A live CD or live DVD is a complete bootable Linux operating system loaded from a CD or DVD. Although there are a lots of live Linux CDs, for seemingly every taste and purpose, it might still be useful on occasion to build your own. This guide details the steps to build a bootable live CD/DVD based on Debian “wheezy”.
Step 1 – Installing the necessary software
These are the software packages you need to install on your Debian system:
# apt-get install xorriso live-build syslinux squashfs-tools
Step 2 – Create a basic filesystem
Start by creating a new work directory, and bring in a basic Debian filesystem using debootstrap. Depending on your network connection, it will take some time downloading all the necessary packages:
# mkdir ~/livework && cd ~/livework # debootstrap --arch=amd64 wheezy chroot
The new filesystem was created in ~/livework/chroot directory. It is time to chroot into the new filesystem and finish the installation.
Step 3 – chroot
# cd ~/livework # chroot chroot # mount none -t proc /proc # mount none -t sysfs /sys # mount none -t devpts /dev/pts # export HOME=/root # export LC_ALL=C # export PS1="\e[01;31m(live):\W \$ \e[00m"
In chroot you need to bring in a Linux kernel and the necessary livecd packages. You can also set up a root password:
(live):/ $ apt-get install dialog dbus (live):/ $ dbus-uuidgen > /var/lib/dbus/machine-id (live):/ $ apt-get install linux-image-amd64 live-boot (live):/ $ passwd
This is a very basic Debian system. On top of it you can install packages such as vim and ssh (apt-get install vim ssh), a desktop environment (apt-get install lxde), a web browser (apt-get install iceweasel) etc. When you are done, cleanup apt caches and exit chroot.
(live):/ $ apt-get clean (live):/ $ rm /var/lib/dbus/machine-id && rm -rf /tmp/* (live):/ $ umount /proc /sys /dev/pts (live):/ $ exit
Step 4 – ISOLINUX
The CD/DVD image is set up using ISOLINUX. Start by creating a new directory, binary, containing the Linux kernel, a compressed copy of chroot, and isolinux executables:
# cd ~/livework # mkdir -p binary/live && mkdir -p binary/isolinux # cp chroot/boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-4-amd64 binary/live/vmlinuz # cp chroot/boot/initrd.img-3.2.0-4-amd64 binary/live/initrd # mksquashfs chroot binary/live/filesystem.squashfs -comp xz -e boot # cp /usr/lib/syslinux/isolinux.bin binary/isolinux/. # cp /usr/lib/syslinux/menu.c32 binary/isolinux/.
Next, an isolinux config file is created:
# cat binary/isolinux/isolinux.cfg ui menu.c32 prompt 0 menu title Boot Menu timeout 300 label live-amd64 menu label ^Live (amd64) menu default linux /live/vmlinuz append initrd=/live/initrd boot=live persistence quiet label live-amd64-failsafe menu label ^Live (amd64 failsafe) linux /live/vmlinuz append initrd=/live/initrd boot=live persistence config memtest noapic noapm nodma nomce nolapic nomodeset nosmp nosplash vga=normal endtext
Step 5 – Building the iso image
I use GNU xorriso to build the final iso image. It creates an isohybrid image that can be transferred to a USB stick using dd command.
# cd ~/livework # xorriso -as mkisofs -r -J -joliet-long -l -cache-inodes \ -isohybrid-mbr /usr/lib/syslinux/isohdpfx.bin -partition_offset 16 \ -A "Debian Live" -b isolinux/isolinux.bin -c \ isolinux/boot.cat -no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 4 \ -boot-info-table -o remaster.iso binary
To quickly test the image use qemu (apt-get install qemu).
# qemu-system-x86_64 remaster.iso
Transferring the iso image to USB stick
As mentioned above, isohybrid images can be transferred to USB using dd command. To find out what device handles your USB stick you can use hwinfo (apt-get install hwinfo):
# hwinfo --disk --short disk: /dev/sda HDT722525DLAT80 /dev/sdb WDC WD800JB-00FM /dev/sdc Generic USB SD Reader /dev/sdd Generic USB CF Reader /dev/sde Generic USB SM Reader /dev/sdf Generic USB MS Reader /dev/sdg Lexar USB Flash Drive # dd if=remaster.iso of=/dev/sdg
Reboot your computer from the USB stick and you’ll be up and running in no time.
A few words about persistence
All iso images build using Debian’s live-boot package have the capability to autodetect a writable storage data area. This data will persist across multiple boot sessions on the same computer. To enable this feature, create a storage file named live-rw with a valid ext2 filesystem and place it on an existing hard drive partition on the computer you are booting:
# dd if=/dev/zero of=live-rw bs=100MB count=1 # /sbin/mkfs.ext2 -F live-rw # mv live-rw /.
In my case I’ve moved live-rw file on my Debian Linux partition. You can also put it on a NTFS partition, at boot time the software will find it and mount it.
The iso image in this example has a size of 92MB. It is a basic Debian system as created by debootstrap, with only the necessary livecd executables. From here it will grow as more packages are added and the image is personalized.
I have decided to document my steps in case anyone might find them useful. Please let me know if you run into problems, or if you have any questions or suggestions. I use these steps to build small network appliances, servers, and rescue disks, nothing important. I’ve never went as far as to build a full distribution.
If you are considering it for a more serious project, better try live-build. Debian team uses live-build to build the official Debian CDs. The tool is very powerful and highly configurable, and it goes well beyond what I’ve covered in this example.