On an Orange Pi Zero running a Raspbian server, it's possible to use the watchdog very easily just by running the command echo 1 > /dev/watchdog as root. The idea is that the system will certainly reboot after some time that this command is executed, so I need to keep repeating this command in a regular interval of time to keep the system on. We can implement a watchdog using cron as root and making it execute the following script on boot:

while [ true ]; do
    echo 1 > /dev/watchdog
    sleep 5

This script works fine on the Orange Pi Zero... However, on my desktop computer running Ubuntu 18.04 the command echo 1 > /dev/watchdog doesn't work at all. Is it possible to activate the watchdog on any device running Linux?

4 Answers 4


There are two types of watchdog; hardware and software. On the Orange Pi the SOC chip provides a hardware watchdog. If initialised then it needs to be pinged every so often, otherwise it performs a board reset.

However not many desktops have hardware watchdogs, so the kernel provides a software version. Now the kernel will try and keep track, and force a reboot. This isn't as good as a hardware watchdog because if the kernel, itself, breaks then nothing will trigger the reset. But it works.

The software watchdog can be initialised by loading the softdog module

% modprobe softdog
% dmesg | tail -1
[  120.573945] softdog: Software Watchdog Timer: 0.08 initialized. soft_noboot=0 soft_margin=60 sec soft_panic=0 (nowayout=0)

We can see this has a 60 second timeout by default.

If I then do

% echo > /dev/watchdog
% dmesg | tail -1
[  154.514976] watchdog: watchdog0: watchdog did not stop!

We can see the watchdog hadn't timed out.

I then leave the machine idle for a minute and on the console I see

[  214.624112] softdog: Initiating system reboot

and the OS reboots.

  • 1
    Many desktops, laptops and servers include hardware watchdogs, often in their Super-I/O chips, or in their PCH; see the various “wdt” modules in the kernel. Dec 31, 2018 at 20:39
  • 1
    @StephenHarris Can I assume that when the command echo > /dev/watchdog doesn't work at first it's because there's no hardware watchdog for that device? Or there's still the possibility that I need to activate the hardware watchdog before using it? Dec 31, 2018 at 20:45
  • 2
    If /dev/watchdog doesn't exist (or isn't a character device) and you know your hardware has a watchdog, then you may need to modprobe the relevant hardware driver... Modern distro's will try to load this automatically, but you may have an edge-case. None of my machines have a /dev/watchdog entry :-( Dec 31, 2018 at 20:48
  • 4
    “Many”, not “all” ;-). My last two personal PCs (2003, 2013) have supported iTCO_wdt, and all my work PCs for the last decade or so have supported one driver or another, but it isn’t loaded automatically; as you mention, in many cases the relevant module needs to be loaded manually, and sometimes the firmware setup has to be configured appropriately too (and sometimes a jumper must be moved on the main board). Dec 31, 2018 at 21:33
  • 1
    @Rafael the BIOS or UEFI setup on a PC. Dec 31, 2018 at 21:38

On a modern Linux operating system that uses systemd you can configure systemd to interact with the hardware watchdog on your behalf, rather than doing it yourself or using a separate user-space daemon.

You can do that by setting a (positive) RuntimeWatchdogSec value in the systemd configuration file, /etc/systemd/system.conf.


It depends on the hardware. With modern enough Linux kernel and intel CPU you should be able to do following if you run Ubuntu or some other Debian variant:

  1. sudo apt install watchdog

  2. sudo nano -w /etc/default/watchdog and define correct module, such as watchdog_module="iTCO_wdt" (note that the correct driver name depends on your hardware but this should be good enough for intel CPUs manufactured during the last 10 years). When the watchdog service is started, it will load this kernel module which will make /dev/watchdog device to appear in the system.

  3. sudo nano -w /etc/watchdog.conf uncomment the line watchdog-device = /dev/watchdog or just add that line as extra line to that file. The end result should match this:

     $ grep -vE '^(#|$)' /etc/watchdog.conf
     watchdog-device = /dev/watchdog
     realtime        = yes
     priority        = 1
  4. sudo systemctl enable --now watchdog

All the possible watchdog driver modules can be listed with command

ls "/lib/modules/$(uname -r)/kernel/drivers/watchdog"

and if you don't have a clue which one to use, you can try testing those one by one. For example, to test driver sp5100_tco.ko simply run sudo modprobe sp5100_tco and then run sudo wd_identify to tell if your hardware is supported by that driver. If it didn't work, remove the driver with sudo modprobe -r sp5100_tco and retry with another. Note that wd_identify cannot be used if watchdog process is already connected to the hardware so you cannot use that after enabling the watchdog.

To test the watchdog hardware you can cause artificial failure by simply opening the device and never writing anything to it. For example, before enabling the watchdog service in last step, you can simply run sudo cat /dev/watchdog and the system will automatically reset in about 60 seconds. This works because the watchdog driver works by starting the watchdog timer when the file is opened and the only way to reset the timer is to write something to the driver device. Closing the file will also stop the timer instead of causing a reboot (unless your kernel has been compiled with non-default flags which cause reset even if nobody is using watchdog device anymore after it has been used at all after boot). When you run cat on the driver file, the file will be opened and the cat process will stall trying to read the file and hardware reset will be done when the timer expires (which should be 60 seconds by default). It's a good idea to save all work and sync the filesystem before attempting this!

For details about the kernel watchdog driver, see the official kernel documentation.

  • You can also use kill -STOP $pid_of_the_watchdog_process to test if your system correctly reboots if the actual watchdog process ever hangs. Nov 30, 2022 at 20:32

The I/O redirection closes the watchdog file handle after writing the 1. Depending on how the watchdog device is configured, closing the file handle can also disable the watchdog.


exec 3>/dev/watchdog
echo 1 >&3

This will keep the watchdog device open in the current shell, so the timer will not be stopped.

Most people run a dedicated watchdog daemon rather than using cron; this daemon runs a list of checks before resetting the timer, so the machine also reboots if tests fail. This could be used to verify that a database service actually processes queries, while regular service monitoring would only verify that the process is running.

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