If you fire up a partitioning tool and point it at your hard disk drive, it’s quite probable you will see a small boot partition before everything else. It may only eat up a tiny fraction of your hard disk drive and not appear when actively using the computer. Is that partition essential? Can you delete it? Read on to find the answers to whether you need a dedicated boot partition on your Linux installation.
What is the boot partition?
Usually found in older installations of Linux and hidden from sight, the boot partition contains the basics needed to boot the operating system.
When your computer boots up, it will access the boot partition for the necessary files to load the operating system.
How is the boot partition used?
There are two different approaches to how the boot partition is used, depending on the operating system you are using.
In Linux, the boot partition contains files like the kernel itself, which is the operating system’s ticking heart and brain. It’s also where you will find
initrd, which loads a temporary root system in the computer’s memory, and GRUB, the bootloader that loads the operating system.
In the past, the boot and the 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 that ran parallel. For the same reason, you can also set up a separate home partition for your files.
The primary reason for the boot partition’s existence, though, was to sidestep restrictions in older BIOS 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 to that.
Nowadays, newer BIOS and their replacement, UEFI, don’t have that restriction. On top of that, most people use a single 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 acts as both a boot and system partition.
Microsoft Windows followed a different path where the reverse is true. In older versions of Windows, everything was contained in a single partition. Since Windows 7, when the BitLocker encryption feature was introduced, Windows may use two different individual partitions: an encrypted one, which contains the actual operating system, and an unencrypted one, which loads it up.
Do I still need a boot partition in Linux?
If you are using a relatively new Linux distribution, you usually don’t need a separate boot partition. The system partition can play both roles, containing everything needed to load and use your operating system.
In multi-boot setups, though, with multiple operating systems installed in the same hard disk drive, the boot partition is where the initial bootloader resides. When it loads, it allows you to choose which operating system you would like to fire up.
It’s worth noting that, just like with Windows and BitLocker, if you’re using an encrypted file system for your Linux-based operating system, or other complicated storage schemes like LVM or software RAID, you may still need a separate boot partition.
Note, though, that if a boot partition already exists in your HDD, even if you are using a single, modern version of Linux, you shouldn’t try to delete it. It’s probably not a useless remnant from a previous installation, as if it were, your current operating system would have removed it during its installation. Instead, it’s probably used as its loader, too. If you remove it, you won’t be able to get into your operating system anymore. To fix such a problem, you would either have to recover the partition using specialized tools or recreate it from scratch.
If you’d like to move to a simpler, single partition scheme, you would have to back up everything in your current operating system, then erase your hard disk drive and reinstall your OS from scratch, this time using a single partition for everything. The last step would be to restore your precious data from your backup.
Alternatively, you can also split your Linux installation into various partitions. Check out the Linux partition schemes for more information. Also, learn how you can encrypt your partition in Linux.