Ubuntu 18.04 remove all unused old kernels

How do I remove all unused old kernels in Ubuntu Linux 18.04/20.04 LTS using the command line?

Over time you get many Linux kernel packages installed on Ubuntu Linux 16.04 or 18.04 LTS server. All unused Linux kernel takes disk space on Ubuntu server, hence you must delete them from the system. This page shows you how to remove old kernels from an Ubuntu server install. The following commands works with Ubuntu 18.04 and 20.04 LTS server or desktop systems.

Ubuntu 18.04 remove kernel that is not used

The procedure to delete all unused old kernels on Ubuntu Linux version 18.04 and 20.04 LTS is as follows:

  1. First, boot into a new kernel
  2. List all other older kernel using the dpkg command
  3. Note down system disk space usage by running the df -H command
  4. Delete all unused old kernels, run: sudo apt --purge autoremove
  5. Verify it

How to list all installed Linux kernel

Simply type the following dpkg command along with egrp command:
sudo dpkg --list | egrep -i --color 'linux-image|linux-headers'

Listing old kernel for removal purpose

One can count kernel image that are installed on your system using the wc command:
sudo dpkg --list | egrep -i --color 'linux-image|linux-headers' | wc -l
Sample outputs:

Also note down the amount of disk space available on the file system by typing the following df command:
df -H

Total 9.3G disk space used on my cloud server

How to remove old kernel versions on Ubuntu 18.04 or above

Type the following apt command or apt-get command:
sudo apt --purge autoremove
sudo apt-get --purge autoremove

The above commands only work on newer systems as all old Linux kernels and headers automatically flagged as no more needed, and thus can be purged.

Dealing with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and older

First, get list of currently running Linux kernel, run:
v="$(uname -r | awk -F '-virtual' '{ print $1}')"
echo "$v"

Sample outputs:


Next, I am going to create a list that tells not to delete currently running Linux kernel as follows:
i="linux-headers-virtual|linux-image-virtual|linux-headers-generic-hwe-|linux-image-generic-hwe-|linux-headers-${v}|linux-image-$(uname -r)|linux-image-generic|linux-headers-generic"
echo "$i"

Sample outputs (the following kernel I am going to keep on my systems):


Here is a list of the kernel that needs to be deleted:
dpkg --list | egrep -i 'linux-image|linux-headers' | awk '/ii/{ print $2}' | egrep -v "$i"
Sample outputs:


How to delete old kernels in Ubuntu

Finally, I am going to delete all unwated and older Linux kernels on my Ubuntu Linux 16.04 LTS server, run:
$ sudo -i
# apt-get --purge remove $(dpkg --list | egrep -i 'linux-image|linux-headers' | awk '/ii/{ print $2}' | egrep -v "$i")


Again run the df command:
df -H
Sample outputs:

Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
udev            1.1G     0  1.1G   0% /dev
tmpfs           210M  6.0M  204M   3% /run
/dev/vda1        42G  6.7G   35G  17% /
tmpfs           1.1G     0  1.1G   0% /dev/shm
tmpfs           5.3M     0  5.3M   0% /run/lock
tmpfs           1.1G     0  1.1G   0% /sys/fs/cgroup
tmpfs           103k     0  103k   0% /var/lib/lxd/shmounts
tmpfs           103k     0  103k   0% /var/lib/lxd/devlxd
tmpfs           210M     0  210M   0% /run/user/0

Now I have used 6.7G disk space as compared 9.3G before deleting kernels. In other words, I gained 2G disk free space.

Removing old kernels using GUI software updater tool

Ubuntu comes with graphical management of software packages updates called update-manager. It is a frontend for the apt command package management system. Start update manger from GUI or open the terminal app, then type:
Make sure you select an option called “Unused kernel updates to be removed” > click on the Install Now button:

Naturally, the GUI method works on the Ubuntu desktop. Server users need to stick with the CLI method.


And there you have it. You successfully removed old kernel and header packages from the Ubuntu Linux system. On really older Ubuntu system, we had a command named purge-old-kernels but t is now deprecated. Hence, you must use the apt/apt-get.

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3 comments… add one
  • Anonymous Sep 21, 2020 @ 16:43

    I tested this on a system running Ubuntu 20.04, 19.04, 18.04, and 16.04. It worked on all of them. Why they are not removing kernels by default?

  • Gene Cooperman Oct 27, 2020 @ 17:25

    You wrote ‘sudo apt-get --purge ...‘. I think you meant ‘sudo apt-get purge ...

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Oct 28, 2020 @ 5:02

      No syntax is correct. It is is equivalent to the purge command for autoremove option. The apt-get accepts both syntax:

      sudo apt-get --purge autoremoe # valid for 'autoremove'
      sudo apt-get purge autoremoe # this will not work for 'autoremove'
      sudo apt-get purge pkg1 # valid for remvoing 'pkg1' including removal of config files 

      Hope this helps. See man page:

      man apt-get

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