20 Linux Log Files that are Located under /var/log Directory

by Ramesh Natarajan on August 1, 2011

If you spend lot of time in Linux environment, it is essential that you know where the log files are located, and what is contained in each and every log file.

When your systems are running smoothly, take some time to learn and understand the content of various log files, which will help you when there is a crisis and you have to look though the log files to identify the issue.

/etc/rsyslog.conf controls what goes inside some of the log files. For example, following is the entry in rsyslog.conf for /var/log/messages.

$ grep "/var/log/messages" /etc/rsyslog.conf
*.info;mail.none;authpriv.none;cron.none                /var/log/messages

In the above output,

  • *.info indicates that all logs with type INFO will be logged.
  • mail.none,authpriv.none,cron.none indicates that those error messages should not be logged into the /var/log/messages file.
  • You can also specify *.none, which indicates that none of the log messages will be logged.

The following are the 20 different log files that are located under /var/log/ directory. Some of these log files are distribution specific. For example, you’ll see dpkg.log on Debian based systems (for example, on Ubuntu).

  1. /var/log/messages – Contains global system messages, including the messages that are logged during system startup. There are several things that are logged in /var/log/messages including mail, cron, daemon, kern, auth, etc.
  2. /var/log/dmesg – Contains kernel ring buffer information. When the system boots up, it prints number of messages on the screen that displays information about the hardware devices that the kernel detects during boot process. These messages are available in kernel ring buffer and whenever the new message comes the old message gets overwritten. You can also view the content of this file using the dmesg command.
  3. /var/log/auth.log – Contains system authorization information, including user logins and authentication machinsm that were used.
  4. /var/log/boot.log – Contains information that are logged when the system boots
  5. /var/log/daemon.log – Contains information logged by the various background daemons that runs on the system
  6. /var/log/dpkg.log – Contains information that are logged when a package is installed or removed using dpkg command
  7. /var/log/kern.log – Contains information logged by the kernel. Helpful for you to troubleshoot a custom-built kernel.
  8. /var/log/lastlog – Displays the recent login information for all the users. This is not an ascii file. You should use lastlog command to view the content of this file.
  9. /var/log/maillog /var/log/mail.log – Contains the log information from the mail server that is running on the system. For example, sendmail logs information about all the sent items to this file
  10. /var/log/user.log – Contains information about all user level logs
  11. /var/log/Xorg.x.log – Log messages from the X
  12. /var/log/alternatives.log – Information by the update-alternatives are logged into this log file. On Ubuntu, update-alternatives maintains symbolic links determining default commands.
  13. /var/log/btmp – This file contains information about failed login attemps. Use the last command to view the btmp file. For example, “last -f /var/log/btmp | more”
  14. /var/log/cups – All printer and printing related log messages
  15. /var/log/anaconda.log – When you install Linux, all installation related messages are stored in this log file
  16. /var/log/yum.log – Contains information that are logged when a package is installed using yum
  17. /var/log/cron – Whenever cron daemon (or anacron) starts a cron job, it logs the information about the cron job in this file
  18. /var/log/secure – Contains information related to authentication and authorization privileges. For example, sshd logs all the messages here, including unsuccessful login.
  19. /var/log/wtmp or /var/log/utmp – Contains login records. Using wtmp you can find out who is logged into the system. who command uses this file to display the information.
  20. /var/log/faillog – Contains user failed login attemps. Use faillog command to display the content of this file.

Apart from the above log files, /var/log directory may also contain the following sub-directories depending on the application that is running on your system.

  • /var/log/httpd/ (or) /var/log/apache2 – Contains the apache web server access_log and error_log
  • /var/log/lighttpd/ – Contains light HTTPD access_log and error_log
  • /var/log/conman/ – Log files for ConMan client. conman connects remote consoles that are managed by conmand daemon.
  • /var/log/mail/ – This subdirectory contains additional logs from your mail server. For example, sendmail stores the collected mail statistics in /var/log/mail/statistics file
  • /var/log/prelink/ – prelink program modifies shared libraries and linked binaries to speed up the startup process. /var/log/prelink/prelink.log contains the information about the .so file that was modified by the prelink.
  • /var/log/audit/ – Contains logs information stored by the Linux audit daemon (auditd).
  • /var/log/setroubleshoot/ – SELinux uses setroubleshootd (SE Trouble Shoot Daemon) to notify about issues in the security context of files, and logs those information in this log file.
  • /var/log/samba/ – Contains log information stored by samba, which is used to connect Windows to Linux.
  • /var/log/sa/ – Contains the daily sar files that are collected by the sysstat package.
  • /var/log/sssd/ – Use by system security services daemon that manage access to remote directories and authentication mechanisms.

Instead of manually trying to archive the log files, by cleaning it up after x number of days, or by deleting the logs after it reaches certain size, you can do this automatically using logrotate as we discussed earlier.

To view the log files use any one of the following methods. But, please don’t do ‘cat | more’.

  • vi – If you are comfortable with the vi commands, use vi editor for quick log file browsing.
  • tail – If you want to view the content of the log files real time, as the application is writting to it, use “tail -f”. You can also view multiple log files at the same time (using “tail -f”).
  • grep – If you know exactly what you are looking for in a log file, you can quickly use grep command to grep a pattern. The 15 practical grep examples will take out all your excuses of not using grep.
  • less – Less command is very powerful to browse log files. Use these 10 less command tips to master the less command.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Manojkumar August 1, 2011 at 3:27 am

Hi..,
Thanks for great information

2 krushna August 1, 2011 at 3:29 am

Thanks ,Really helpful.

3 Naveen August 1, 2011 at 8:36 am

very informative

4 TK Nallappan August 2, 2011 at 6:06 am

Hi Ramesh,

Wow!! what an awesome articles about log files under /var/log. I really enjoyed it.
Thanks for your knowledge sharing.

“Log files are god for us(sys admins) to find out the suspicious”

5 Kamal Kishore August 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

NICE….

6 Pooya August 4, 2011 at 12:21 pm

hi all.
i think you’d better to specify your linux distro because in some distros such as ubuntu 10.10 it should be /etc/rsyslog.d/50-default.conf instead of /etc/rsyslog.conf .
by the way using ” grep “/var/log/messages” /etc/rsyslog” doesn’t seem efficient. because it only extracts words in the line that includes “var/log/messages” , i mean these words are not accumulated in only one line necessarily and my be one plus line.

7 hotpotatoe August 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Thanks, always making good articles ;)

8 Stuart August 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Thanks, very useful.

9 Albert April 18, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Hi Ramesh,

Is it okay for us to create a custom directory under /var/log for specific regular backup operation?

10 dilipkumar yadav May 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm

this is very helpful web site thanks for that

11 gp July 24, 2012 at 5:57 am

hi
var/log/boot.log file is not present in suse 11 sp2
how can we find an alternative

12 Ethical February 7, 2013 at 6:52 am

Do you know how to delete USB Log

13 archit May 24, 2013 at 4:05 am

is there any way to analyse log without going to file , it is very tedious , will aurport or ausearch work or they work only with log generated by auditd ?

14 fernando April 4, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Hello, why not let me watch / var / log / auth.log, / var / log / kern.log, / var / log / boot.log, I aparace “Permision denied”, as I can or I can have access permission, if I am in my PCs own user root?, Thanks.

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