Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Hacking Ubuntu Touch, Part 6: Logfiles

NOTE: This is a continuation of the series and relies on having Developer mode enabled.

Debugging usually begins with logfiles. An Ubuntu Touch device is a “normal” Ubuntu system at heart, and many processes write their logs to the usual places, but there are many differences.

Log targets and locations

Let’s look at where log messages are stored.

The Android logging system

As we know by now, most Ubuntu Touch devices are repurposed Android devices and have to run Android kernels and a couple of Android bits (fenced off into an LXC container). The Android developers needed to provide a logging facility which is available from the very beginning of system startup, long before any storage is mounted, so they came up with their own, kernel-assisted logging sub-system. It consists of the following parts:

  • The logger kernel driver sets up four character devices and associates each with an internal buffer.

  • Processes directly write their messages to the character devices or use the liblog abstraction library.

  • The log binary can also be used as an easy way to write log messages.

  • The logwrapper binary executes a given command and re-routes STDOUT to the selected logging character device.

  • The logcat binary reads the messages back from the kernel buffers, much like dmesg, but logcat also has built-in filtering.

  • adb has a logcat command to query and filter the buffers. It uses logcat as a backend.

There are four available character devices and buffers:

  • main is the target for application messages. The character device path is /dev/log_main, the size of the buffer is 64 kilobytes.

  • events is the target for system events. The character device is /dev/log_events, the size of the buffer is 256 kilobytes.

  • radio is the target for radio baseband messages. The character device is /dev/log_radio, the size of the buffer is 64 kilobytes.

  • system is the target for low-level system debug messages. The character device is /dev/log_system, the size of the buffer is 64 kilobytes.

All buffers except the events buffer contain free-form ASCII text messages, events uses a binary format. The binary messages consist of a tag code followed by parameters, the tag codes are stored in /system/etc/event-log-tags (/android/system/etc/event-log-tags on Ubuntu Touch). This is the current content on my device after a normal boot (notice the first two lines):

root@ubuntu-phablet:~# cat /android/system/etc/event-log-tags 
42 answer (to life the universe etc|3)
314 pi
2718 e
2720 sync (id|3),(event|1|5),(source|1|5),(account|1|5)
2740 location_controller
2741 force_gc (reason|3)
2742 tickle (authority|3)
2747 contacts_aggregation (aggregation time|2|3), (count|1|1)
3000 boot_progress_start (time|2|3)
3020 boot_progress_preload_start (time|2|3)
3030 boot_progress_preload_end (time|2|3)
20003 dvm_lock_sample (process|3),(main|1|5),(thread|3),(time|1|3),(file|3),(line|1|5),(ownerfile|3),(ownerline|1|5),(sample_percent|1|6)
50000 menu_item_selected (Menu type where 0 is options and 1 is context|1|5),(Menu item title|3)
50001 menu_opened (Menu type where 0 is options and 1 is context|1|5)
50021 wifi_state_changed (wifi_state|3)
50022 wifi_event_handled (wifi_event|1|5)
50023 wifi_supplicant_state_changed (supplicant_state|1|5)
52000 db_sample (db|3),(sql|3),(time|1|3),(blocking_package|3),(sample_percent|1|6)
52001 http_stats (useragent|3),(response|2|3),(processing|2|3),(tx|1|2),(rx|1|2)
60000 viewroot_draw (Draw time|1|3)
60001 viewroot_layout (Layout time|1|3)
60002 view_build_drawing_cache (View created drawing cache|1|5)
60003 view_use_drawing_cache (View drawn using bitmap cache|1|5)
60100 sf_frame_dur (window|3),(dur0|1),(dur1|1),(dur2|1),(dur3|1),(dur4|1),(dur5|1),(dur6|1)
65537 netlink_failure (uid|1)
70000 screen_toggled (screen_state|1|5)
70200 aggregation (aggregation time|2|3)
70201 aggregation_test (field1|1|2),(field2|1|2),(field3|1|2),(field4|1|2),(field5|1|2)
75000 sqlite_mem_alarm_current (current|1|2)
75001 sqlite_mem_alarm_max (max|1|2)
75002 sqlite_mem_alarm_alloc_attempt (attempts|1|4)
75003 sqlite_mem_released (Memory released|1|2)
75004 sqlite_db_corrupt (Database file corrupt|3)
78001 dispatchCommand_overflow
80100 bionic_event_memcpy_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80105 bionic_event_strcat_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80110 bionic_event_memmov_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80115 bionic_event_strncat_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80120 bionic_event_strncpy_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80125 bionic_event_memset_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80130 bionic_event_strcpy_buffer_overflow (uid|1)
80200 bionic_event_strcat_integer_overflow (uid|1)
80205 bionic_event_strncat_integer_overflow (uid|1)
80300 bionic_event_resolver_old_response (uid|1)
80305 bionic_event_resolver_wrong_server (uid|1)
80310 bionic_event_resolver_wrong_query (uid|1)
90100 exp_det_cert_pin_failure (certs|4)

