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 * manpages : [[http://manpages.debian.net/man/5/inittab|inittab]],[[http://manpages.debian.net/man/8/init|init]],[[http://manpages.debian.net/man/5/rcS|rcS]], [[http://manpages.debian.net/cgi-bin/man.cgi?query=update-rc.d&format=html&locale=en|update-rc.d]], [[http://manpages.debian.net/man/8/runlevel|runlevel]].  * manpages : [[DebianMan:5/inittab|inittab]],[[DebianMan:8/init|init]],[[DebianMan:5/rcS|rcS]], [[DebianMan:8/update-rc.d|update-rc.d]], [[DebianMan:8/runlevel|runlevel]].

http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/reference/ - Debian Reference's runlevels section

The groups of processes or working modes of a Linux which are started by ?init are controlled by the 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. Runlevel 1 is also single user mode.

I.e. Debian has seven runlevels (0-6).

 0 (halt the system) 
 1 (single-user mode), 
 2 through 5 (multiuser modes), and 
 6 (reboot the system). 

Each runlevel designates a different system configuration (/etc/rc[0-6S].d/) and allows access to different processes.

Your system starts with the runlevel specified in /etc/inittab (which can be overridden at boot time, with kernel parameter).

See :