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udev is the device manager for the Linux kernel. It manages device nodes in /dev and handles all user space actions when adding or removing devices. Readers of this article should also look at eudev, a fork of udev.

What is udev?

The /dev directory

Most Linux users understand that /dev/sda1 is just a fast way of referring to the primary master SATA hard drive, first partition. That's pretty easy, right?

But consider hotpluggable devices like USB, IEEE1394, hot-swappable PCI, etc. What is the first device for each of these? And for how long? What will the other devices be named when the first one disappears? How will that affect ongoing transactions? Wouldn't it be fun if a printing job were suddenly moved from a high-end laser printer to an almost-dead matrix printer just because someone's mom decided to pull the plug on the laser printer (which just happened to be the first printer)?

Enter the device manager. A modern device manager (including udev and eudev) must:

  • Run in userspace;
  • Dynamically create and remove device files;
  • Provide consistent device naming;
  • Provide a userspace application program interface (API).

Every time a change happens within the device structure, the kernel emits a uevent which gets picked up by the device manager. The device manager then follows the rules declared in the /etc/udev/rules.d, /run/udev/rules.d and /lib/udev/rules.d directories. Based on the information contained within the uevent, it finds the rule or rules it needs to trigger and performs the required actions. These actions may involve the creation or deletion of device files, and may also trigger the loading of particular firmware files into kernel memory.


When updating udev, check the udev upgrade guide for information that can prevent unbootable systems.


udev requires the following kernel options:

General setup  --->
    [*] Configure standard kernel features (expert users)  --->
        [ ] Enable deprecated sysfs features to support old userspace tools
        [*] Enable signalfd() system call
Enable the block layer  --->
    [*] Block layer SG support v4
Networking support  --->
    Networking options  --->
        <*> Unix domain sockets
Device Drivers  --->
    Generic Driver Options  --->
        ()  path to uevent helper
        [*] Maintain a devtmpfs filesystem to mount at /dev
    < > ATA/ATAPI/MFM/RLL support (DEPRECATED)  --->
File systems  --->
    [*] Inotify support for userspace
    Pseudo filesystems --->
        [*] /proc file system support
        [*] sysfs file system support

USE flags

Portage knows the udev global USE flag for enabling support for udev in other packages. Adding this USE flag value to the USE flag list (default in all Linux profiles) will pull in the sys-fs/udev package automatically:

FILE /etc/portage/make.conf

USE flags for sys-fs/udev Linux dynamic and persistent device naming support (aka userspace devfs)

acl Add support for Access Control Lists global
kmod Enable kernel module loading/unloading support using sys-apps/kmod local
selinux !!internal use only!! Security Enhanced Linux support, this must be set by the selinux profile or breakage will occur global
static-libs Build static versions of dynamic libraries as well global


After setting USE flags update the system so the changes take effect:

root #emerge --ask --changed-use --deep @world



To start udev at boot time, add it to the sysinit runlevel. This can be done by issuing the following command with root privileges:

root #rc-update add udev sysinit

Advanced Configuration


udev provides a set of rules that match against exported values of uevents (events sent by the kernel) and properties of the discovered device. A matching rule will possibly name and create a device node and run configured programs to setup and configure the device.

The rule definitions are stored in two locations:

  1. /lib/udev/rules.d/ - Rules in this directory are installed by certain packages, they generally should not be changed by users;
  2. /etc/udev/rules.d/ - This folder is for end-user specified rules. Any new rules should be added in this directory;

In these directories, multiple rule files (with suffix .rules) are traversed in alphanumerical order. Inside the rules files, udev will find expressions that might match a uevent together with the state to match (is the uevent because a device is added or removed) and the command to execute.

The event matching is based on information such as:

  • The SUBSYSTEM of the uevent (for which type of device is the uevent fired);
  • The ACTION that is taken (add, change, or remove);
  • One or more attributes (through ATTR or ATTRS), such as the device class, vendor or other device information;
  • The kernel-provided name (through KERNEL), such as sd* (for SCSI/SATA disks) or input* (for input devices such as mice and keyboards);
  • One or more environment settings (through ENV), used to send information between multiple rules.

Based on this information, the rule can then state if:

  1. Some information needs to be shared with later events (through environment variables)
  2. Links need to be created in /dev
  3. Commands need to be executed

Udev does this for every rule that matches (it does not stop after the first match) to allow a flexible device management approach.

Persistent device names

The kernel detects devices asynchronously, udev mirrors the kernel's sysfs filesystem and so the devices are named and numbered in order of detection. So by default udev provides no persistent device names. However there are mechanisms for some device classes to provide these:

  • Udev creates for storage devices additional symlinks based on the device's ID, label, UUID and path. See the /dev/disk/by-* directory. So instead of using e.g. the device file /dev/sda use the file /dev/disk/by-label/SOME_LABEL.
  • The same for input devices in the /dev/input directory.
  • Using custom rules enables users to create their own device files.


Some useful commands are:

  • Show all messages about a given device file:
root #udevadm info --query=all --name=/dev/DEVICE_FILE
  • Monitor udev activities:
root #udevadm monitor
  • Assign a persistent name to an ethernet device:
FILE /etc/udev/rules.d/ethernet.rules
SUBSYSTEM=="net", ACTION=="add", ATTR{address}=="01:23:45:67:89:ab", NAME="eth6789ab"

See the udevadm man page for more information.


Log monitor messages

To log all message when udevadm monitor is ran, modify the following configuration file:

FILE /etc/conf.d/udev

It will create the new log file located at /run/udev/udevmonitor.log

Debug mode

Enabling debug mode will output more log messages:

FILE /etc/conf.d/udev

Set the logging priority:

FILE /etc/udev/udev.conf

The log file /run/udevdebug.log will be created but no messages will be logged to it. The most recent versions of udev will log all messages to dmesg.

Missing device files /dev/null and /dev/console

Some udev versions need the /dev/null and /dev/console files in order to work properly, but can not create them on their own. To manually create these files for udev run the following commands with root privileges:

root #mkdir test
root #mount --bind / test
root #cd test/dev
root #mknod -m 660 console c 5 1
root #mknod -m 660 null c 1 3
root #cd ../..
root #umount test
root #rmdir test

NIC assigned eth0, but is moved to eth1

Those having dual network cards on their motherboards may run into a situation where ifconfig may show no eth0 or eth1. dmesg may show their NIC detected as eth0, and later moved to eth1. Performing a ifconfig -a will also show the NIC as eth1. This is caused by using the kernel assigned names in the first place. Users should write custom rules like /etc/udev/rules.d/70-my-network.rules to use free names like lan0 or wireless0 or use predictable interface names (which have been enabled by default since udev version 197).

Remember to also remove old files from old versions of udev:

root #rm /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-net.rules

See also

eudev - A Gentoo maintained fork of udev.

External resources

Bug 575718 - Request for council decision regarding virtual/udev default provider - Default virtual/udev provider changed to sys-fs/eudev