All messages contain a severity field (“verbose”, “debug”, “information”, “warning”, “error”), the source’s process ID and a tag (usually the name of the source, e.g. the process or app name).

Now let’s look at some examples on how to use logcat to query and filter the log files. The tool’s syntax and behavior is a bit “strange”: You can specify one or multiple match rules in the format tag:. The priority is optional, and the tag may contain the special value * to match all tags. If you specify a priority, it will also match all higher priorities. An implicit “match all” rule will be added at the end of your rule list, so you have to use the special value *:S as the last rule in your command line to suppress the output of all lines not matched by the previous rules (!).

(NOTE: The path to logcat is /system/bin/logcat on Android devices and /android/system/bin/logcat on Ubuntu Touch. You have to specify it in full on Ubuntu Touch because the path is not listed in the PATH environment variable.)

Filter all buffers for messages of severity “warning” or higher:

root@ubuntu-phablet:~# /android/system/bin/logcat *:W *:S

Filter all buffers for messages with the “AudioDigitalControl” tag and severity “debug” or higher:

root@ubuntu-phablet:~# /android/system/bin/logcat AudioDigitalControl:D *:S

Filter the radio buffer for all error messages:

root@ubuntu-phablet:~# /android/system/bin/logcat -b radio *:E *:S

(NOTE: Reading from the events buffer [/dev/log_events] does not work on my Ubuntu Touch device, the action just blocks. This means that logcat also blocks.)

Kernel ringbuffer

The kernel ringbuffer can be read with the dmesg command as root, as usual. Depending on your device you might be a bit surprised by a number of “strange” messages like the following:

[14535.247662]   mag_context_obj ok------->hwm_obj->early_suspend=0 
[14539.721807] [Ker_PM][request_suspend_state]sleep (0->3) at 14539695042466 (2015-05-08 23:00:10.075304038 UTC)
[14539.721840] [Ker_PM][request_suspend_state]sys_sync_work_queue early_sys_sync_work
[14539.721884] [Ker_PM][request_suspend_state]suspend_work_queue early_suspend_work
[14539.746892]   mag_context_obj ok------->hwm_obj->early_suspend=1

Ubuntu Touch kernels for phones and tables are most often based on Android kernels, and Android kernels are full of out-of-tree patches from Google and hardware vendors. That’s where many of those strange messages are coming from.

Android LXC container

All the Android bits run inside an LXC container, the logfiles for the LXC service can be found at /var/log/upstart/cgmanager.log, /var/log/upstart/lxc.log, /var/log/lxc/android.log and /var/log/lxc/lxc-monitord.log.


Some system services write to the system log, which is stored at /var/log/syslog, or one of the more specialised logs like /var/log/auth.log. The syslog also aggregates the kernel ringbuffer so it becomes easier to correlate kernel messages with other activities.

Upstart system session

Upstart is the current init system (soon to be replaced by systemd) and is the parent of most system services. When a service gets started, Upstart re-routes its STDOUT to a process-specific logfile in the /var/log/upstart/ directory.

Upstart user session

Much like Upstart manages system services, it also starts many user services like the mediascanner-service or the media-hub-server. The output of these processes gets re-routed to process-specific logfiles in the /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/ directory.


The display server and dash will log to /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/unity8.log and /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/unity8.log, respectively.

Unity8 re-routes the STDOUT of its sub-processes (e.g. the indicators) and of all running Click apps to app-specific log files in /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/. The filename of the Click app logfiles is application-click-${NAME}_app_${VERSION}.log. Note that there are no timestamps and the app just appends to the file if restarted. I use either tail -f or delete the file before every app start.

System image update client

The log file is located at /var/log/system-image/client.log. There were several occasions where the updater refused to update the system image to the most recent release, in these cases this log can be crucial.


