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[http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/reference/ch-system.en.html#s-runlevels 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 :