl utility provides a powerful and flexible way to view and analyze systemd logs on Linux systems. By mastering the various filtering, formatting, and analysis techniques discussed in this guide, you can effectively troubleshoot issues, monitor system health, and gain valuable insights from your log data.

Remember to regularly review your log management practices, implement centralized logging solutions, and stay updated with the latest systemd features and best practices. By leveraging the power of systemd logging, you can ensure the stability, security, and performance of your Linux systems.

For further reading and exploration, refer to the official systemd documentation and community resources. Happy logging!


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
Back to top button