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I am running Ubuntu Server, and just installed the gnome desktop on there (I neeeded to run an application that would only work in a graphical interface). However, now the server boots to the GUI every time. I need the server to boot to the command line (runlevel 3). According to several articles that I've read, Ubuntu does not use the standard runlevels. What file do I need to modify in order to boot to runlevel 3 (or whatever the Ubuntu equivalent is)?

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Take a look at askubuntu.com/questions/79651/… –  Andy Friese Dec 12 '12 at 20:36

4 Answers 4

Theoretically, if Ubuntu were compliant with UNIX and Linux standard, adding '3' to grub's 'kernel' command in /boot/grub/menu.lst should have been sufficient, because runlevel '3' means no 'X11' according to this standard.

Unfortunately, Ubuntu has ignored the standard and that's why you'll need to change /etc/init/lightdm.conf or /etc/init/gdm.conf (or whatever DM you use) as well. This is how mine "on start" condition looks like:

start on ((filesystem
       and runlevel [!06]
       and runlevel [!03]
       and started dbus
       and plymouth-ready)
      or runlevel PREVLEVEL=S)

In Grub's menu.lst I've also added a menu item that allows me to boot to runlevel 3:

title           Ubuntu 11.10 Server No UI, kernel 3.0.0-32-generic-pae
root            (hd0,0)
kernel          /vmlinuz-3.0.0-32-generic-pae root=UUID=your-root-disk-id 3 ro
initrd          /initrd.img-3.0.0-32-generic-pae

title           Ubuntu 11.10, kernel 3.0.0-32-generic-pae
root            (hd0,0)
kernel          /vmlinuz-3.0.0-32-generic-pae root=your-root-disk-id ro
initrd          /initrd.img-3.0.0-32-generic-pae

Now I can chose between booting to runlevel 5 with X11 or to runlevel 3 without it.

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I think there is a good answer here (askubuntu.com)

Just to answer your question on how tho change runlevel. Edit the file /etc/init/rc-sysinit.conf and change this line.


But changing runlevel won't stop X. Look at the start condition for ligthdm:

start on ((filesystem
       and runlevel [!06]
       and started dbus
       and (drm-device-added card0 PRIMARY_DEVICE_FOR_DISPLAY=1
            or stopped udev-fallback-graphics))
      or runlevel PREVLEVEL=S)

You need change the start condition in the /etc/init/XXX file to something than isn't met, e.g. a higher runlevel than you use. XXX is the display manager you use, e.g. lightdm.conf, gdm.conf, failsafe-x.conf.

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Here is deep instrtuction for runlevels - http://sysadmin.te.ua/linux/linux-boot.html

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Whilst this link may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. Link only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes or is unavailable. –  minerz029 Jan 28 '14 at 7:52
A post in russian.. very descriptive indeed.. –  Matthias Hryniszak Oct 19 '14 at 21:55

The following is for Ubuntu Server 12 LTS

First you need open a real term with CTRL+ALT F1


Stop gdm with.

$ sudo service gdm stop

Remove gdm you dont need it at all on a server.

$ sudo apt-get remove gdm

Set next boot runlevel with.

$ sudo telinit 3

Without gdm you will need to install xinit if you want to still be able to run gui based apps without the gdm window manager.

$ sudo apt-get install xinit

Reboot to runlevel 3.

$ sudo reboot

To run a GUI or desktop after reboot do.

$ startx

This will start your gnome session as normal.

When finished simply logout of your desktop to and drop you back to a level 3 term

Also you can now start individual apps without a desktop too like.

$ startx nautilus

or privileged with

$ startx sudo synaptic

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