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Tainted kernels
The kernel will mark itself as 'tainted' when something occurs that might be
relevant later when investigating problems. Don't worry too much about this,
most of the time it's not a problem to run a tainted kernel; the information is
mainly of interest once someone wants to investigate some problem, as its real
cause might be the event that got the kernel tainted. That's why bug reports
from tainted kernels will often be ignored by developers, hence try to reproduce
problems with an untainted kernel.
Note the kernel will remain tainted even after you undo what caused the taint
(i.e. unload a proprietary kernel module), to indicate the kernel remains not
trustworthy. That's also why the kernel will print the tainted state when it
notices an internal problem (a 'kernel bug'), a recoverable error
('kernel oops') or a non-recoverable error ('kernel panic') and writes debug
information about this to the logs ``dmesg`` outputs. It's also possible to
check the tainted state at runtime through a file in ``/proc/``.
Tainted flag in bugs, oops or panics messages
You find the tainted state near the top in a line starting with 'CPU:'; if or
why the kernel was tainted is shown after the Process ID ('PID:') and a shortened
name of the command ('Comm:') that triggered the event::
BUG: unable to handle kernel NULL pointer dereference at 0000000000000000
Oops: 0002 [#1] SMP PTI
CPU: 0 PID: 4424 Comm: insmod Tainted: P W O 4.20.0-0.rc6.fc30 #1
Hardware name: Red Hat KVM, BIOS 0.5.1 01/01/2011
RIP: 0010:my_oops_init+0x13/0x1000 [kpanic]
You'll find a 'Not tainted: ' there if the kernel was not tainted at the
time of the event; if it was, then it will print 'Tainted: ' and characters
either letters or blanks. In the example above it looks like this::
Tainted: P W O
The meaning of those characters is explained in the table below. In this case
the kernel got tainted earlier because a proprietary Module (``P``) was loaded,
a warning occurred (``W``), and an externally-built module was loaded (``O``).
To decode other letters use the table below.
Decoding tainted state at runtime
At runtime, you can query the tainted state by reading
``cat /proc/sys/kernel/tainted``. If that returns ``0``, the kernel is not
tainted; any other number indicates the reasons why it is. The easiest way to
decode that number is the script ``tools/debugging/kernel-chktaint``, which your
distribution might ship as part of a package called ``linux-tools`` or
``kernel-tools``; if it doesn't, you can download the script from
` <>`_
and execute it with ``sh kernel-chktaint``, which would print something like
this on the machine that had the statements in the logs that were quoted earlier::
Kernel is Tainted for following reasons:
* Proprietary module was loaded (#0)
* Kernel issued warning (#9)
* Externally-built ('out-of-tree') module was loaded (#12)
See Documentation/admin-guide/tainted-kernels.rst in the Linux kernel or for
a more details explanation of the various taint flags.
Raw taint value as int/string: 4609/'P W O '
You can try to decode the number yourself. That's easy if there was only one
reason that got your kernel tainted, as in this case you can find the number
with the table below. If there were multiple reasons you need to decode the
number, as it is a bitfield, where each bit indicates the absence or presence of
a particular type of taint. It's best to leave that to the aforementioned
script, but if you need something quick you can use this shell command to check
which bits are set::
$ for i in $(seq 18); do echo $(($i-1)) $(($(cat /proc/sys/kernel/tainted)>>($i-1)&1));done
Table for decoding tainted state
=== === ====== ========================================================
Bit Log Number Reason that got the kernel tainted
=== === ====== ========================================================
0 G/P 1 proprietary module was loaded
1 _/F 2 module was force loaded
2 _/S 4 kernel running on an out of specification system
3 _/R 8 module was force unloaded
4 _/M 16 processor reported a Machine Check Exception (MCE)
5 _/B 32 bad page referenced or some unexpected page flags
6 _/U 64 taint requested by userspace application
7 _/D 128 kernel died recently, i.e. there was an OOPS or BUG
8 _/A 256 ACPI table overridden by user
9 _/W 512 kernel issued warning
10 _/C 1024 staging driver was loaded
11 _/I 2048 workaround for bug in platform firmware applied
12 _/O 4096 externally-built ("out-of-tree") module was loaded
13 _/E 8192 unsigned module was loaded
14 _/L 16384 soft lockup occurred
15 _/K 32768 kernel has been live patched
16 _/X 65536 auxiliary taint, defined for and used by distros
17 _/T 131072 kernel was built with the struct randomization plugin
18 _/N 262144 an in-kernel test has been run
=== === ====== ========================================================
Note: The character ``_`` is representing a blank in this table to make reading
More detailed explanation for tainting
0) ``G`` if all modules loaded have a GPL or compatible license, ``P`` if
any proprietary module has been loaded. Modules without a
MODULE_LICENSE or with a MODULE_LICENSE that is not recognised by
insmod as GPL compatible are assumed to be proprietary.
1) ``F`` if any module was force loaded by ``insmod -f``, ``' '`` if all
modules were loaded normally.
2) ``S`` if the kernel is running on a processor or system that is out of
specification: hardware has been put into an unsupported configuration,
therefore proper execution cannot be guaranteed.
Kernel will be tainted if, for example:
- on x86: PAE is forced through forcepae on intel CPUs (such as Pentium M)
which do not report PAE but may have a functional implementation, an SMP
kernel is running on non officially capable SMP Athlon CPUs, MSRs are
being poked at from userspace.
- on arm: kernel running on certain CPUs (such as Keystone 2) without
having certain kernel features enabled.
- on arm64: there are mismatched hardware features between CPUs, the
bootloader has booted CPUs in different modes.
- certain drivers are being used on non supported architectures (such as
scsi/snic on something else than x86_64, scsi/ips on non
x86/x86_64/itanium, have broken firmware settings for the
irqchip/irq-gic on arm64 ...).
- x86/x86_64: Microcode late loading is dangerous and will result in
tainting the kernel. It requires that all CPUs rendezvous to make sure
the update happens when the system is as quiescent as possible. However,
a higher priority MCE/SMI/NMI can move control flow away from that
rendezvous and interrupt the update, which can be detrimental to the
3) ``R`` if a module was force unloaded by ``rmmod -f``, ``' '`` if all
modules were unloaded normally.
4) ``M`` if any processor has reported a Machine Check Exception,
``' '`` if no Machine Check Exceptions have occurred.
5) ``B`` If a page-release function has found a bad page reference or some
unexpected page flags. This indicates a hardware problem or a kernel bug;
there should be other information in the log indicating why this tainting
6) ``U`` if a user or user application specifically requested that the
Tainted flag be set, ``' '`` otherwise.
7) ``D`` if the kernel has died recently, i.e. there was an OOPS or BUG.
8) ``A`` if an ACPI table has been overridden.
9) ``W`` if a warning has previously been issued by the kernel.
(Though some warnings may set more specific taint flags.)
10) ``C`` if a staging driver has been loaded.
11) ``I`` if the kernel is working around a severe bug in the platform
firmware (BIOS or similar).
12) ``O`` if an externally-built ("out-of-tree") module has been loaded.
13) ``E`` if an unsigned module has been loaded in a kernel supporting
module signature.
14) ``L`` if a soft lockup has previously occurred on the system.
15) ``K`` if the kernel has been live patched.
16) ``X`` Auxiliary taint, defined for and used by Linux distributors.
17) ``T`` Kernel was build with the randstruct plugin, which can intentionally
produce extremely unusual kernel structure layouts (even performance
pathological ones), which is important to know when debugging. Set at
build time.