Demystifying journalctl: A Comprehensive Guide to Linux System Logging

It was suggested that I write an article about journalctl, which seemed like a large topic. I decided that I’d let AI have a shot at it, so this article was written by ChatGPT.

It took a few prompts to get what I wanted – which turned out to be the first result. I gave the AI the chance to rework the article but the result was that I much preferred the initial offering. After all, I was only after a very light overview of the journalctl command. 

There’s a lot to the journalctl command. The journalctl command is far too much to cover in a single article. Heck, I don’t even know some aspects of the command. You can see this by checking the man page with the following command:

See? There’s a lot to the command. At the end of the day, AI did a good job of summing up what you really need from the command as an average user. So, I’m going to go ahead and publish that content. It did a better job than I’d have done!

Introduction To journalctl:

In the realm of Linux system administration, understanding and managing system logs is indispensable. Logs provide crucial insights into the health, performance, and security of a system. Among the plethora of tools available for log management, journalctl stands out as a powerful and versatile command for accessing and analyzing logs in systems utilizing systemd. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of journalctl, exploring its features, functionalities, and practical applications.

Understanding Systemd Journal:

Systemd, the init system adopted by many modern Linux distributions, introduced the systemd journal as a replacement for traditional syslog. The journal, stored in binary format, offers numerous advantages over syslog, including structured logging, faster search capabilities, and enhanced metadata.

journalctl serves as the primary interface for querying and interacting with the systemd journal. It provides administrators with a rich set of options for filtering, displaying, and analyzing log entries, empowering them to effectively troubleshoot issues, monitor system activity, and extract valuable insights.

Basic Usage:

At its core, journalctl allows users to retrieve and view log entries from the systemd journal. The simplest invocation of journalctl displays the entire journal, starting with the most recent entries:

This command presents a paginated output of log entries, including timestamps, log levels, and message contents. By default, journalctl displays logs from the current boot session. However, it also supports options for querying logs from previous boots or specific time ranges.

Filtering and Querying:

One of the key strengths of journalctl lies in its ability to filter log entries based on various criteria. Administrators can narrow down the search results by specifying filters such as time range, log level, systemd unit, or specific fields within log messages.

For example, to display all log entries generated by the sshd service, the following command can be used:

Similarly, to retrieve logs pertaining to a particular time range, the --since and --until options can be utilized:

Additionally, journalctl supports advanced filtering using Boolean expressions, enabling complex queries to be constructed for precise log retrieval.

Output Formatting and Presentation:

journalctl offers flexible options for customizing the format and presentation of log entries. Administrators can choose from various output formats, including short, verbose, and JSON formats, depending on their preferences and requirements.

For instance, to display log entries in a more detailed and verbose format, the -o verbose option can be used:

Moreover, journalctl provides options for controlling the display of timestamps, including the ability to convert timestamps to the local time zone or display them in a human-readable format.

Real-time Monitoring and Follow Mode:

In addition to viewing historical log entries, journalctl can also be used for real-time monitoring of system logs. By invoking journalctl with the -f or --follow option, administrators can tail the journal and receive live updates as new log entries are added:

This feature is particularly useful for monitoring system activity in real time, diagnosing issues as they occur, and tracking the progress of system services during startup and shutdown sequences.

Integration with Other Tools:

journalctl seamlessly integrates with other Linux system administration tools, enabling administrators to combine its capabilities with those of other utilities for more comprehensive log analysis and management.

For example, grep can be used in conjunction with journalctl to perform pattern matching and further refine log queries:

Furthermore, administrators can leverage shell scripting and automation to automate log analysis tasks, extract meaningful insights, and trigger alerts based on specific log patterns or conditions.


In conclusion, journalctl emerges as a powerful and indispensable tool for managing system logs in Linux environments utilizing systemd. Its rich feature set, flexible filtering options, and real-time monitoring capabilities make it an invaluable asset for system administrators, enabling them to effectively diagnose issues, monitor system activity, and ensure the stability and security of their systems.

By mastering the intricacies of journalctl, administrators can gain deeper insights into system behavior, streamline troubleshooting workflows, and maintain the optimal performance of their Linux infrastructure. Whether it’s debugging a system issue, auditing security events, or analyzing performance metrics, journalctl empowers administrators to navigate the complexities of system logging with confidence and efficiency.


Well, I keep finding uses for AI. This is a better article than I’d have written. I think I’ll next use AI for a solid article about grep. That sounds like a reasonable subject and it’s an article that I can reference in many other articles. In fact, I should have done an article about grep already!

So, this is an article about journalctl. It’s an overwhelming command. It’s amazingly complicated and powerful, but you (as a regular user, as most of my readers are) will only need to know the basics. This is indeed the basics and they appear to be well-described.

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

How To: Free Some Disk Space By Deleting Old Logs

In today’s article, we’re going to free up some of your disk space by deleting old logs. It’s a relatively safe and easy thing to do, and can free some space up if you’re running low. Unless there’s a problem, you really don’t need a bunch of old logs kicking around and taking up space.

There are other reasons for deleting old logs, such as keeping things tidy or even ensuring old activities aren’t easily discovered by browsing old log files. You may have done some debugging and now want to start with a new slate, so there’s another reason to delete logs. 

Who knows what motivations you’ll have, but today we’ll be covering how to do it. The tool we’ll be using for log cleaning is ‘journalctl’, which is used for (according to the man page):

journalctl – Query the systemd journal

While ‘journalctl’ is a pretty nifty tool, we’re only going to scratch the surface. This article is only about deleting old logs and ‘journalctl’ is just the tool we’ll be using. If you want an article about all the features of ‘journalctl’, this is not that article. See? I’m saving at least a few people some time!

Anyhow, this article obviously requires a distro that uses ‘systemd’. If you don’t have ‘systemd’, you probably don’t have ‘journalctl’ and you’ll have to find another way to delete your logs. As most mainstream distros are using ‘systemd’, there’s a pretty good chance that you have ‘journalctl’ available.

So, with all that preamble gibberish out of the way, let’s go about …

Deleting Old Logs:

Like oh so many articles here, this one requires an open terminal. Why? Because of course it does. If you don’t know how to open the terminal, you can do so with your keyboard – just press CTRL + ALT + T and your default terminal should open.

Now, with your terminal open, let’s have a look and see how much space your logs are taking up. You can do that with this command:

Now that you’ve seen how much space your logs are taking up, there are a couple of commands you can use for deleting old logs. If you want to go by space, you can use this command:

You can edit the ‘100m’ to whatever suits your needs. You can also use ‘g’ for gigabytes if you’d like to keep using that much log space.

If you want, you can also delete your old logs by the day. Let’s say you want to retain the last 3 days of logs. Well, that command would be:

I suspect you can figure out that the ‘d’ stands for ‘day’ and the 3 is how many days. You can, of course, change that to any number of days you wish. If you want, you can even use ‘w’ for weeks. Though, if you’re deleting log files to clear up disk space, you’re probably going to want to trim the logs even more than that.

Anyhow, when you’re done running one of the cleaning commands from above, you can verify that the space has been cleaned by running the very first command listed. That will do exactly what it did the first time you ran it – it’ll tell you how much space your logs are taking up. If they’re still not small enough for your liking, feel free to edit and run one of the above commands a second time.


Well, there you have it… You have another article! This time I tell you how to go about cleaning old logs from your system. It’s a handy skill to have, though most folks probably have ample disk space – except those running on stuff like Chromebooks or the likes. If you’ve gotta live within 16 GB, you’re going to want to keep your logging to a minimum. Also, I still haven’t skipped a day from writing articles. It seems likely that I’ll do so eventually!

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your own site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

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