For security reasons I would like to install a secondary completely independent operating system on a single-hard-drive computer using UEFI. Both installations should be able using different LUKS crypto partitions as root device (LVM on top of crypto) and need to be able to use their own kernels.

Having dual boot with two different operating systems is not a big deal. A Ubuntu and Fedora will not interfere and can share the EFI system partition, but two Ubuntu installations will fight with each other because they want both install their Grub instance on the same EFI location.

  • Is there a way to change Ubuntu to install Grub on a different location than /boot/efi/EFI/ubuntu during installation? I need a persistent way, so that package updates and kernel/grub updates still install in that path. Just like how Fedora's Grub would install in /boot/efi/EFI/fedora. I can't find that configuration option in Grub. If I could, my Dell UEFI boot menu would allow me to choose which OS to load. Perhaps I'm missing some glue between efibootmgr and grub-efi here.

  • Alternatively, would it be possible to use a single Grub installation from one of the two Ubuntu installations and have it automatically detect the right boot settings? I mean, I know os-prober will find the other /boot partition with kernels, but how can it know the right boot parameters for that OS (e.g. LVM volume inside locked crypto volume as root filesystem)? I can understand it can with unencrypted single-partition installations, but it can't match a /boot with its corresponding root filesystem, right? And it's completely impossible if encrypted. So that would require a lot of manual tweaking of the grub configuration files. I also dislike this option of a single shared bootloader configuration, making the two operating systems less isolated to some extent.

I'm fine with server text-based expert installation, by the way. Also some custom configuration as long as I don't have to repeat the steps for every kernel/Grub update.

  • This question (and answers) are extremely helpful, as I need to continuously make multiple separate desktop installations of Ubuntu for testing purposes while utilizing the same machine, and for simplicity sake, same disk. Just to verify ― is it the case that Ubuntu updates will by default update the grub installation which is itself common to the different installations of Ubuntu that grub launches to? do components of the linux kernel coming with the installations of Ubuntu actually sit inside the UEFI partition and grub?
    – matanster
    Sep 26 '20 at 14:25
  • I have added this as I wish to cement my grasp of the entanglement involved, as I flesh out my architecture for this scenario ...
    – matanster
    Sep 26 '20 at 14:29

I have two suggestions...

Option #1: Separate ESPs

Under EFI, the boot loader resides on "the" EFI System Partition (ESP). I put the word "the" in quotation marks because there's no rule that says you're limited to one ESP. If you create two ESPs on your hard disk, you can use one of them for your first installation and the second ESP for the second installation. This should work pretty seamlessly, although you'll have to create your partitions manually (using the "Something Else" option during installation), at least for your second Ubuntu installation.

One problem with this approach is that, although the EFI specification explicitly states that you can create as many ESPs as you like, some software might become confused by it. One prominent example of this is the Windows installer, at least through Windows 7 (I don't know about Windows 8 or later); when the Windows 7 installer sees a disk with two ESP, it flakes out and does weird things. IIRC, it doesn't complete its own installation properly. It's conceivable that Windows repair tools would suffer from the same problem. If you're not booting Windows on this system, this shouldn't be a big deal. If you are booting with Windows, you should simply be aware of the problem, because you can easily overcome it by temporarily changing the type code of the non-Windows ESP(s) if you run into problems. Note that Windows will boot just fine on a disk with multiple ESPs; it's just the installer that chokes on such disks.

Another issue is how you'd switch between your two distributions. You might need to customize one or both of your installations' GRUB setups using a tool like GRUB Customizer. Another (but not incompatible) option would be to use your firmware's own boot manager to switch between your two GRUB installations, and use each one to boot just its own version of Ubuntu.

Option #2: Abandon GRUB (or at least Ubuntu's GRUB tools)

The problem with GRUB for your situation is that you've got two installations and the GRUB maintenance tools are likely to become confused by that configuration. This observation leads to the obvious solution that you should simply not use those tools. There are several other EFI boot loaders for Linux, most of which are easier to manually maintain than GRUB. You could set up ELILO, SYSLINUX, Fedora's patched GRUB Legacy, gummiboot, or rEFInd and manage both your installations manually. In fact, because rEFInd detects kernels whenever it boots, rEFInd should be close to no-maintenance, once it's set up. Alternatively, but in a similar vein, you could hand-edit your grub.cfg file to do what you want, rather than rely on the GRUB setup scripts.

