Cisco IOS Mode Explained with Examples

This tutorial explains Cisco IOS modes (User EXEC Mode, Privileged EXEC Mode, Global Configuration Mode, Interface Configuration Mode, Sub Interface Configuration Mode, Setup Mode and ROM Monitor Mode) and commands to navigate between IOS modes in detail with examples.

Cisco IOS is the proprietary operating system for Cisco devices. IOS provides group of commands used for monitoring, configuring and maintaining cisco devices. For security and easy administration, IOS commands are divided in the set of different command modes. Each command mode has its own set of commands. Which commands are available to use, depend upon the mode you are in.

CLI ( command-line interface) is the primary user interface used for connecting Cisco devices. Although new devices support web interface for management, still you need to be fluent at command prompt. CLI allows you to directly execute IOS commands, whether using a router console or terminal or using remote access methods.

This tutorial is second part of our article “Cisco Internetworking Operating System (IOS) Explained with Examples”. Other parts of this article are available here.

Cisco IOS Naming Convention Explained with Examples

This tutorial is first part of this article. In this part, I explained naming convention used in Cisco IOS. Cisco IOS name contains a lot of information about IOS such as features, type, version, platform, compression and location.

Cisco IOS Context Sensitive Help Features Explained

This tutorial is third part of this article. In this part, I will explain How to get help in Cisco IOS in detail with examples. Knowing how get help will make your job easier as Cisco IOS includes thousands of commands with numbers of switches and parameters.

Cisco IOS Backup and Restore Process Step By Step Guide

This tutorial is last part of this article. In this part, I will explain how to take backup of Cisco IOS step by step. Later I will explain how to restore IOS from backup to deal with unwanted situations.

Cisco IOS Mode

Cisco IOS supports various command modes, among those following modes are the highly tested in CCNA level exam.

  • User EXEC Mode
  • Privileged EXEC Mode
  • Global Configuration Mode
  • Interface Configuration Mode
  • Sub Interface Configuration Mode
  • Setup Mode
  • ROM Monitor Mode

We need to execute specific commands to navigate from one mode to another. Following section describe IOS command modes with specific navigation commands in details.

User EXEC Mode

This is the primary mode when you logged in router. On job environment, it is usually password protected. You need a valid username and password to access this mode. You have three chances to enter a valid password, before connection attempt is refused. On LAB environment, you could access this mode directly ( unless you have configured it for password).

Cisco IOS Mode User Exec Mode

User Exec Mode Command Prompt

By default, it consists device hostname followed by a greater than sign. For router default hostname is Router. For switch default hostname is Switch.

Cisco IOS command prompt

Default hostname can be changed from global configuration mode using hostname command.

User exec mode is the subset of privileged exec mode. For security purposes, this mode is reserved for tasks that do not change the configuration of router. It has limited commands those allow you to connect to remote devices, change terminal line settings on a temporary basis, perform basic tests and list system information.

Enter? at command prompt to list all available commands on this mode.

User exec mode commands

Privileged Exec Mode

Privileged exec mode is the main exec mode. Same as user exec mode on job environment, this mode is also password protected. You have to enter the password to access this mode. In lab environment, it's usually unprotected. You can access this mode by executing enable command at user exec mode.

Cisco IOS mode privileged mode

Most commands of this mode are one time commands, like show or clear commands, which show current configuration status and clear counters on interfaces respectively. You can list all available commands of this mode by entering ? at command prompt.

This mode has all commands available for exec mode including user exec mode.

Common commands can be entered either from user exec mode or privileged exec mode.

Exec mode commands are not saved across the reboot of device.

Global Configuration Mode

Global configuration mode is the next access level in IOS mode sequence. This mode is used to configure device globally, or to enter in element like interface, protocols specific configuration mode. Use configure terminal command at privileged exec mode to access global configuration mode.

Cisco IOS Global Configuation Mode

Global configuration mode and element specific configuration mode allow you to make change in running configuration. By default running configuration is not stored across the reboot, but you can save running configuration to preserve it across the reboot. To save running configuration use copy running-config startup-config from privileged EXEC mode commands.

To return in privileged exec mode from global configuration mode or element specific configuration mode we have three commands.

  • Ctrl + Z ( Press CTRL key with Z Key)
  • exit
  • end

Ctrl+Z key combination will work in all mode. But it has a drawback, if you pressed Ctrl+Z at the end of a command line in which a valid command has been typed, that command will be added in the running configuration file.

exit command only works in global configuration mode.

end command is the safest way to exit from global configuration mode or interface specific mode. It will always take you back in privileged EXEC mode regardless of which configuration mode or configuration sub-mode you are in.

