Can I safely un-install and purge the linux-signed* packages from my Ubuntu 16.10 (yakkety) installation?

The reason I am considering this is that my UEFI bios does not use secure boot, and my boot partition is only 200 MiB (~210 MB). I have encryption on the rest of the partitions, and I really don't want to resize them to expand the boot partition.

Unfortunately, 200 MiB is just barely too small to hold 3 kernels. The current kernels come to about 61 MiB each (that's including the abi, config, initrd, map, plus signed and unsigned kernel binaries). Adding in grub, memtest, and the partition table pushes it to about 198, which is apparently not enough free space for apt to update the kernel. I normally keep only 2 kernels (current + last), but obviously I need space for a third during the update process. If I didn't have the signed kernels (7.2 MiB each), I would be OK.

As of today, I have build versions 41, 45, and 46 of kernel 4.8.0 installed.

Will the following break my system?

apt-get purge linux-signed*
grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

(second line added after ubfan1's comment, see below)

I believe that it should remove the following kernel packages and prevent new signed kernels from being installed:


I have all of the regular (unsigned) versions of these packages installed.

As a side question, does anyone know why the unicode.pf2 file (2.3 MiB) appears in both /boot/grub and /boot/grub/fonts? I diffed the files and they are exactly the same. I assume this is the font used on the grub menu, but why does it appear twice on the same partition? I feel silly wrangling about 2.3 MiB, but that could also make a huge difference in my particular case.


added info for ubfan1's comment

The .efi.signed kernels appear in every menu entry in /boot/grub/grub.cfg. I know that my uefi firmware (I guess bios isn't the right term anymore) does not use secure boot, but the grub config files seem to think that it does. Obviously my system boots the signed kernels just fine, so maybe I can purge the unsigned kernels instead?

I dug into /etc/grub.d/10_linux to find where these lines come from, and found the following code:

if test -d /sys/firmware/efi && test -e "${linux}.efi.signed"; then
    sed "s/^/$submenu_indentation/" << EOF
    linux   ${rel_dirname}/${basename}.efi.signed
      root=${linux_root_device_thisversion} ro ${args}
    sed "s/^/$submenu_indentation/" << EOF
    linux   ${rel_dirname}/${basename}
      root=${linux_root_device_thisversion} ro ${args}

I'm no bash expert, but I think I follow this in pseudo code

if /sys/firmware/efi AND /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x-xx.efi.signed exist
  echo linux vmlinuz-x.x-xx-generic.efi.signed to /boot/grub/grub.cfg
  echo linux vmlinuz-x.x.x-xx-generic to /boot/grub/grub.cfg

so, if I purge the signed kernel packages, then re-run grub-mkconfig, it should put the regular unsigned kernels into grub.cfg, right?

  • 1
    Did you check that the signed versions are not being used in /boot/grub/grub.cfg?
    – ubfan1
    Apr 6, 2017 at 1:24
  • No, I didn't check. The vmlinuz-4.8.0-??-generic.efi.signed files appear in every menu entry in grub.cfg. Thanks for pointing me to this. I think it is still OK to purge these as long as I rebuild grub.cfg afterwards, but I'm not sure. I updated my question. Apr 6, 2017 at 6:29
  • On the other hand, is it ok to purge the unsigned kernels, if you use the signed ones?
    – jarno
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:27
  • @jarno, yes ... I figured out how to do this Apr 10, 2017 at 7:37

3 Answers 3


Thanks for all the help and links. I spent a few hours this weekend and verified the following

Short answers

  1. Yes, you can purge all of the linux-signed* packages, but you have to install linux-generic if you want automatic kernel updates to continue functioning properly. All of the grub, kernel, and initramfs re-configuration is handled automatically. The kernel install scripts really handle everything without any issues.
    apt-get purge linux-signed* linux-generic+
  2. Yes, you can get rid of the unsigned kernels without any ill effects, but they will keep coming back after kernel updates. This cannot be solved by managing packages, but it is easy to fix with a short script.

    # user script: 
    # after a new signed kernel image is installed, this script removes
    # the unsigned image
    if [ -e "$2.efi.signed" ]; then
        echo "/etc/kernel/postinst.d/zzz-remove-unsigned-kernel: removing $2"
        rm "$2";

Longer answers

In the first case, the solution is really simple. It works pretty much as you would assume at first glance. Still I learned some helpful things about the ubuntu package structure for kernels. I wanted to be sure that I understood the side effects or consequences, but I also just like to see how things are built. Just as a side note, I use the generic kernel, but just swap generic for lowlatency or virtual if that is your thing. Also, everything here is based on 16.10 (yakkety). Here is the kernel package hierarchy: kernel package hierarchy

  • linux-signed-generic is a meta package, meaning that it doesn't include any code. It just has a list of dependencies, which always contains the complete installation of the newest kernel update. "Complete" means all of the kernel headers, the kernel image, the (detached) image signature, and extra kernel modules for just about every device that ubuntu can support.

  • linux-generic is another meta package containing all of the same real packages except for the image signature. The actual kernel image is only contained in the linux-image-x.x.x-yy package. The linux-signed-image-x.x.x-yy package just contains a detached signature, and the build script attaches this sig to /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x.yy-generic and creates /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x.yy-generic.efi.signed. The script does not clean up the unsigned image.

