According to Wikipedia, 'S' is supposed to be a standard runlevel: "Single-User Mode". But if I'm not mistaken, the Single-User mode on Debian is Runlevel 1. One Debian article I found claims, that 'S' is a runlevel "that the system uses on it's way to another runlevel". Interesting...

Actually, I had always pretty much ignored this runlevel so far, but today I played around with Firestarter (yes, really, an end-user firewall) just because I was curious, which firewall rules it would generate. But then I noticed, that it creates a startup hook in /etc/rcS.d, and I wondered, if my firewall script should maybe have that, too?


Now I'm even more interested in knowing what it actually is on Debian/Ubuntu, because the Shorewall package (which is a strongly "Debianized" package) also creates its (only!) startup hook in rcS.d!

5 Answers 5


All the above seem to skirt round a direct answer to the question asked.

From all I can find, the rcS.d scripts are implemented as is the S stood for "startup" not "single".

They are all run during boot. If you then want to use run level 1, the scripts in rc1.d are run ( which may well be pretty empty, given all the work we just did in rcS )

More to the point, the rcS scripts are run on the way to rc3 - so effectively the system places itself in single-user mode, then has a re-think and decides what it REALLY ought to be doing. Very confusing and mostly ill-documented.

As proof, if you examine /etc/inittab, you find:

 # Boot-time system configuration/initialization script.<br>
 # This is run first except when booting in emergency (-b) mode.

followed later by many lines resembling:

l3:3:wait:/etc/init.d/rc 3

I look at the runlevels in this way:

 S - true single user mode usually drops you into a minimal root shell
 1 - Administrative mode, you get a standard login request before access
 2 - Multi-user without TCP/IP networking -- could use serial ports for other logins
 3 - Multi-user with TCP/IP networking and text 
 4 - To be determined by the system owner
 5 - Multi-User with TCP/IP networking and graphic console 
 6 - reboot
 0 - shutdown and power down

Thus, a firewall is really needed if TCP/IP is up and running and that generally happens only in Init State 3.

  • 1
    This whole runlevel concept is a legacy thing from the past. Nowadays it is usually single user mode (for maintenance) and some other normal mode (like 2 or 5 depending on the distro) is used. I do not really see a use case for anything else.
    – cstamas
    Jul 14, 2011 at 20:55
  • Actually worse yet, the newest distributions are doing away with run levels all together (currently being support as legacy matters) and going to named states with dependancies under them (see Fedora 15).
    – mdpc
    Jul 14, 2011 at 23:07

Runlevel 1 is also known as runlevel s.

In Debian based systems this is the single-user / minimal mode. See Debian Runlevel:

The runlevel is a digit from 0 to 6 or the letter S. Runlevels 0, 6 and S are reserved for shutdown, reboot and single user mode respectively.


S is for single user mode.


  • So if a script only has a startup hook in runlevel S (like e.g. Shorewall), and I boot to runlevel '2', will the boot sequence start the script? Jul 15, 2011 at 16:30
  • In Linux, if your default state (as described in /etc/inittab) is N then unlike UNIX, only the 'S' items in /etc/rc.d/rcN.d (this location may vary dependent on Linux distribution) will be executed during startup, no other init directory will be used.
    – mdpc
    Jul 15, 2011 at 17:22
  • You typically set your default runlevel in inittab. The numbers increment. So, for your example, if your init is configured in S only that is the same as runlevel 1. On boot, your system will start at runlevel 1 and increase running all init scripts for that level, then increment the runlevel and repeat until it gets to the default runlevel specified in inittab. Here that's two. So whatever was configured to turn on in either 1 or 2 will be on.
    – dmourati
    Jul 15, 2011 at 18:20
  • 1
    Please note, that my question is specific to Debian/Ubuntu! I just tried the following: I put a simple script in /etc/rcS.d and /etc/rc2.d, each writing a short message (with a timestamp) to a logfile. Result: After boot, I have a log message for rcS, and 5 seconds later a log message for rc2. Jul 15, 2011 at 19:15
  • To change the default runlevel the system will boot into, modify the variable DEFAULT_RUNLEVEL in file /etc/init/rc-sysinit.conf. For example, to make the system boot by default to single user mode, set: env DEFAULT_RUNLEVEL=1
    – dmourati
    Jul 15, 2011 at 21:02

In addition to the answer provided by mdpc, In run level 1, no daemons (services) are started.

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