Troubleshooting Linux: Problems That Drive You Mad and Solutions to Save the Day!


When your Linux machine is operating like a well-oiled machine, all is right with the world. Performance is on point, production is up, and the whole team is like, “Windows who?” But when you hit a snag and run into issues, things can go from bad to worse in a heartbeat. Never fear, a Linux troubleshooting post is here!

From simple nuisances that prevent newbs from getting up and running to mysteries that leave even grizzled administrators baffled, we examine some of the most common Linux problems and solutions.

The Problem: Failed Installation

There is nothing like a failed installation to inspire confidence in a long-time Windows user just migrating over to Linux. The most common root cause of this issue is the media itself. If the CD is physically damaged or data on the USB drive is corrupt, you can pretty much count on a failed installation.

The Solution: Clean Installation Files

Start by verifying the integrity of your data by performing a checksum to ensure that your downloaded file and installation disc isn't corrupted. If the installation disc is damaged, you can burn a new one or request a replacement from the distro distributor. If all else fails, repeating the process of downloading, transferring, and running the setup file from clean media will usually solve the issue.

The Problem: System Hanging

Like any other OS, Linux is prone to hanging or freezing during operation. This issue is most common during startup. Hanging often illustrates the importance of patience while troubleshooting Linux variants. For example, if you're test driving a live CD, it helps to know that running a given distro from disc will be noticeably slower by comparison. IT admins can monitor the blinking light and noise emitting from their optical drive to determine if the system is actually hanging, or simply being a slow poke.

The Solution(s): Reboot or Upgrade Troubled Hardware

A hang might be a temporary annoyance with a simple fix, or early signs of a much bigger problem. If you want to troubleshoot this issue and minimize data loss, you can start by pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL. This will take you to a virtual console where you can properly shut down and reboot the machine, as well as take note of any bugs that can be reported to the community for further troubleshooting. Also keep in mind that other possible causes for hanging are hardware compatibility issues, and lacking the RAM needed to load the software from disc.

The Problem: Sluggish Performance

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One of the first things I noticed after my OS migration is that even a lightweight LXLE ran faster on the same hardware that often struggled to run Windows 8. It took me simultaneously running multiple apps, browser windows, and a virtual machine (I was curious, okay?) to realize that every system has its limitations. When the system is healthy overall, performance problems are almost always the result of troublesome processes, which tend to act up when you run an abundance of resource-intensive applications.

The Solution: Analyze and Address Troubled Processes

When it comes to troubleshooting Linux problems related to performance, the tricky part is nailing down the root cause of those troublesome processes. The best tool for the job is the process monitoring tool Top. By running the “Top” command in your terminal, you can analyze all running processes and determine if those performance woes are related to CPU overload, lack of memory, or high disk I/O, and respond accordingly.

The Problem: GRUB-based Boot Error

I recently experienced my first near catastrophe as a Linux administrator and boy was it ever a doozy. After an abrupt system crash, I was rudely introduced to the Grand Unified Bootloader, better known as GRUB. In short, GRUB loads up the operating system and passes the keys over to the kernel, Linux. A system crash or other instance that causes an improper shutdown creates a state of confusion where GRUB can't communicate and run the designated partition.

The Solution(s): Reinstall GRUB or Fix Damaged Partition

With this issue now behind me, I can say there are at least two ways to get GRUB and Linux back on the same page. The first involves loading up the latest GRUB utility on a piece of media, and reinstalling it. The other option, the method I used, involves Linux's Live CD concept. By running a live version of my distro on the disk I originally used to install the software, I was able to open the handy partition manager GParted and repair the affected partition in a few quick clicks. I owe a big thanks to the geeks over at LinuxQuestions for helping me save my system from what looked like certain doom!

The Problem: Weak System Security

The Linux kernel itself is hardened for battle, but reckless management will make it as vulnerable as any other environment. Along with lackluster patch management and weak passwords, the use of outdated programs like Apache, MySQL, and OpenSSL can leave the system and all connected devices open to numberless attacks. Another case of human error rearing its ugly head.

The Solution: Dedicated System Administration

At the end of the day, Linux administrators are responsible for making sure security doesn't become a bigger problem beyond the headache it already it is. As the head system honcho, it is your job to make sure security is prioritized from installation through rigorous vulnerability testing to everyday maintenance. A combination of strong policy enforcement and a commitment to locking down the system should be the mindset of anyone tasked with maintaining a Linux machine.