Triple Boot Part 4: Install Ubuntu and Replace GRUB2 with systemd-boot

| posted in: nerdliness 

This posting is part of a multi-part series on configuring a laptop with three different operating systems using systemd-boot. The series starts with How to Install Three Operating Systems on One Laptop.

Like Windows 10, Ubuntu has straight forward installation process. The only deviation we are going to take from the default install is how we partition the hard drive. In the previous posting, while we setup Arch Linux, we prepared a partition for Ubuntu to use. Also, we want to map in the shared data partition.

Follow the guided install. When you reach the “Updates and other software” dialog you can make some choices. I choose the “Normal installation”, “Download updates while installed Ubuntu”, and “Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware and additional media formats” options.

On the “Installation type dialog, choose “Something else”. This will allow us to control exactly where Ubuntu gets installed. After clicking on “next” you will see a breakdown of the partitions on the drive.

Click /dev/sda6 to select it and then click “Change…”. In the popup dialog, change the “Use as:” drop down to be Ext4 journaling file system. And change the “Mount point:” to / (or root). Click “OK”.

Now click to select /dev/sda2 which should have “Windows Boot Manager” listed in the “System” column. This is the UEFI system partition that Windows created, and that we put systemd-boot into during the Arch Linux install. Ubuntu is going to put GRUB2 there. After the install is finished we will create a loader entry for Ubuntu and remove GRUB2.

With /dev/sda2 selected click “Change…”. The “Use as:” option should already say “EFI System Partition”. Click “OK”.

Click “Install Now” to continue the installation. After the installation process completes, and you reboot, you be presented with a GRUB2 boot loader, that will list Ubuntu, Arch, and Windows. If you are satisfied with that boot loader, then you are done. Congratulations, you have a machine with three operating systems coexisting, side-by-side.

Getting systemd-boot working with all three operating systems is a bit trickier. While the EFI specification (ESP) doesn’t prohibit having multiple ESP (EFI System Partition), it is not the best idea. A better idea is to have multiple subdirectories in your EFI partition, to separate individual operating systems from each other. After the Windows 10 install the EFI partition (in my setup mapped under Linux to /boot) has a single directory called EFI. This contains the Windows 10 boot loader. At the end of part 3 the loader.conf and loader/entires/arch.conf files were setup for Arch. The following kernel files were also created.


Unless you are using multiple kernel versions with Arch Linux (something I’m not doing) there will always be a single kernel for Arch. Meaning the four files listed above will always be the only kernel files Arch depends upon.

Ubuntu does allow for the use of multiple kernels. These files all have a version number as a part of their name, e.g., vmlinuz-4.15.0-44-generic. While it would be possible to leave those files at /boot a tidier way to organize them is to create a directory for the Ubuntu systemd-boot files. Rather than have to manually update the files, and associated configuration changes with each kernel update or change, kernel hooks can be used to automatically move the kernel files to the proper directory and update the loader/entires files.

Setup systemd-boot for Ubuntu

I followed Replace GRUB2 with systemd-boot on Ubuntu 18.04 and the Ubuntu 16.04 systemd-boot gist to configure my existing systemd-boot setup to include the newly installed Ubuntu.

As the posting points out,

Unlike a lot of software, boot loaders can generally exist independently of one another. To be safe, you should leave your working GRUB2 around until you are confident you have systemd-boot set up correctly. If you screw something up, don’t sweat it! Just re-reboot, open your BIOS’ boot menu, and point it to GRUB2.

In the /boot directory you will find all the kernels and related files that Ubuntu installed. Debian-based systems like Ubuntu won’t install package files to a FAT partition. Since the /boot/efi directory is really a FAT32 file system mount point, none of the Ubuntu kernels will be installed there. You’ll have to copy them yourself.

sudo -i   # Run these commands as root, it's easier
cd /boot/efi
mkdir ubuntu
cd ubuntu
cp config-* /boot/efi/ubuntu
cp initrd.img-* /boot/efi/ubuntu
cp* /boot/efi/ubuntu
cp vmlinuz-* /boot/efi/ubuntu

With a directory under /boot/efi just for Ubuntu it will be easier to keep kernels for different distributions tidy. My 18.04 installation dropped two kernels, 4.15.0-29 and, so there were two files each for config-*, initrd.img-*,*, and vmlinuz-*. With the files copied it’s time to setup a loader entry for Ubuntu.

Switch to the /boot/efi/loader/entries directory and create a new *.conf file for each Ubuntu kernel you want to expose in the boot loader list. I setup two files, ubuntu-4.15.0-29-generic.conf and ubuntu-4.15.0-43-generic.conf.

cd /boot/efi/loader/entires
vi ubuntu-4.15.0-29-generic.conf
cp ubuntu-4.15.0-29-generic.conf ubuntu-4.15.0-43-generic.conf
vi ubuntu-4.15.0-43-generic.conf

Both files look like this:

title   Ubuntu 4.15.0-##-generic
linux   /ubuntu/vmlinuz-4.15.0-##-generic
initrd  /ubuntu/initrd.img-4.15.0-##-generic
options root=PARTUUI=26032c35-9f53-fd41-93a2-9bb466e572cf rw

Where ## is either 43 or 29. As with the configuration file for Arch Linux, lookup the PARTUUID for the Ubuntu root partition (/dev/sda6) with

blkid -s PARTUUID -o value /dev/sda6

Since Ubuntu is a graphical environment, you can do this in a separate terminal and copy the result into your conf file.