This is a list of all running processes on my bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition (OTA-3, image r21) after the phone has booted normally (plus adbd / sshd for phablet-shell), and the location of their respective logfile(s).

NOTE: This is as complete as possible, but do not take it as a reference.

Source Logfile
Kernel dmesg and /var/log/syslog
Authentication and authorisation /var/log/auth.log
AppArmor /var/log/upstart/apparmor.log.log
Apport crash logs /var/log/upstart/
6620_launcher None?
account-polld /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/account-polld.log
accounts-daemon /var/log/auth.log
adbd /var/log/upstart/android-tools-adbd.log
address-book-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/address-book-service.log
app None?
bluetoothd /var/log/upstart/bluetooth-touch.log
camera_service Android Logging
ccci_fsd Android Logging
ccci_mdinit None?
cgmanager /var/log/lxc/android.log
cgproxy None?
ciborium /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/ciborium.log
cron /var/log/syslog and /var/log/auth.log
dbus-daemon /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/dbus.log
dconf-service None?
debuggerd None?
dm_agent_binder None?
dnsmasq None?
drmserver None?
drvbd None?
evolution-addressbook-factory None?
evolution-calendar-factory None?
evolution-source-registry None?
gsm0710muxd None?
healthd None?
history-daemon None?
indicator-bluetooth-service None?
indicator-datetime-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/indicator-datetime.log
indicator-display-service None?
indicator-location-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/indicator-location.log
indicator-messages-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/indicator-messages.log
indicator-network-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/indicator-network.log
indicator-power-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/indicator-power.log
indicator-secret-agent None?
indicator-sound-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/indicator-sound.log
indicator-transfer-service None?
init None?
installd Android Logging
lightdm /var/log/lightdm/lightdm.log
lxc-start /var/log/lxc/android.log
maliit-server /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/maliit-server.log
matv Android Logging
mdlogger Android Logging
media-hub-server /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/media-hub.log
mediascanner-service-2.0 /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/mediascanner-2.0.log
memsicd3416x None?
mission-control-5 None?
mnld Android Logging
mobile_log_d Android Logging
mtk_agpsd Android Logging
mtkbt None?
MtkCodecService Android Logging
mtp-server /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/mtp-server.log
netdiag Android Logging
NetworkManager /var/log/upstart/network-manager.log
nuntium /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/nuntium.log
nvram_agent_binder Android Logging
obexd /var/log/syslog
ofonod /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/ofono-setup.log
pay-service /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/pay-service.log
polkitd /var/log/syslog and /var/log/auth.log
posclientd None?
powerd /var/log/upstart/powerd.log
ppl_agent Android Logging
pulseaudio /var/log/syslog
rild Android Logging
rsyslogd /var/log/upstart/rsyslog.log and /var/log/syslog
rtkit-daemon /var/log/syslog
scoperegistry /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/scope-registry.log
sensorservice Android Logging
servicemanager Android Logging
slpgwd None?
smartscopesproxy None?
sshd /var/log/auth.log
sync-monitor /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/sync-monitor.log
systemd-logind /var/log/dmesg.log and /var/log/auth.log
systemd-udevd /var/log/syslog
telepathy-ofono None?
telephony-service-approver None?
telephony-service-handler None?
telephony-service-indicator /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/telephony-service-indicator.log
thermal Android Logging
thumbnailer-service None?
tonegend None?
trust-stored-skeleton None?
ubuntu-espoo-service /var/log/upstart/ubuntu-espoo-service.log
ubuntu-location-serviced /var/log/upstart/ubuntu-location-service.log
ubuntu-push-client /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/ubuntu-push-client.log
udisksd None?
ueventd None?
unity8 /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/unity8.log
unity8-dash /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/unity8-dash.log
unity-system-compositor /var/log/lightdm/unity-system-compositor.log
upowerd None?
upstart-dbus-bridge None?
upstart-event-bridge None?
upstart-file-bridge None?
upstart-local-bridge None?
upstart-property-watcher None?
upstart-socket-bridge None?
upstart-udev-bridge None?
urfkilld /var/log/upstart/urfkill.log
url-dispatcher /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/url-dispatcher.log
usensord /home/phablet/.cache/upstart/usensord.log
usermetricsservice None?
whoopsie /var/log/upstart/whoopsie.log
wpa_supplicant /var/log/syslog
zeitgeist-daemon None?
zeitgeist-fts None?

If you know better and/or something has changed, please do find me on the Freenode IRC or on and get in contact.

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