Interface configuration mode

Interface configuration mode is used to configure interface related settings. Many settings are enabled on a per-interface basis like as serial port, Ethernet. Interface configuration commands affect interface related settings, such as enable or disable interface, bandwidth, clock rate etc. To configure or change these setting, you need to enter in interface specific mode. To access interface configuration mode use following command.

Router(config)# interface type number

Interface configuration mode

For example, to configure first serial port on 1841 series router we would use following command

Router(config)#interface serial 0/0/0

Sub Interface Configuration Mode

If interface supports virtualization, then sub interface mode is used to configure the virtual interface. From sub interface configuration mode you can configure multiple virtual interfaces known as sub interface on a single physical interface. On router usually virtual interfaces are used for wan connection such as Frame Relay. Frame Relay connection supports multiple point-to-point links known as PVC ( Permanent virtual circuits). PVC can be combined under the separate sub interfaces those are configured on a single physical interface. Another example of sub interface is VLAN communication, where we create sub interface on physical FastEthernet port for each VLAN. To access sub interface configuration mode run following command from interface configuration mode.

Router(config-if)# interface type number

Cisco IOS Sub Interface configuration mode

In above example fastethernet 0/0.1 is the virtual interface ( sub interface ) of physical interface fastethernet 0/0.

Setup Mode

At the end of booting process, router tries to locate running configuration. If it finds the configuration, it would load that. If it fails to find valid configuration, it would initiate the setup mode. In Setup Mode router will ask you questions about the initial settings in a sequence for basic configuration values. Depending on answers provided by you, router will automatically build initial configuration.

Cisco IOS Setup mode

Router will enter in setup mode only if it does not find the valid configuration.


During the boot process, router loads IOS image in RAM. If it does not find a valid IOS image, it would enter in ROMMON mode. You can manually enter in this mode by interrupting boot sequence during the startup. This mode is used for diagnostic purpose. By default router does not enter in this mode unless it completely fail to locate the IOS image. To manually enter in this mode, execute reload command from privileged exec mode and then press CTRL + C key combination during the first 60 seconds of startup.

Cisco IOS Rommon mode

Cisco IOS mode summary

Mode PurposePrompt Command to enterCommand to exit
User EXECAllow you to connect with remote devices, perform basic tests, temporary change terminal setting and list system information Router > Default mode after booting. Login with password, if configured. Use exit command
Privileged EXEC Allow you to set operating parameters. It also includes high level testing and list commands like show, copy and debug. Router # Use enable command from user exec mode Use exit command
Global Configuration Contain commands those affect the entire system Router(config)# Use configure terminal command from privileged exec mode Use exit command
Interface Configuration Contain commands those modify the operation of an interface Router(config-if)# Use interface type number command from global configuration mode Use exit command to return in global configuration mode
Sub-Interface Configuration Configure or modify the virtual interface created from physical interface Router(config-subif) Use interface type sub interface number command from global configuration mode or interface configure mode Use exit to return in previous mode. Use end command to return in privileged exec mode.
Setup Used by router to create initial configuration, if running configuration is not present Parameter[Parameter value]: Router will automatically insert in this mode if running configuration is not present Press CTRL+C to abort. Type Yes to save configuration, or No to exit without saving when asked in the end of setup.
ROMMON If router automatically enter in this mode, then it indicates that it fails to locate a valid IOS image. Manual entrance in this mode Allow you to perform low-level diagnostics. ROMMON> Enter reload command from privileged exec mode. Press CTRL + C key combination during the first 60 seconds of booting process Use exit command.
  • IOS commands are not case sensitive; you can enter them in uppercase, lowercase or even in mixed case.
  • Password is case sensitive. Make sure you type it in correct case.
  • In any mode, you can obtain a list of commands available on that mode by entering a question mark (?).
  • Standard order of accessing mode is
  • User Exec mode => Privileged Exec mode => Global Configuration mode => Interface Configuration mode => Sub Interface Configuration mode
  • Router will enter in setup mode only if it fails to load a valid running configuration.
  • Router will enter in ROMMON mode only if it fails to load a valid IOS image file.
  • You can manually enter in ROMMON mode for diagnostics purpose.

That’s all for this part. In next part I will explain how to get help in IOS.


ComputerNetworkingNotes CCNA Study Guide Cisco IOS Mode Explained with Examples