If you run a partitioning tool and point it at your hard drive, chances are you’ll see a small boot partition before everything else. It may consume only a tiny part of your hard drive and may not appear during active computer use. Is this partition essential? Can you remove it? Read on to find out if you need a dedicated boot partition on your Linux installation.
What is the boot partition?
Usually found in older Linux installations and hidden from view, the boot partition contains the basics needed to boot the operating system.
When your computer starts up, it accesses the boot partition for the files needed to load the operating system.
How is the boot partition used?
There are two different approaches to using the boot partition, depending on the operating system you are using.
In Linux, the boot partition contains files like the kernel itself, which is the heart and brain of the operating system. This is also where you will find
initrd, which loads a temporary root system into computer memory, and GRUB, the boot loader that loads the operating system.
In the past, boot and system partitions were separate. They first contained everything needed to load the operating system, and the second contained the operating system itself. This allowed for versatility, especially when using multiple operating systems running in parallel. For the same reason, you can also set up a separate personal partition for your files.
The main reason for the existence of the boot partition, however, was to avoid restrictions in older BIOSes that could only access the first 1024 sectors of the hard drive. Since it was impossible to fit everything needed to load a modern operating system in such a small space, the boot partition acted as an extension of that.
Nowadays, newer BIOSes and their replacement, UEFI, do not have this restriction. In addition to this, most people use only one operating system with their computer, and such partitioning schemes are considered unnecessarily complicated. Today, a single partition usually contains everything needed to load and use the operating system and serves as both the boot partition and the system partition.
Microsoft Windows has followed a different path where the reverse is true. In older versions of Windows, everything was contained in one partition. Since Windows 7, when the BitLocker encryption feature was introduced, Windows can use two different individual partitions: an encrypted partition, which contains the actual operating system, and an unencrypted one, which loads it.
Do I still need a boot partition in Linux?
If you’re using a relatively new Linux distribution, you usually don’t need a separate boot partition. The system partition can perform both roles, containing everything you need to load and use your operating system.
In multi-boot configurations, however, with multiple operating systems installed on the same hard disk drive, the boot partition is where the initial boot loader resides. When it loads, it lets you choose which operating system you want to launch.
It should be noted that, just like with Windows and BitLocker, if you are using an encrypted file system for your Linux based operating system, or other complex storage schemes such as LVM or software RAID, you may have still need a separate boot partition.
Note, however, that if a boot partition already exists on your hard drive, even if you are using only one modern version of Linux, you should not attempt to delete it. This is probably not an unnecessary holdover from a previous installation, as if it was, your current operating system would have removed it during its installation. Instead, it’s probably also used as a charger. If you delete it, you will no longer be able to access your operating system. To fix such a problem, you will either have to recover the partition using specialized tools or recreate it from scratch.
If you want to switch to a simpler single partition scheme, you will need to back everything up in your current operating system, then erase your hard drive and reinstall your operating system from scratch, this time using a single partition to all. The last step would be to restore your precious data from your backup.
You can also divide your Linux installation into different partitions. See the Linux partition schemes for more information. Also find out how to encrypt your partition in Linux.
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