After an update of Debian 9 ('Stretch'), I can't open any program. Is there anything I can do on grub? Can't even open a terminal.

  • Some more context would be nice, if not necessary. What update? What operating system? What are you seeing? Are there any errors? How far does the boot get? – jesse_b Dec 6 '19 at 22:12
  • Actually I think this question is clear enough. The op has a system that will not boot into a usable environment. Since grub has the only working UI on their system they are asking if they can use grub's UI to get to a working environment. Great question. Answer to it is "yes". – Philip Couling Dec 6 '19 at 23:12
  • It does boot, but all icons are gone, just the names of things appear. The only program that works is google chrome, from which i'm typing. The system is debian stretch – myname Dec 6 '19 at 23:15
  • Philip Couling, what command line would work for that? – myname Dec 6 '19 at 23:17
  • @PhilipCouling: As it turned out it was not clear enough. :) – jesse_b Dec 7 '19 at 20:20

I'm going to take your question literally and not try too discuss too much how to fix your environment. That is I'm going to explain how to get to a terminal. From there you will need to start to diagnose the problem and fix. You are always welcome to come and ask a new question when you know more about what's wrong.

Before you try doing anything in grub, check to see if you can get to a terminal without the GUI. From the (non-functional) GUI, press ctrlalt5. That's 5 on the top row of your keyboard, not the number pad. Actually most of the numbers would work, but either 1 or 2 will be the GUI itself. You can go back to the GUI using ctrlalt1 or ctrlalt2 depending on which terminal the GUI is running on.

This is the best option for getting a terminal as everything will be mounted as you need it.

Getting to a command prompt using grub

If you really can't get to any terminal then the "nuclear option" is to boot directly into a command (bash) prompt. That is, assuming you want to use a bash command line you can make bash be the only thing run at boot.

To do this you need to power on your system and when the grub menu comes you can press quickly to stop it automatically booting. Then select your usual boot option and press e. This will present you with the menu entry's config. This might look something like this:

insmod gzio
if [ x$grub_platform = xxen ]; then insmod xzio; insmod lzopio; fi
insmod part_gpt
insmod ext2
set root='hd0,gpt8'
if [ x$feature_platform_search_hint = xy ]; then
  search --no-floppy --fs-uuid --set=root --hint-bios=hd0,gpt8 --hint-efi=hd0,gpt8 --hint-baremetal=ahci0,gpt8  cb015492-4ca4-4fae-a416-6d89443e4680
  search --no-floppy --fs-uuid --set=root cb015492-4ca4-4fae-a416-6d89443e4680
echo    'Loading Linux 5.3.0-19-generic ...'
linux   /vmlinuz-5.3.0-19-generic root=UUID=ff6f177b-8261-4ea7-a088-bfbf7556c7b0 ro recovery nomodeset 
echo    'Loading initial ramdisk ...'
initrd  /initrd.img-5.3.0-19-generic

Look through this config for a line that starts with linux. Then carefully add to the end of that line:

linux   /vmlinuz-5.3.0-19-generic root=UUID=ff6f177b-8261-4ea7-a088-bfbf7556c7b0 ro recovery nomodeset init=/bin/bash

Then press F10 to boot.

Once you get to a command prompt this way you will find that a lot of things have not been mounted as you normally expect. Root (/) will be read-only and you will not have /dev/ /sys /proc and /run. There may be other things not mounted including /boot/efi or other paritions.

# Mount / as RW 
mount -o remount,rw /

# Mount dev sys proc and run
mount -t devtmpfs devtmpfs /dev
mount -t proc proc /proc
mount -t sysfs sysfs /sys
mount -t tmpfs tmpfs /run 

Then read through /etc/fstab to look for anything else you might need. For example if I type cat /etc/fstab I can see an entry

# /boot was on /dev/sda8 during installation
UUID=cb015492-4ca4-4fae-a416-6d89443e4680 /boot           ext4    defaults        0       2

I could ...

mount UUID=cb015492-4ca4-4fae-a416-6d89443e4680 /boot

Or, simpler to type would be to use blkid to find the device:

/dev/mapper/ubuntu: UUID="ff6f177b-8261-4ea7-a088-bfbf7556c7b0" TYPE="ext4"
/dev/sda2: LABEL_FATBOOT="EFI" LABEL="EFI" UUID="2641-087E" TYPE="vfat" PARTLABEL="EFI system partition" PARTUUID="27141f73-5de4-4785-8894-3c774fae7e79"
/dev/sda5: UUID="d7a0c72d-e9cc-49d6-8482-d08c5225d22d" LABEL="Ubuntu" TYPE="crypto_LUKS" PARTLABEL="Linux Home" PARTUUID="0fc32a26-808a-4f1c-8d15-3369da0b564b"
/dev/sda8: UUID="cb015492-4ca4-4fae-a416-6d89443e4680" TYPE="ext4" 

then ...

mount /dev/sda8 /booot

This is enough to get you to a working command line. After that I'm afraid you've got to work the problem and try to discover what went wrong.

Final thought

If this was just a system update that broke your UI then it may be that your profile settings are not compatible with the new upgraded UI. As a precaution you could move your home directory out of the way and re-create an empty one, then restart your machine. At least that way you are logging in with a blank profile.

eg for user philip:

cd ~/..
mv philip philip_old
mkdir philip
chown philip:philip philip
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  • Thanks a lot, problem solved – myname Dec 16 '19 at 5:00

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