#StackBounty: #ubuntu #boot #ubuntu-18.04 #btrfs #grub2 grub rescue on Ubuntu 18.04 with btrfs partition

Bounty: 100

I have a small server (HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8) running Ubuntu 18.04 64 bit with the latest HWE generic kernel (; it has two SATA drives, GPT partitioned but booting in legacy BIOS mode. Both drives are partitioned as follows:

  • partition 1 (1 MB): "shadow" boot partition, for GRUB code;
  • partition 2 (several TBs): BtrFS, containing @ subvolume for / and @home subvolume for /home; /boot is indeed under /@/boot
  • partition 3 (4 GB): swap

The BtrFS partitions of the two drives are tied together in a BtrFS mirror configuration.

A few days a go power went out, and the NAS didn’t ever recover. At boot, I just got the dreaded "grub rescue", saying it couldn’t find the target partition (specified with the BtrFS volume GUID, I think). Trying to do ls (hd0,gpt2) (or really, any other partition) told me "unknown filesystem" (even though insmod btrfs seems to work correctly).

Thinking something was fried with the GRUB stuff, I booted with an Ubuntu 18.04 server installation key, and tried to reparir GRUB, as follows:

  • mount /dev/sda2 /mnt (/dev/sda2 is the BtrFS partition); I can see that all data is still there;
  • mount --bind /dev /mnt/@/dev; same for /dev/pts, /proc, /sys, /run (otherwise DNS, managed by resolvconf in both the live system and the "broken" system wouldn’t run)
  • chroot /mnt/@
  • inside the chroot, I did mount /dev/sda2 / -o subvol=@ otherwise grub-probe/grub-install would get confused; outside the chroot, redid the bind thing as that was shadowed by the remount;
  • mount -a

Then (across multiple tries) I tried several things:

  • reinstalled GRUB to /dev/sda (grub-install /dev/sda); tried with --recheck and without, tried grub-mkdevicemap (removing manually the USB key device from the generated device.map file);
  • recreated the GRUB configuration (update-grub);
  • upgraded the kernel, not really thinking it’s much of a kernel version problem, but to make sure (1) I’m trying to boot something that is surely not corrupted and (2) to have freshly made initrd
  • checked if the kernel/initrd files were all readable (e.g. with sha1sum /boot/*), as the GRUB messages about that were scary – see later;
  • downgraded GRUB (which is at the latest 2.02 revision available in the repos) to a few patch revisions earlier, as I suspected the power loss hadn’t much to do about it, but it was instead some upgrade that broke it
  • run btrfs check /dev/sda2 and btrfs check /dev/sdb2; both ran without errors, the only problem (reported for both) was in the free space cache of a single block (I later mounted /dev/sda2/ with clear_cache option just to be sure)

The results from all this stuff were far from encouraging: when done correctly, this stuff always leads me again to grub rescue, but this time with a more interesting twist:

  • it can read somewhat the BtrFS volume, but, so to say, barely; doing ls (hd0,gpt2)/ shows the subvolumes, but both ls (hd0,gpt2)/@ and ls (hd0,gpt2)/@home show empty directories (which is why it cannot find (hd0,gpt2)/@boot/ and then all the stuff it needs to go into normal mode);
  • the most interesting thing is that there’s other subvolumes, namely three snapshots done by the Ubuntu version upgrade script; those subvolumes instead can be read by GRUB; not only that: if I adjust prefix, root & co. to point inside the snapshot subvolumes, I can manage to go into "normal" GRUB mode and, again adjusting the paths in the menu entries, boot the older kernel that was in the snapshot (the only problem is that it cannot find the modules, as I’m loading an older kernel version that is no longer installed in the current root filesystem, but given they aren’t really used it boots just fine).

Once (when I probably botched something in the aforementioned mount dance in the chroot) I managed to reboot and get directly normal mode, but GRUB was always finding something bad for all entries in the boot menu: in particular, for each and every entry it couldn’t either load the kernel or initrd, giving a scary "inode not found" error message (or, in another case, "couldn’t find the chunk descriptor"; both of these have no matches in Google besides the GRUB sources themselves, which is always a bad sign); notice that, as I said above, inside the live USB session they were all readable.

Extra thoughts:

  • the server motherboard has a bit of a weird problem with the SATA controller – disk enumeration seems to take a lot, which lead to this bug when I upgraded to 18.04 https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/linux/+bug/1752961; the only (sad) fix was to add a sleep 5 in the initrd before btrfs scan; this also lead to having the second disk as /dev/sdc in some of the live USB runs, but it didn’t seem to matter (when it happened I also adjusted the file name in /dev, which didn’t seem to be particularly relevant for the result though);
  • I thought about bad RAM, although it felt unlikely because (1) once booted the system runs normally and (2) it’s ECC RAM and I’d expect at least some kind of error message in case; anyhow, I started a MemTest and it’s several hours it’s running without errors;
  • iLO reports a self-test error at boot, that however seems to be unrelated.

My current guess is something like this: the HWE kernel is using a BtrFS version with some feature incompatible with the "regular" Ubuntu 18.04 GRUB version, so all files/directories that are written "now" are potentially problematic for GRUB to read; indeed, I saw that between GRUB 2.02 and the current version (2.06) there has been some work on BtrFS stuff, although for zstd compression, that isn’t enabled on my disks. Maybe trying a more recent GRUB could fix the issue? But is there some packaged GRUB 2.06 build that works for 18.04?

Long story short: any idea about what the problem might be and how to fix it?

Get this bounty!!!

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