Aside from rEFInd, all of these tools will require you to make configuration changes whenever you update a kernel, which will be a drag. There's also the question of when and how to install the extra boot program. I'd probably put it off until after your second Ubuntu installation, since each installation will register its own copy of GRUB as the default boot loader, and you want to override that default.

Note also that none of these tools can read a kernel from an encrypted filesystem or from an LVM, so you'll need to have a separate unencrypted /boot partition for each of your Ubuntu installations. This is the way most instructions I've seen say to set up an encrypted Ubuntu installation anyhow, so it's probably not a big deal unless you want to play on the "bleeding edge" of disk encryption.

Some EFI boot loaders have additional specific partitioning or filesystem requirements. Most notably, ELILO, SYSLINUX, and gummiboot all require the kernel to reside on a FAT partition, and the ESP works best for this. You can do this by mounting the ESP at /boot, but this is an iffy solution in Ubuntu because some package updates require symbolic links. You'd also have trouble doing this with two separate Ubuntu installations because they'd both try to claim the same files. (In this case, "the ESP" really means "the partition from which the boot loader ran," so you can have just one ESP in this case.) GRUB Legacy and rEFInd are more flexible about this.

My Recommendation

Personally, I'd use rEFInd for this -- but as I maintain rEFInd, I'm not exactly unbiased. In fact, I've got a computer that multi-boots between three Ubuntu installations, and rEFInd switches between them just fine. This particular system doesn't use encryption, but I doubt if that will cause any new problems from rEFInd's perspective.

That said, separate ESPs should work fine, too, with the caveat that you might need to use GRUB Customizer to tweak the settings of at least one of those GRUB copies.

  • Very good suggestions, thanks! I'm sure you are correct about that one can have multiple ESPs by the specification, but I doubt my Dell Latitude UEFI implementation also supports it. It only allows me to browse in paths by individual single drives. I have to actually try it though.
    – gertvdijk
    May 2 '15 at 0:28
  • if your Dell's EFI implementation is so broken that it can't handle multiple ESPs, then you should return it to the store for a refund. Seriously; that kind of bad would indicate such awfulness that I wouldn't trust the firmware to do its most basic tasks. In practice, I don't think it would be that bad; I've never heard of an EFI that can't handle multiple ESPs.
    – Rod Smith
    May 2 '15 at 15:24

Here are the steps I used to dual boot with two LUKS encrypted Ubuntu systems on a single hard drive with UEFI using option #2 recommended by Rod Smith previously. This was specifically with Ubuntu 18.04.1-desktop. Home directory encryption is no longer given as an option during install as there are concerns of the reliability and maintenance of eCryptfs. It is recommended to use LUKS instead, so I think is the best option to have multiple users with encrypted home partitions.

    1. Boot into a Live USB, this was by downloading the ISO and using the Startup Disk Creator to format and setup a USB drive.
    1. Use GParted to partition the disk. This was based on recommendations at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/ManualFullSystemEncryption and using some of the defaults set by the Ubuntu installer when selecting disk encryption for the full disk.
      • EFI System Partition / 512MiB / FAT32 / boot, esp (flags)
      • Boot System #1 / 732MiB / EXT4
      • Boot System #2 / 732MiB / EXT4
      • Data Encrypted #1 / [desired size] / cleared
      • Data Encrypted #2 / [desired size] / cleared
    1. Reboot back into Live USB
      • Install Ubuntu
      • Select installation preferences
      • Select "Something else" for partition disk layout, and within that partition configuration for the installation:
        • Select "EFI System Partition" as the bootloader in the menu at the bottom.
        • Select "Data Encrypted #1" and select "physical device for encryption" and then enter the encryption phrase to be used for the partition.
        • Select the newly created partition with EXT4 and change the mount point to "/".
        • Select the "Boot System #1" and have the mount point for it be "/boot".
      • Continue and install
    1. Reboot into the new install
      • Install "refind" via "apt-get install refind" and have it install automatically to the ESP, the "EFI System Partition".
    1. Reboot back into the Live USB
      • Repeat the steps 3 and 4 for the #2 Boot System and Data Encrypted #2 partitions installing the second Ubuntu installation.
    1. Configure and upgrade each installation as needed.

I use the following approach with a single ESP:

I created additional boot-loaders for each OS with

sudo grub-install --bootloader-id=ID

using a different ID for each operating system.


