Sohail Mirza, standing in for Peter.

Raising Skinny Elephants Is So Utterly Boring

If you’re a Ubuntu/Debian user, and Gnome has crashed, Ctrl-Alt-Backspace & Ctrl-Alt-F1 are not working, apparently there are some further steps you can take before going for the power button and risking dataloss.

The first command to try is:

ALT + SysReq + k

That command is meant to kill all running processes, thereby terminating your session safely. But what’s that “SysReq” key? Look at your Print Screen key and you’ll find a second label on it.

What if stopping all system processes doesn’t do the trick?

If the above command doesn’t work, then try the following set of keystrokes, in order:

ALT + SysReq + r

This stands for Raw keyboard mode.

ALT + SysReq + s

This syncs the disk.

ALT + SysReq + e

This terminates all processes.

ALT + SysReq + i

Kill’s all processes that weren’t terminated nicely.

ALT + SysReq + s

This syncs the disk, again.

ALT + SysReq + u

Remounts all filesystems as read only.

ALT + SysReq + b

This last one will reboot the system.

Think you’ll have difficulty remembering all that? Well, there’s a mnemonic for memorizing it: Raising Skinny Elephants Is So Utterly Boring.

Edit:  Thanks to commentor Bob/Paul for pointing out that disks should be synced again after terminating all processes.  The mnemonic and title of the post have been updated to reflect this change.  I suggest everyone read his comment since he suggests an alternate mnemonic and command sequence that only requires sync’ing disks once.

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Written by Sohail Mirza

December 12, 2006 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Technology, Ubuntu

5 Responses

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  1. You list six keystrokes but only five explanations for them.


    June 13, 2008 at 4:54 am

  2. Thanks for pointing that out, Fatman. I’ve added the sixth explanation (ALT + SysReq + b).

    Sohail Mirza

    June 13, 2008 at 9:09 am

  3. I tried, but every time I press Alt + SysReq I get the window of the “Save a screenshot” (or whatever the English for it is …)

    How do I solve this ??? (I typed ls /proc/sys/kernel/sysrq and this string appears : /proc/sys/kernel/sysrq so the key should be enabled …)


    December 9, 2008 at 1:38 pm

  4. Daniele, you may want to try holding down Ctrl as well as Alt and SysReq.

    I also get the “Save Screenshot” dialog when I only press Alt-SysReq. Strange that I’ve never noticed the same problem. I suspect that I may have been unconsiously using the Ctrl key as well, the whole time. 🙂

    Sohail Mirza

    December 9, 2008 at 2:30 pm

  5. Don’t use Raising Skinny Elephants Is Utterly Boring! You need to sync the disk immediately before rebooting. Acceptable accronyms are:

    Raising Skinny Elephants Is So Utterly Boring

    Reboot Even If System’s Utterly Broken

    That is, you can sync as often as you want, but terminating applications with E and I are invariably going to cause changes to be written to the disk, which means you’re system cache will have dirty data that needs to be flushed!! Sync, Unmount, reBoot/shutdOwn.


    December 21, 2008 at 3:04 pm

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