How to manually boot/recover a system with LUKS and LVM


I have been using LVM on top of LUKS for more than 2 years without problems. However since I haven’t had the chance to troubleshoot these technologies in the past I was quite concerned of what would happen when I would have problems. Today my main computer didn’t boot up and I had to fix it manually. This post shows the steps I performed to recover my system.

I use Arch Linux and I prepared a repository with my custom install method based on archinstaller. Basically I have a custom partitioning based on LVM on top of LUKS and some variables to start he installing method.

Here is an overview of the parts on this tutorial:

Tutorial overview #

  1. Create a bootable USB and boot the broken system with it (AKA recovery mode**
  2. Chroot into the system
  3. Fix the issue

Assumptions #

I will assume that the error is similar as mine. After opening the LUKS device, I had the following problem: ERROR: device /dev/mapper/storage-root not found.

Create a bootable USB #

To create a bootable USB you need to download the latest Arch Linux iso and then us dd to dump it to a flash drive.

dd bs=4M if=/path/to/archlinux.iso of=/dev/sdx status=progress && sync

After completion, use the same flash drive to boot the broken computer. You generally need to hit a key on the F5 - F6 range to choose the boot method.

Chroot into the system #

Once the system has booted, now we need to mount everything the system would mount on a boot stage. Adapt the LUKS label and LVM devices according to your needs.

# Open the LUKS device.
cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/disk/by-partlabel/cryptlvm lvm

# Mount the root partition
mount /dev/storage/root /mnt

# Mount the boot partition
mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot

# Mount proc, sys and dev
mount -t proc proc proc/
mount -t sysfs sys sys/
mount -o bind /dev dev/

# Switch to bash

# Chroot
chroot /mnt

# Bring up network if needed
dhcpcd eth0

At this point you should have shell with a recovery environment set to fix the issue, so let’s fix it.

Fix the issue #

To fix the issue we basically are going to perform an upgrade an recreate the initial ramdisk

# Update the packages database
pacman -Syy

# Upgrade the packages
pacman -Syu

# Update udev package
pacman -S udev

# Update mkinitcpio package
pacman -S mkinitcpio

# Recreate the initial ramdisk
mkinitcpio -p linux

# Exit the chroot environment

# Reboot

If everything went well, you now should be able to boot the system properly.

Conclusions #

I was quite worried about how to solve this issue due to the several layers of complexity: GPT, LUKS and LVM, however everything went out quite smoothly. The key part is to use a USB flash drive and then mount the boot and root partitions to recreate the ramdisk.

Thanks for reading. Spot an error or want to explain something better, feel free to send me a PR.