I have Ubuntu 16.04 and Ubuntu 18.04 installed. I boot into Ubuntu 16.04 and run

sudo grub-install --bootloader-id=Ubuntu1604

Then from booted into Ubuntu 18.04 I run

sudo grub-install --bootloader-id=Ubuntu1804

In the UEFI-settings I see the new boot entries with the names Ubuntu1604 and Ubuntu1804and rearrange the boot order to set one of the new entries to the first place.

I can also see the folders with this names in the ESP.

When a system upgrade ships with a new version of grub, it will reinstall a fresh instance of grub to the ubuntu-folder on the ESP, it will not affect the boot-loaders I created myself, but I have to rearrange the boot-order again as the ubuntu-entry will be pushed to the first place in the boot-order.

This is what efibootmgr -v shows in my configuration:

~$ efibootmgr -v
BootCurrent: 0001
Timeout: 0 seconds
BootOrder: 0001,0002,0004,0000,0003,0005
Boot0000* ubuntu    HD(1,GPT,249ac0f6-d3e4-4b91-91d5-6e8d63c093c3,0x800,0x9a000)/File(\EFI\ubuntu\shimx64.efi)
Boot0001* US1804    HD(1,GPT,249ac0f6-d3e4-4b91-91d5-6e8d63c093c3,0x800,0x9a000)/File(\EFI\US1804\grubx64.efi)
Boot0002* US1604    HD(1,GPT,249ac0f6-d3e4-4b91-91d5-6e8d63c093c3,0x800,0x9a000)/File(\EFI\US1604\grubx64.efi)
Boot0003* UEFI OS   HD(1,GPT,249ac0f6-d3e4-4b91-91d5-6e8d63c093c3,0x800,0x9a000)/File(\EFI\BOOT\BOOTX64.EFI)
Boot0004* US1904    HD(1,GPT,249ac0f6-d3e4-4b91-91d5-6e8d63c093c3,0x800,0x9a000)/File(\EFI\US1904\shimx64.efi)
Boot0005* ubuntu    HD(1,GPT,249ac0f6-d3e4-4b91-91d5-6e8d63c093c3,0x800,0x9a000)/File(EFI\Ubuntu\grubx64.efi)
  • Still did not work for me. I change default in /etc/default/grub to distribution like GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR="Bionic_18_04" and reinstall of grub uses that as UEFI default ID. But every time it only uses /EFI/ubuntu/grub.cfg as default location to boot from not my new /EFI/bionic_18_04/grub.cfg.
    – oldfred
    Jul 25 '19 at 20:37
  • @oldfred For me this works fine for several years running a triple boot.
    – mook765
    Jul 25 '19 at 20:45
  • Tried your command, rather than the rename in /etc/default/grub. Made no difference. UEFI is set to default boot new entry. But it booted using my /efi/ubuntu with Disco as default boot, rather than grub in new /EFI/ubuntu1804 folder. I would think it is grub not UEFI that makes the difference.
    – oldfred
    Jul 25 '19 at 21:06
  • @oldfred Please take a look at the output of efibootmgr -v which I added to my answer. It works. You might have additional changes which prevent you from doing that. What I described is the only thing I do to get it work.
    – mook765
    Jul 25 '19 at 21:16
  • I did check efibootmgr -v and it was set for new entry, but booted the grub in /EFI/ubuntu. Mine is booting /EFI/ubuntu1804/shimx64.efi. Are you using a grubx64.efi or shimx64.efi, maybe that is a difference? I do have Secure Boot off, but it defaulted to shim as first ubuntu1804 entry. At some point I ended up with so many UEFI entries or folders in /EFI that I had problems booting & had to use rEFInd on another drive to boot. So I do not now like to have too much in /EFI folder or entries in UEFI.
    – oldfred
    Jul 25 '19 at 22:27

I tried the approach with single ESP and separate bootloader-ids and it mostly works. I can confirm that update-grub detects all of the Ubuntu installations, even if they are on encrypted LVM with separate unencrypted /boot partitions.

I only had one issue that grub kept showing the boot menu of the "non-main" installation, even though the "main" was selected first in the EFI firmware. So I had to run grub-install once again without bootloader-id. Not sure why this is the case, it shouldn't use the grub.cfg from the default EFI/ubuntu at all.

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