I used a slightly modified version of the script giving in the blobfolio article. Here’s my script:

# This is a simple kernel hook to populate the systemd-boot entries
# whenever kernels are added or removed.

# The PARTUUID of your disk.
# Must be PARUUID and not UUID

# Our kernels.
FIND="find /boot -maxdepth 1 -name 'vmlinuz-*' -type f -print0 | sort -rz"
while IFS= read -r -u3 -d $'\0' LINE; do
	KERNEL=$(basename "${LINE}")
done 3< <(eval "${FIND}")

# There has to be at least one kernel.
if [ ${#KERNELS[@]} -lt 1 ]; then
	echo -e "\e[2msystemd-boot\e[0m \e[1;31mNo kernels found.\e[0m"
	exit 1

# Perform a nuclear clean to ensure everything is always in perfect
# sync.
rm /boot/loader/entries/ubuntu*.conf
rm -rf /boot/efi/ubuntu
mkdir /boot/efi/ubuntu

# Copy the latest kernel files to a consistent place so we can keep
# using the same loader configuration.
echo -e "\e[2msystemd-boot\e[0m \e[1;32m${LATEST}\e[0m"
for FILE in config initrd.img vmlinuz; do
    cp "/boot/${FILE}-${LATEST}" "/boot/efi/ubuntu/${FILE}"
    cat << EOF > /boot/efi/loader/entries/ubuntu.conf
title   Ubuntu ${LATEST}
linux   /ubuntu/vmlinuz
initrd  /ubuntu/initrd.img
options root=PARTUUID=${PARTUUID} rw rootflags=${ROOTFLAGS}

# Copy any legacy kernels over too, but maintain their version-based
# names to avoid collisions.
if [ ${#KERNELS[@]} -gt 1 ]; then
	for VERSION in "${LEGACY[@]}"; do
	    echo -e "\e[2msystemd-boot\e[0m \e[1;32m${VERSION}\e[0m"
	    for FILE in config initrd.img vmlinuz; do
	        cp "/boot/${FILE}-${VERSION}" "/boot/efi/ubuntu/${FILE}-${VERSION}"
	        cat << EOF > /boot/efi/loader/entries/ubuntu-${VERSION}.conf
title   Ubuntu ${VERSION}
linux   /ubuntu/vmlinuz-${VERSION}
initrd  /ubuntu/initrd.img-${VERSION}
options root=${PARTUUID} rw rootflags=${ROOTFLAGS}

# Success!
exit 0

The script makes sure there is a kernel present to work with. Then it removes all the ubuntu*-conf files from /boot/loader/entires, deletes the /boot/efi/ubuntu directory and recreates it. I.e., empties it. It then makes a new ubuntu.conf file for the latest kernel version present and copies those files into place. Next it makes ubuntu-#.##.#-##-generic.conf file for all other kernels present, and moves their files into place.

The script is executed by two kernel hooks. The postinst (post install) and postrm (post remove) hooks. The hooks are directories in /etc/kernel. With the script copied into place and given the proper ownership and permissions everything is set.

During the next apt upgrade that includes kernel changes the script will be run automatically. It outputs messages to the console so you can see what it is doing. (I have some typos in my script, and had to run it a couple times to get it working.

With everything in place, reboot, and change the boot order to put the Linux Boot Manager first. This is the entry that corresponds to the Arch systemd-boot configuration. On my BIOS the ubuntu entry is second. This corresponds to the GRUB2 setup that Ubuntu installed. The last entry is Windows Boot Manager which is, of course, the Windows boot manager.

Hopefully the boot manager will appear listing Arch Linux, one or more Ubuntu instances, and the Windows boot Manager. Test each entry to make sure they all work. I misspelled vmlinuz as vmlinux and got an error when trying to load Ubuntu.

Once everything is tested you can, if you like, remove the GRUB2 setup from Ubuntu.

Purge the package:

sudo apt purge grub*

And purge any obsolete dependencies:

apt autoremove --purge

This may or may not remove all the files GRUB deposited into /boot and /boot/efi. You can manually remove any leftovers.


You should now have systemd-boot working with three different operating systems, Windows 10, Arch Linux, and Ubuntu 18 LTS. Admittedly, setting up systemd-boot with three operating systems is a lot of work. That GRUB2 does it with little or no fuss is perhaps a compelling reason to stick with GRUB. However, GRUB is getting a bit long in the tooth. systemd-boot is one alternative. rEFInd is another alternative.

If you have followed some or all of this series drop me an email and let me know how it turned out.

This posting is part of a mulit-part series on installing three operating systems on a single laptop.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.