Change root

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Chroot is an operation that changes the apparent root directory for the current running process and their children. A program that is run in such a modified environment cannot access files and commands outside that environmental directory tree. This modified environment is called a chroot jail.


Changing root is commonly done for performing system maintenance on systems where booting and/or logging in is no longer possible. Common examples are:

See also Wikipedia:Chroot#Limitations.


  • Root privilege.
  • Another Linux environment, e.g. a LiveCD or USB flash media, or from another existing Linux distribution.
  • Matching architecture environments; i.e. the chroot from and chroot to. The architecture of the current environment can be discovered with: uname -m (e.g. i686 or x86_64).
  • Kernel modules loaded that are needed in the chroot environment.
  • Swap enabled if needed:
    # swapon /dev/sdxY
  • Internet connection established if needed.


  • Some systemd tools such as localectl and timedatectl can not be used inside a chroot, as they require an active dbus connection. [1]
  • The file system that will serve as the new root (/) of your chroot must be accessible (i.e., decrypted, mounted).

There are two main options for using chroot, described below.

Using arch-chroot

The bash script arch-chroot is part of the arch-install-scripts package. Before it runs /usr/bin/chroot, the script mounts api filesystems like /proc and makes /etc/resolv.conf available from the chroot.

Enter a chroot

Run arch-chroot with the new root directory as first argument:

# arch-chroot /location/of/new/root

For example, in the installation guide this directory would be /mnt:

# arch-chroot /mnt

To exit the chroot simply use:

# exit

Run a single command and exit

To run a command from the chroot, and exit again append the command to the end of the line:

# arch-chroot /location/of/new/root mycommand

For example, to run mkinitcpio -p linux for a chroot located at /mnt/arch do:

# arch-chroot /mnt/arch mkinitcpio -p linux

Using chroot

Warning: When using --rbind, some subdirectories of dev/ and sys/ will not be unmountable. Attempting to unmount with umount -l in this situation will break your session, requiring a reboot. If possible, use -o bind instead.

In the following example /location/of/new/root is the directory where the new root resides.

First, mount the temporary api filesystems:

# cd /location/of/new/root
# mount -t proc proc proc/
# mount --rbind /sys sys/
# mount --rbind /dev dev/

And optionally:

# mount --rbind /run run/

Next, in order to use an internet connection in the chroot environment copy over the DNS details:

# cp /etc/resolv.conf etc/resolv.conf

Finally, to change root into /location/of/new/root using a bash shell:

# chroot /location/of/new/root /bin/bash
Note: If you see the error:
  • chroot: cannot run command '/usr/bin/bash': Exec format error, it is likely that the architectures of the host environment and chroot environment do not match.
  • chroot: '/usr/bin/bash': permission denied, remount with the exec permission: mount -o remount,exec /mnt/arch.

After chrooting it may be necessary to load the local bash configuration:

# source /etc/profile
# source ~/.bashrc
Tip: Optionally, create a unique prompt to be able to differentiate your chroot environment:
# export PS1="(chroot) $PS1"

When finished with the chroot, you can exit it via:

# exit

Then unmount the temporary file systems:

# cd /
# umount --recursive /location/of/new/root
Note: If there is an error mentioning something like: umount: /path: device is busy this usually means that either: a program (even a shell) was left running in the chroot or that a sub-mount still exists. Quit the program and use mount to find and umount sub-mounts). It may be tricky to umount some things and one can hopefully have umount --force work, as a last resort use umount --lazy which just releases them. In either case to be safe, reboot as soon as possible if these are unresolved to avoid future, possible conflicts.

Run graphical applications from chroot

If you have an X server running on your system, you can start graphical applications from the chroot environment.

To allow the chroot environment to connect to an X server, open a virtual terminal inside the X server (i.e. inside the desktop of the user that is currently logged in), then run the xhost command, which gives permission to anyone to connect to the user's X server:

$ xhost +local:

Then, to direct the applications to the X server from chroot, set the DISPLAY environment variable inside the chroot to match the DISPLAY variable of the user that owns the X server. So for example, run

$ echo $DISPLAY

as the user that owns the X server to see the value of DISPLAY. If the value is ":0" (for example), then in the chroot environment run

# export DISPLAY=:0

Without root privileges

Chroot requires root privileges, which may not be desirable or possible for the user to obtain in certain situations. There are, however, various ways to simulate chroot-like behavior using alternative implementations.


Proot may be used to change the apparent root directory and use mount --bind without root privileges. This is useful for confining applications to a single directory or running programs built for a different CPU architecture, but it has limitations due to the fact that all files are owned by the user on the host system. Proot provides a --root-id argument that can be used as a workaround for some of these limitations in a similar (albeit more limited) manner to fakeroot.


fakechroot is a library shim which intercepts the chroot call and fakes the results. It can be used in conjunction with fakeroot to simulate a chroot as a regular user.

# fakechroot fakeroot chroot ~/my-chroot bash

See also