  • Kernel packages have special scripts in /etc/kernel that modify the default apt autoremove behavior. Normally, removing linux-signed-generic would flag all of the downstream packages for autoremoval, but this doesn't happen for kernel packages until there are two newer builds of the same version.

In the second case (trying to keep the signed kernel image only), there seem to be no consequences to deleting /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x.yy-generic after the installation is complete. The two kernel images are exactly the same except for the signature, and they share all the same modules and config files. However, as soon as an updated kernel is installed, it will leave behind the unsigned image. Fortunately, there were easy hooks for running a script every time a new kernel is installed. Any scripts in /etc/kernel/postinst.d are executed by run-parts with two arguments $1 is the kernel version and $2 is the full path of the image (i.e. /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x-yy-generic)

The only minor caveat is that removing the unsigned image has to be done after grub is finished updating grub.cfg. If /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x-yy-generic.efi.signed exists, grub adds that image to grub.cfg and ignores the unsigned image. However, there must be somewhere in the process that still expects the unsigned image because grub fails to configure properly without it. The script that initiates grub configuration is /etc/kernel/postinst.d/zz-update-grub. I named my script zzz-remove-unsigned-kernel so that run-parts executes it after everything else is finished.

EDIT: I've used this script now with a few kernel build updates, and everything seems to work fine. I am using option 2 above (deleting unsigned kernels). I'm going to mark this as the correct answer.

  • Aren't there any complaints about missing /boot/vmlinuz-x.x.x-yy-generic when removing linux-image-x.x.x-yy-generic by apt?
    – jarno
    May 24, 2017 at 8:14
  • @jarno, I don't have this problem, but I don't think I understand your question. If you want to permanently get rid of unsigned kernels vmlinuz-x.x.x-yy-generic, see option #2 above. It uses a post-install script, not apt. As I said in my answer, the package structure does not allow for signed kernels only, but once the installation is finished, the unsigned kernel is no longer referenced and you can safely delete it. However, if you delete the kernel first, then go back and try to remove the kernel package with apt, apt probably will complain. There is no reason to do it in this order. May 24, 2017 at 15:42
  • If you just remove the vmlinuz file the package is still installed according to dpkg. If you later want to purge unneeded kernels completely how do you do that?
    – jarno
    May 25, 2017 at 10:46
  • 1
    @jarno, when you are ready to remove an old kernel version, apt doesn't complain about the missing vmlinuz-x.x.x-yy-generic file. The package removal works fine. This is true if you manually remove the old kernel packages or if you just let apt handle it automatically. The Ubuntu kernel management scripts normally save 2 old kernel versions. May 25, 2017 at 18:20

AFAIK, the .efi.signed kernels are the same as the regular kernels, except that they're signed with Canonical's EFI Secure Boot key. As such, if you're not booting with Secure Boot active, you can safely delete the .efi.signed kernels. If I'm parsing the package information correctly, you should be able to delete the linux-signed-image-generic and linux-signed-generic packages to prevent future updates to the signed kernels from being installed, too.

That said, a better solution in the long term is to increase the size of your /boot partition. This may be a pain, and even risky to your data, especially if you use LVM or software RAID; however, the details depend very much on your current disk layout and plans for changing that layout for other reasons. Note that, depending on your layout, it might be preferable to shrink a data partition from the end and create a bigger /boot partition after that now-shrunken data partition than to try to shrink a data partition from the start in order to make space for the /boot partition to grow into.

Finally, if you're desperate enough to free a few megabytes that you're looking at duplicated files in the /boot/grub directory tree, you might consider moving away from GRUB altogether. Most other boot loaders don't require as much in the way of files in /boot as GRUB does. If you're booting in EFI mode, my own rEFInd boot manager is likely to be the easiest to install, and you can try it on a USB drive or CD-R to see what it's like before mucking with your hard disk. If you're booting in BIOS mode, LILO, SYSLINUX, and even GRUB Legacy are all options, but I don't have pointers to instructions on how to install any of them, offhand.

  • Thanks. Your whole web page on EFI boot loaders was really helpful. I've encountered some of that info before, but I really appreciated reading your site with up to date info all in one place and well written. I'll definitely check out rEFInd. For now grub is meeting my needs, especially since I don't dual boot my current laptop ... it's ubuntu only (UEFI). Apr 10, 2017 at 7:51

The ..signed kernels are a bit bigger, so if you are not running with secure boot enabled and are trying to save space, use the unsigned and purge the signed. I too think your approach with rebuilding grub will work. If you should lose power before the grub.cfg rebuild, you can always edit the old grub menu and delete the signed part. Of course, you can leave one signed version (the latest) and get rid of the others to see if things work as expected, then do it again for the last one, never leaving you without a known bootable setup. As for the unicode.pf2 files -- they exist on my system too. You could try replacing one with a link to the other (with boot media handy in case you need to put the file back where the link is).

  • well, the grub.cfg file is automatically generated by scripts in /etc/kernel and /etc/grub.d, so I think editing by hand may cause problems with the automatic update process. I did try your idea of replacing /boot/grub/fonts/unicode.pf2 with a symlink, and it seems to work fine. Apr 10, 2017 at 7:55

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