I was wondering if it's possible to detect a shutdown due to power loss on a Linux system. (Power loss defined as: pressing reset button, pressing power button, pulling the power cord) If so, how? (ie, if this is already something that people can do, what commands do I run?)

The way I would imagine something like this working:

  • When system comes back up, checks for an issued shutdown or reboot command, finds none.
  • System checks for any sort of errors that have been logged that would require a reboot, such as kernel panic, etc (OOM maybe?) and finds none.
  • If no smoking gun found as described above, the system logs something like "No cause for shutdown found, potential power loss detected."

It depends on your implementation of last but if your system crashed you'll see a message to this effect in the last output.


Notice the crash lines? These are as a result of the power going out or someone hitting the power switch on this particular system.

$ last
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Tue May 13 22:42 - 22:43  (00:01)    
reboot   system boot  2.6.18-238.19.1. Tue May 13 21:47         (4+17:29)   
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Tue May 13 21:36 - crash  (00:11)    
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Mon May 12 03:29 - 03:29  (00:00)    
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Sun May 11 16:47 - 19:41  (02:53)    
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Sat May 10 17:10 - 17:12  (00:01)    
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Sat May 10 08:35 - 08:35  (00:00)    
root     pts/1        greeneggs.bubba. Thu May  8 23:56 - 23:56  (00:00)    
reboot   system boot  2.6.18-238.19.1. Thu May  8 23:55         (9+15:21)   
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Thu May  8 22:39 - 22:41  (00:02)    
root     pts/0        greeneggs.bubba. Tue May  6 21:36 - 22:06  (00:30)    
sam      pts/0        byers.bubba.net  Tue May  6 12:36 - 13:04  (00:28)    
root     pts/0        :0.0             Mon May  5 23:12 - 23:12  (00:00)    
root     :0                            Mon May  5 23:03 - crash (3+00:51)   

More esoteric method

One that I've seen used quite well is if you have a laptop, you can use the command line tool acpi to query the system's ACPI interface. This will tell you, among other things, when the system is on-line with power or running off of its battery.


Here's the output from that command on my laptop.

$ acpi -V
Battery 0: Unknown, 94%
Battery 0: design capacity 6963 mAh, last full capacity 6683 mAh = 95%
Adapter 0: on-line
Thermal 0: ok, 52.0 degrees C
Thermal 0: trip point 0 switches to mode critical at temperature 100.0 degrees C
Thermal 0: trip point 1 switches to mode passive at temperature 95.5 degrees C
Cooling 0: LCD 0 of 15
Cooling 1: Processor 0 of 10
Cooling 2: Processor 0 of 10
Cooling 3: Processor 0 of 10
Cooling 4: Processor 0 of 10

Simply checking the contents of the line Adapter will tell the system's current status. This could be wrapped into a monitor, if for example, you wanted to monitor a group of machines to see if they've experienced their power being cut as a group.

plugged in

$ acpi -V | grep "Adapter"
Adapter 0: on-line


$ acpi -V | grep "Adapter"
Adapter 0: off-line

You could accomplish this by creating a placeholder file when the system is properly shut down or does a user initiated reboot (init 0 or 6). Run a startup script (init 3 or 5) that checks the existence of the file. If it's missing it didn't shutdown properly. If the file does exist (i.e. the system had a normal shutdown or reboot) simply remove the lock file.

Just make sure you don't write the place holder file to a directory that is mounted in memory (/dev/shm, /var/run, etc..) or /tmp as these directories will be emptied when the system reboots.

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