Mastering the journalctl Command: A Comprehensive Guide

Mastering the journalctl Command: A Comprehensive Guide

System logs are a vital resource for administrators and developers looking to monitor system performance, troubleshoot issues, and understand the events taking place within the system. On this article, we learn about how on Linux systems, the journalctl command provides an effective way to access and manage these logs.

Introduction to the journalctl Command

The journalctl command is a utility that allows users to view and interact with systemd journal logs. These logs include information from various sources, such as the kernel, initrd, system services, applications, and systemd itself. The logs are stored in a binary format and can be queried efficiently using journalctl.

The basic syntax of the journalctl command is as follows:

journalctl [options…] [matches…]

Viewing and Filtering Logs with journalctl

The most straightforward way to use journalctl is without any options. This will display all logged entries in chronological order:

$ journalctl

However, the output can be overwhelming, especially on systems with a long runtime. To make navigation easier, the output is automatically paginated using the less command. Use the Enter key to scroll line by line, or the Space key to scroll page by page. To exit the log output, press q on your keyboard.

To view logs in reverse chronological order (i.e., newest entries first), use the -r option:

$ journalctl -r

You can limit the number of displayed log entries by using the -n option followed by the number of lines you want to display. For example, to view the last 15 entries:

$ journalctl -n 15

To view only kernel-related messages, use the -k option:

$ journalctl -k

Logs can also be filtered by priority. Log levels range from 0 (emergency) to 7 (debug), with lower numbers indicating higher priority. Use the -p option to view logs of a specific level and above. For example, to view error, critical, alert, and emergency logs:

$ journalctl -p 3

To view logs from a specific system service, use the -u flag followed by the service name. For example, to view logs for the Apache service:

$ journalctl -u apache2.service

Working with Boot Logs

The journalctl command allows users to view logs from specific boot sessions. Each boot is logged separately, making it easy to isolate logs related to a particular boot. To see a list of all the logs from previous boots, use the --list-boots option:

$ journalctl --list-boots

To view logs from the previous system boot, use the -b option with the number -1. Specify a different number to view logs from older boots:

$ journalctl -b -1

Advanced Usage

You can view logs from a specific time period using the --since and --until options. For example, to view logs from yesterday:

$ journalctl --since yesterday

These options can be used together to specify a particular time frame. Use the YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS date format for precision:

$ journalctl --since 2023-04-05 08:00:00 --until 2023-04-05 12:00:00

To get log output in JSON format, which can be useful for parsing in certain programs, use the -o option with either json or json-pretty:

$ journalctl -o json


$ journalctl -o json-pretty

For real-time monitoring of logs as they are being produced, use the -f option, which functions similarly to the tail command's -f option:

$ journalctl -f

You can also check how much disk space is being consumed by the log files using the --disk-usage option:

$ journalctl --disk-usage

Additional Tips and Options

The journalctl command provides several additional options to customize log display and navigation:

  • Use the --no-page option to display logs in the terminal without pagination (i.e., without using less):

$ journalctl --no-page
  • To display all log fields, including unprintable fields, use the --all option:

$ journalctl --all
  • By default, the journalctl command displays journal logs in the local time zone. However, you can specify logs to be displayed in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) using the --utc option:

$ journalctl --utc
  • If you want to suppress irrelevant messages such as warnings or info messages, use the -q or --quiet option:

$ journalctl --quiet
  • To display a help message listing all options and their usage, use the --help option:

$ journalctl --help

You can also check the version of the journalctl command using the --version option:

$ journalctl --version


The journalctl command is an essential tool for managing and analyzing system logs on Linux. Through its various options and filters, administrators and users can easily navigate, monitor, and troubleshoot system events. Mastering the journalctl command is a key skill for those seeking to optimize system performance and resolve issues efficiently.

Whether you are a seasoned system administrator or a Linux enthusiast, understanding the power of the journalctl command will enhance your ability to work with logs and keep your system running smoothly.

As we have covered the key concepts and usage of the journalctl command, we would like to conclude this comprehensive guide with a few additional notes:

  • It is essential to remember that logs are a valuable source of information for diagnosing and debugging system issues. Proper log management practices, such as log rotation and archiving, can help prevent logs from consuming excessive disk space while ensuring that historical data is preserved.

  • The journalctl command, as part of the systemd suite, is commonly available on modern Linux distributions that utilize systemd as the init system. However, some Linux distributions may use alternative init systems and logging mechanisms, so it's important to be aware of the specific tools available on your system.

  • In addition to using the journalctl command, you can take advantage of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and third-party log management tools to visualize and analyze logs. These tools often provide advanced features such as log aggregation, filtering, searching, and alerting.

  • Logs can contain sensitive information, so access to logs should be restricted to authorized personnel. When sharing logs for troubleshooting or support purposes, ensure that any confidential or private information is redacted or anonymized.

  • Continuous monitoring of logs is a crucial part of a proactive approach to system maintenance and security. Automated monitoring and alerting tools can help detect anomalies, security breaches, and performance issues in real-time, allowing for prompt response and mitigation.

With the knowledge provided in this guide, you are now equipped to effectively work with the journalctl command and make the most of its capabilities. Happy logging, and may your system always run smoothly!

George Whittaker is the editor of Linux Journal, and also a regular contributor. George has been writing about technology for two decades, and has been a Linux user for over 15 years. In his free time he enjoys programming, reading, and gaming.

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