View System Log Files on Ubuntu

A Linux Administrator should be able to read and understand the various types of messages that are generated by all Linux systems in order to troubleshoot an issue. These messages, called logs, are initiated by Linux and the applications running on it. Linux continuously creates, stores and recycles these logs through various configuration files, programs, commands, and daemons. If you know how to read these files and make optimal use of the various commands we will mention in this tutorial, you can troubleshoot your issues like a pro!

It is important to note that Linux keeps its log files in the /var/log directory in text format.

Viewing System Logs on Ubuntu

In order to reach the core of an issue, or to see if your application or system is behaving in the desired manner, you can view the system log files either graphically or through command line in the following ways:

  • Gnome Logs utility (Graphic)
  • Log File Viewer utility (Graphic)
  • Linux Terminal (Command Line)

View Log Files Through Gnome Logs

‘Logs’ is the default utility that comes with the latest versions of Ubuntu e.g., Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Bionic Beaver). In order to access it,

Type Logs in the Ubuntu dash:

Search for Logs in Gnome Dashboard

You will be able to see the Logs utility open, with the option to view logs for Applications, System, Security and Hardware.

Click on the System tab to view system logs:

System tab to view system logs

Here you can view all the system logs along with the time they were generated. You can perform the following actions through this window:

  • Display the contents of a log by clicking on it.
  • Search for a log by clicking the search icon and then providing keywords in the search bar. The search bar also offers a number of filters that you can apply in order to exactly specify What(Select a Journal field to filter the logs according to it) and When(Select the timestamp range of the log entries to be shown) you want to see:

Limit log view

  • You can also export logs to a file by clicking the export button located at the top right corner of the Logs window. You can then save the log file by specifying a name and location.

Through Log File Viewer

The Log File Viewer is the default utility that comes with the older versions of Ubuntu. If your edition of Ubuntu does not have this application by default, you can download and install it through Ubuntu Software.

In order to access the Log File Viewer:

  • Enter Log Viewer in Ubuntu Dash

or

  • If you have installed this program through Ubuntu Software, you can launch it by searching for it in the Ubuntu Software as follows and then clicking the Launch button:

Search for Log File Viewer

The Log File Viewer will appear as follows:

Log File Viewer

The left panel of the window shows a number of default log categories and the right panel shows a list of logs for the selected category.

Click on the syslog tab to view system logs. You can search for a specific log by using ctrl+F control and then enter the keyword. When a new log event is generated, it is automatically added to the list of logs and you can see it in bolded form. You can also filter your logs through the Filters menu located in the top menu bar.

In order to view a log for a specific application, click the Open option from the File menu. The following Open Log window will open for you to choose the log from:

View Ubuntu syslog file

Click on a log file and click Open. You will now be able to see logs from the selected log file in the Log File Viewer.

View Log Files Through the Terminal

You can also view system logs through the command line, i.e., the Ubuntu Terminal.

Open the Terminal and enter the following command:

$ dmesg

This command fetches all the messages from the kernel’s buffer. You can see the output as follows:

Use dmesg command to view log

You will see that this is a lot of information. This information will only be useful if we apply some filters to view what we want to see.

Customizing dmesg output

  • In order to see messages at your own pace, use the following command:

$ dmesg |less

This command will display only a specific number of messages per screen. You can press Enter in order to move to the next message or press Q to exit the command.

  • In order to search for a message that contains a specific keyword, use the following command:
$ dmesg |grep [keyword]

For example, if you want to search for all the messages containing the word core, you can use the following command:

$ dmesg |grep core

The Terminal will now display only those messages containing the word “core” in red color.

Highlight words in dmesg output

Open a Log File with cat Command

The dmesg command opens all the logs from the /var/log directory. In order to open the log file from some other location, use the following command:

$ cat [location]

Example:

$ cat /var/log/syslog

This command will print logs from the syslog file to the screen. You will again observe that this command prints all the information and it is not easy to skim through. Here again, you can use the ‘grep’ and ‘less’ filters to display the desired output as follows:

$ cat |grep [keyword] [location]

And

$ cat |less [location]

Writing To the System Log

Sometimes we need to write custom messages to our system log during the troubleshooting process. Both the Gnome Log and the Log File Viewer programs are built to display a customized message that you can write through the Terminal.

Open the Ubuntu Terminal and type the following command:

$ logger “This is a custom message”

Use logger command to write to system log on Ubuntu

You can see the custom log message, at the end of the above log list, displayed in the graphical log file viewer.

You can also use the logger command within a script for providing additional information. In that case, please use the following command within your script:

$ logger -t scriptname “This is a custom message”

By practicing along with this tutorial, you can learn to troubleshoot your system and application issues by accessing and understanding system logs.

How to View System Log Files on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS