Rights: Copyright ©  2006-2021 Debian Live Project;
License: This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program. If not, see https://www.gnu.org/licenses/.

The complete text of the GNU General Public License can be found in /usr/share/common-licenses/GPL-3 file.

Debian Live Manual


1. About this manual

1.1 For the impatient
1.2 Terms
1.3 Authors
1.4 Contributing to this document
1.4.1 Applying changes
1.4.2 Translation

2. About the Debian Live Project

2.1 Motivation
2.1.1 What is wrong with current live systems
2.1.2 Why create our own live system?
2.2 Philosophy
2.2.1 Only unchanged packages from Debian "main"
2.2.2 No package configuration of the live system
2.3 Contact


3. Installation

3.1 Requirements
3.2 Installing live-build
3.2.1 From the Debian repository
3.2.2 From source
3.2.3 From 'snapshots'
3.3 Installing live-boot and live-config
3.3.1 From the Debian repository
3.3.2 From source
3.3.3 From 'snapshots'

4. The basics

4.1 What is a live system?
4.2 Downloading prebuilt images
4.3 Using the web live image builder
4.3.1 Web builder usage and caveats
4.4 First steps: building an ISO hybrid image
4.5 Using an ISO hybrid live image
4.5.1 Burning an ISO image to a physical medium
4.5.2 Copying an ISO hybrid image to a USB stick
4.5.3 Using the space left on a USB stick
4.5.4 Booting the live medium
4.6 Using a virtual machine for testing
4.6.1 Testing an ISO image with QEMU
4.6.2 Testing an ISO image with virtualbox
4.7 Building and using an HDD image
4.8 Building a netboot image
4.8.1 DHCP server
4.8.2 TFTP server
4.8.3 NFS server
4.8.4 Netboot testing HowTo
4.8.5 Qemu

5. Overview of tools

5.1 The live-build package
5.1.1 The lb config command
5.1.2 The lb build command
5.1.3 The lb clean command
5.2 The live-boot package
5.3 The live-config package

6. Managing a configuration

6.1 Dealing with configuration changes
6.1.1 Why use auto scripts? What do they do?
6.1.2 Use example auto scripts
6.2 Clone a configuration published via Git

7. Customization overview

7.1 Build time vs. boot time configuration
7.2 Stages of the build
7.3 Supplement lb config with files
7.4 Customization tasks

8. Customizing package installation

8.1 Package sources
8.1.1 Distribution, archive areas and mode
8.1.2 Distribution mirrors
8.1.3 Distribution mirrors used at build time
8.1.4 Distribution mirrors used at run time
8.1.5 Additional repositories
8.2 Choosing packages to install
8.2.1 Package lists
8.2.2 Using metapackages
8.2.3 Local package lists
8.2.4 Local binary package lists
8.2.5 Generated package lists
8.2.6 Using conditionals inside package lists
8.2.7 Desktop and language tasks
8.2.8 Kernel flavour and version
8.2.9 Custom kernels
8.3 Installing modified or third-party packages
8.3.1 Using packages.chroot to install custom packages
8.3.2 Using an APT repository to install custom packages
8.3.3 Custom packages and APT
8.4 Configuring APT at build time
8.4.1 Choosing apt or aptitude
8.4.2 Using a proxy with APT
8.4.3 Tweaking APT to save space
8.4.4 Passing options to apt or aptitude
8.4.5 APT pinning

9. Customizing contents

9.1 Includes
9.1.1 Live/chroot local includes
9.1.2 Binary local includes
9.2 Hooks
9.2.1 Live/chroot local hooks
9.2.2 Boot-time hooks
9.2.3 Binary local hooks
9.3 Preseeding Debconf questions

10. Customizing run time behaviours

10.1 Customizing the live user
10.2 Customizing locale and language
10.3 Persistence
10.3.1 The persistence.conf file
10.3.2 Using more than one persistence store

11. Customizing the binary image

11.1 Bootloader
11.2 ISO metadata

12. Customizing Debian Installer

12.1 Types of Debian Installer
12.2 Customizing Debian Installer by preseeding
12.3 Customizing Debian Installer content


13. Contributing to the project

13.1 Making changes

14. Reporting bugs

14.1 Known issues
14.2 Rebuild from scratch
14.3 Use up-to-date packages
14.4 Collect information
14.5 Isolate the failing case if possible
14.6 Use the correct package to report the bug against
14.6.1 At build time while bootstrapping
14.6.2 At build time while installing packages
14.6.3 At boot time
14.6.4 At run time
14.7 Do the research
14.8 Where to report bugs

15. Coding Style

15.1 Compatibility
15.2 Indenting
15.3 Wrapping
15.4 Variables
15.5 Miscellaneous

16. Procedures

16.1 Major Releases
16.2 Point Releases
16.2.1 Last Point Release of a Debian Release
16.2.2 Point release announcement template

17. Git repositories

17.1 Handling multiple repositories


18. Examples

18.1 Using the examples
18.2 Tutorial 1: A default image
18.3 Tutorial 2: A web browser utility
18.4 Tutorial 3: A personalized image
18.4.1 First revision
18.4.2 Second revision
18.5 A VNC Kiosk Client
18.6 A base image for a 128MB USB key
18.7 A localized GNOME desktop and installer


18.8 Guidelines for authors
18.8.1 Linguistic features
18.8.2 Procedures
18.9 Guidelines for translators
18.9.1 Translation hints

Debian Live Manual


1. About this manual

This manual serves as a single access point to all documentation related to the Debian Live project and in particular applies to the software produced by the project for the Debian 7.0 "wheezy" release. An up-to-date version can always be found at ‹http://live.debian.net/

While live-manual is primarily focused on helping you build a live system and not on end-user topics, an end-user may find some useful information in these sections: The Basics covers downloading prebuilt images and preparing images to be booted from media or the network, either using the web builder or running live-build directly on your system. Customizing run time behaviours describes some options that may be specified at the boot prompt, such as selecting a keyboard layout and locale, and using persistence.

Some of the commands mentioned in the text must be executed with superuser privileges which can be obtained by becoming the root user via su or by using sudo. To distinguish between commands which may be executed by an unprivileged user and those requiring superuser privileges, commands are prepended by $ or # respectively. This symbol is not a part of the command.

1.1 For the impatient

While we believe that everything in this manual is important to at least some of our users, we realize it is a lot of material to cover and that you may wish to experience early success using the software before delving into the details. Therefore, we suggest reading in the following order.

First, read this chapter, About this manual, from the beginning and ending with the Terms section. Next, skip to the three tutorials at the front of the Examples section designed to teach you image building and customization basics. Read Using the examples first, followed by Tutorial 1: A default image, Tutorial 2: A web browser utility and finally Tutorial 3: A personalized image. By the end of these tutorials, you will have a taste of what can be done with Debian Live.

We encourage you to return to more in-depth study of the manual, perhaps next reading The basics, skimming or skipping Building a netboot image, and finishing by reading the Customization overview and the chapters that follow it. By this point, we hope you are thoroughly excited by what can be done with Debian Live and motivated to read the rest of the manual, cover-to-cover.

1.2 Terms
  • Live system: An operating system that can boot without installation to a hard drive. Live systems do not alter local operating system(s) or file(s) already installed on the computer hard drive unless instructed to do so. Live systems are typically booted from media such as CDs, DVDs or USB sticks. Some may also boot over the network.
  • Live medium: As distinct from live system, the live medium refers to the CD, DVD or USB stick where the binary produced by live-build and used to boot the live system is written. More broadly, the term also refers to any place where this binary resides for the purposes of booting the live system, such as the location for the network boot files.
  • Debian Live: The Debian sub-project which maintains, among others, the live-boot, live-build, live-config, live-tools and live-manual packages.
  • Debian Live system: A live system that uses software from the Debian operating system that may be booted from CDs, DVDs, USB sticks, over the network (via netboot images), and over the Internet (via boot parameter fetch=URL).
  • Host system: The environment used to create the live system.
  • Target system: The environment used to run the live system.
  • live-boot: A collection of scripts used to boot live systems.
  • live-build: A collection of scripts used to build customized Debian Live systems.
  • live-config: A collection of scripts used to configure a live system during the boot process.
  • live-tools: A collection of additional scripts used to perform useful tasks within a running live system.
  • live-manual: This document is maintained in a package called live-manual.
  • Debian Installer (d-i): The official installation system for the Debian distribution.
  • Boot parameters: Parameters that can be entered at the bootloader prompt to influence the kernel or live-config.
  • chroot: The chroot program, chroot(8), enables us to run different instances of the GNU/Linux environment on a single system simultaneously without rebooting.
  • Binary image: A file containing the live system, such as binary.iso or binary.img.
  • Target distribution: The distribution upon which your live system will be based. This can differ from the distribution of your host system.
  • stable/testing/unstable: The stable distribution contains the latest officially released distribution of Debian. The testing distribution is the staging area for the next stable release. A major advantage of using this distribution is that it has more recent versions of software relative to the stable release. The unstable distribution is where active development of Debian occurs. Generally, this distribution is run by developers and those who like to live on the edge. Throughout the manual, we tend to use codenames for the releases, such as wheezy or sid, as that is what is supported by the tools themselves.
  • 1.3 Authors

    A list of authors (in alphabetical order):

  • Ben Armstrong
  • Brendan Sleight
  • Carlos Zuferri
  • Chris Lamb
  • Daniel Baumann
  • Franklin Piat
  • Jonas Stein
  • Kai Hendry
  • Marco Amadori
  • Mathieu Geli
  • Matthias Kirschner
  • Richard Nelson
  • Trent W. Buck
  • 1.4 Contributing to this document

    This manual is intended as a community project and all proposals for improvements and contributions are extremely welcome. Please see the section Contributing to the project for detailed information on how to fetch the commit key and make good commits.

    1.4.1 Applying changes

    In order to make changes to the English manual you have to edit the right files in manual/en/ but prior to the submission of your contribution, please preview your work. To preview the live-manual, ensure the packages needed for building it are installed by executing:

    # apt-get install make po4a ruby ruby-nokogiri sisu-complete texlive-generic-recommended

    You may build the live-manual from the top level directory of your Git checkout by executing:

    $ make build

    Since it takes a while to build the manual in all supported languages, you may find it convenient when proofing to build for only one language, e.g. by executing:

    $ make build LANGUAGES=en

    It is also possible to build by document type, e.g:

    $ make build FORMATS=pdf

    Or combine both, e.g:

    $ make build LANGUAGES=de FORMATS=html

    After revising your work and making sure that everything is fine, do not use make commit unless you are updating translations in the commit, and in that case, do not mix changes to the English manual and translations in the same commit, but use separate commits for each. See the Translation section for more details.

    1.4.2 Translation

    To start a translation for a new language, follow these steps:

  • Translate the about_manual.ssi.pot, about_project.ssi.pot and index.html.in.pot files to your language with your favourite editor (such as poedit) . Send the translated .po files to the mailing list so that the translation team can check their integrity.
  • To enable a new language in the autobuild it is enough to add the initial translated files to manual/po/${LANGUAGE}/ and run make commit. And then edit manual/_sisu/home/index.html.
  • Once the new language is added, you can randomly continue translating the remaining po files in manual/po/.
  • Don't forget that you need make commit to ensure the translated manuals are updated from the po files and then you can review your changes launching make build before git add ., git commit -m "Translating..." and git push.
  • After running make commit you will see some text scroll by. These are basically informative messages about the processing status and also some hints about what can be done in order to improve live-manual. Unless you see a fatal error, you usually can proceed and submit your contribution.

    live-manual comes with two utilities that can greatly help translators to find untranslated and changed strings. The first one is "make translate". It launches an script that tells you in detail how many untranslated strings there are in each po file. The second one, the "make fixfuzzy" target, only acts upon changed strings but it helps you to find and fix them one by one.

    Keep in mind that even though these utilities might be really helpful to do translation work on the command line, the use of an specialized tool like poedit is the recommended way to do the task. It is also a good idea to read the Debian localization (l10n) documentation and, specifically to live-manual, the Guidelines for translators.

    Note: You can use make clean to clean your git tree before pushing. This step is not compulsory thanks to the .gitignore file but it is a good practice to avoid committing files involuntarily.

    2. About the Debian Live Project

    2.1 Motivation
    2.1.1 What is wrong with current live systems

    When Debian Live was initiated, there were already several Debian based live systems available and they are doing a great job. From the Debian perspective most of them have one or more of the following disadvantages:

  • They are not Debian projects and therefore lack support from within Debian.
  • They mix different distributions, e.g. testing and unstable.
  • They support i386 only.
  • They modify the behaviour and/or appearance of packages by stripping them down to save space.
  • They include packages from outside of the Debian archive.
  • They ship custom kernels with additional patches that are not part of Debian.
  • They are large and slow due to their sheer size and thus not suitable for rescue issues.
  • They are not available in different flavours, e.g. CDs, DVDs, USB-stick and netboot images.
  • 2.1.2 Why create our own live system?

    Debian is the Universal Operating System: Debian has a live system to show around and to accurately represent the Debian system with the following main advantages:

  • It is a subproject of Debian.
  • It reflects the (current) state of one distribution.
  • It runs on as many architectures as possible.
  • It consists of unchanged Debian packages only.
  • It does not contain any packages that are not in the Debian archive.
  • It uses an unaltered Debian kernel with no additional patches.
  • 2.2 Philosophy
    2.2.1 Only unchanged packages from Debian "main"

    We will only use packages from the Debian repository in the "main" section. The non-free section is not part of Debian and therefore cannot be used for official live system images.

    We will not change any packages. Whenever we need to change something, we will do that in coordination with its package maintainer in Debian.

    As an exception, our own packages such as live-boot, live-build or live-config may temporarily be used from our own repository for development reasons (e.g. to create development snapshots). They will be uploaded to Debian on a regular basis.

    2.2.2 No package configuration of the live system

    In this phase we will not ship or install sample or alternative configurations. All packages are used in their default configuration as they are after a regular installation of Debian.

    Whenever we need a different default configuration, we will do that in coordination with its package maintainer in Debian.

    A system for configuring packages is provided using debconf allowing custom configured packages to be installed in your custom produced Debian Live images, but for the prebuilt live images we choose to leave packages in their default configuration, unless absolutely necessary in order to work in the live environment. Wherever possible, we prefer to adapt packages within the Debian archive to work better in a live system versus making changes to the live toolchain or prebuilt image configurations. For more information, please see Customization overview.

    2.3 Contact
  • Mailing list: The primary contact for the project is the mailing list at ‹https://lists.debian.org/debian-live/›. You can email the list directly by addressing your mail to ‹[email protected].› The list archives are available at ‹https://lists.debian.org/debian-live/›.
  • IRC: A number of users and developers are present in the #debian-live channel on irc.debian.org (OFTC). When asking a question on IRC, please be patient for an answer. If no answer is forthcoming, please email the mailing list.
  • BTS : The Debian Bug Tracking System (BTS) contains details of bugs reported by users and developers. Each bug is given a number, and is kept on file until it is marked as having been dealt with. For more information, please see Reporting bugs.
  • User

    3. Installation

    3.1 Requirements

    Building Debian Live images has very few system requirements:

  • Superuser (root) access
  • An up-to-date version of live-build
  • A POSIX-compliant shell, such as bash or dash
  • debootstrap or cdebootstrap
  • Linux 2.6 or newer.
  • Note that using Debian or a Debian-derived distribution is not required - live-build will run on almost any distribution with the above requirements.

    3.2 Installing live-build

    You can install live-build in a number of different ways:

  • From the Debian repository
  • From source
  • From snapshots
  • If you are using Debian, the recommended way is to install live-build via the Debian repository.

    3.2.1 From the Debian repository

    Simply install live-build like any other package:

    # apt-get install live-build

    3.2.2 From source

    live-build is developed using the Git version control system. On Debian based systems, this is provided by the git package. To check out the latest code, execute:

    $ git clone git://live.debian.net/git/live-build.git

    You can build and install your own Debian package by executing:

    $ cd live-build
    $ dpkg-buildpackage -b -uc -us
    $ cd ..

    Now install whichever of the freshly built .deb files you were interested in, e.g.

    # dpkg -i live-build_3.0-1_all.deb

    You can also install live-build directly to your system by executing:

    # make install

    and uninstall it with:

    # make uninstall

    3.2.3 From 'snapshots'

    If you do not wish to build or install live-build from source, you can use snapshots. These are built automatically from the latest version in Git and are available on ‹http://live.debian.net/debian/›.

    3.3 Installing live-boot and live-config

    Note: You do not need to install live-boot or live-config on your system to create customized Debian Live systems. However, doing so will do no harm and is useful for reference purposes. If you only want the documentation, you may now install the live-boot-doc and live-config-doc packages separately.

    3.3.1 From the Debian repository

    Both live-boot and live-config are available from the Debian repository as per Installing live-build.

    3.3.2 From source

    To use the latest source from git, you can follow the process below. Please ensure you are familiar with the terms mentioned in Terms.

  • Checkout the live-boot and live-config sources
  • $ git clone git://live.debian.net/git/live-boot.git
    $ git clone git://live.debian.net/git/live-config.git

    Consult the live-boot and live-config man pages for details on customizing if that is your reason for building these packages from source.

  • Build live-boot and live-config .deb files
  • You must build either on your target distribution or in a chroot containing your target platform: this means if your target is wheezy then you should build against wheezy.

    Use a personal builder such as pbuilder or sbuild if you need to build live-boot for a target distribution that differs from your build system. For example, for wheezy live images, build live-boot in a wheezy chroot. If your target distribution happens to match your build system distribution, you may build directly on the build system using dpkg-buildpackage (provided by the dpkg-dev package):

    $ cd live-boot
    $ dpkg-buildpackage -b -uc -us
    $ cd ../live-config
    $ dpkg-buildpackage -b -uc -us

  • Use applicable generated .deb files
  • As live-boot and live-config are installed by live-build system, installing the packages in the host system is not sufficient: you should treat the generated .deb files like any other custom packages. Since your purpose for building from source is like to test new things over the short term before the official release, follow Installing modified or third-party packages to temporarily include the relevant files in your configuration. In particular, notice that both packages are divided into a generic part, a documentation part and one or more back-ends. Include the generic part, only one back-end matching your configuration, and optionally the documentation. Assuming you are building a live image in the current directory and have generated all .deb files for a single version of both packages in the directory above, these bash commands would copy all of the relevant packages including default back-ends:

    $ cp ../live-boot{_,-initramfs-tools,-doc}*.deb  config/packages.chroot/
    $ cp ../live-config{_,-sysvinit,-doc}*.deb  config/packages.chroot/

    3.3.3 From 'snapshots'

    You can let live-build automatically use the latest snapshots of live-boot and live-config by configuring a third-party repository in your live-build configuration directory. Assuming you have already created a configuration tree in the current directory with lb config:

    $ lb config --archives live.debian.net

    4. The basics

    This chapter contains a brief overview of the build process and instructions for using the three most commonly used image types. The most versatile image type, iso-hybrid, may be used on a virtual machine, optical medium or USB portable storage device. In certain special cases, as explained later, the hdd type may be more suitable. The chapter finishes with instructions for building and using a netboot type image, which is a bit more involved due to the setup required on the server. This is an slightly advanced topic for anyone who is not familiar already with netbooting, but it is included here because once the setup is done, it is a very convenient way to test and deploy images for booting on the local network without the hassle of dealing with image media.

    Throughout the chapter, we will often refer to the default filenames produced by live-build. If you are downloading a prebuilt image instead, the actual filenames may vary.

    4.1 What is a live system?

    A live system usually means an operating system booted on a computer from a removable medium, such as a CD-ROM or USB stick, or from a network, ready to use without any installation on the usual drive(s), with auto-configuration done at run time (see Terms).

    With Debian Live, it's a Debian GNU/Linux operating system, built for one of the supported architectures (currently amd64 and i386). It is made from the following parts:

  • Linux kernel image, usually named vmlinuz*
  • Initial RAM disk image (initrd): a RAM disk set up for the Linux boot, containing modules possibly needed to mount the System image and some scripts to do it.
  • System image: The operating system's filesystem image. Usually, a SquashFS compressed filesystem is used to minimize the Debian Live image size. Note that it is read-only. So, during boot the Debian Live system will use a RAM disk and 'union' mechanism to enable writing files within the running system. However, all modifications will be lost upon shutdown unless optional persistence is used (see Persistence).
  • Bootloader: A small piece of code crafted to boot from the chosen medium, possibly presenting a prompt or menu to allow selection of options/configuration. It loads the Linux kernel and its initrd to run with an associated system filesystem. Different solutions can be used, depending on the target medium and format of the filesystem containing the previously mentioned components: isolinux to boot from a CD or DVD in ISO9660 format, syslinux for HDD or USB drive booting from a VFAT partition, extlinux for ext2/3/4 and btrfs partitions, pxelinux for PXE netboot, GRUB for ext2/3/4 partitions, etc.
  • You can use live-build to build the system image from your specifications, set up a Linux kernel, its initrd, and a bootloader to run them, all in one medium-dependant format (ISO9660 image, disk image, etc.).

    4.2 Downloading prebuilt images

    While the focus of this manual is developing and building your own live images, you may simply wish to try one of our prebuilt images, either as an introduction to their use or instead of building your own. These images are built using our live-images git repository and official stable releases are published at ‹https://www.debian.org/CD/live/›. In addition, older and upcoming releases, and unofficial images containing non-free firmware and drivers are available at ‹http://live.debian.net/cdimage/release/›.

    4.3 Using the web live image builder

    As a service to the community, we run a web-based live image builder service at ‹http://live-build.debian.net/›. This site is maintained on a best effort basis. That is, although we strive to keep it up-to-date and operational at all times, and do issue notices for significant operational outages, we cannot guarantee 100% availability or fast image building, and the service may occasionally have issues that take some time to resolve. If you have problems or questions about the service, please contact us, providing us with the link to your build.

    4.3.1 Web builder usage and caveats

    The web interface currently makes no provision to prevent the use of invalid combinations of options, and in particular, where changing an option would normally (i.e. using live-build directly) change defaults of other options listed in the web form, the web builder does not change these defaults. Most notably, if you change --architectures from the default i386 to amd64, you must change the corresponding option --linux-flavours from the default 486 to amd64. See the lb_config man page for the version of live-build installed on the web builder for more details. The version number of live-build is listed at the bottom of the web builder page.

    The time estimate given by the web builder is a crude estimate only and may not reflect how long your build actually takes. Nor is the estimate updated once it is displayed. Please be patient. Do not refresh the page you land on after submitting the build, as this will resubmit a new build with the same parameters. You should contact us if you don't receive notification of your build only once you are certain you've waited long enough and verified the notification e-mail did not get caught by your own e-mail spam filter.

    The web builder is limited in the kinds of images it can build. This keeps it simple and efficient to use and maintain. If you would like to make customizations that are not provided for by the web interface, the rest of this manual explains how to build your own images using live-build.

    4.4 First steps: building an ISO hybrid image

    Regardless of the image type, you will need to perform the same basic steps to build an image each time. As a first example, create a build directory, change to that directory and then execute the following sequence of live-build commands to create a basic ISO hybrid image containing a default live system without X.org. It is suitable for burning to CD or DVD media, and also to copy onto a USB stick.

    The name of the working directory is absolutely up to you, but if you take a look at the examples used throughout live-manual, it is a good idea to use a name that helps you identify the image you are working with in each directory, especially if you are working or experimenting with different image types. In this case you are going to build a default system so let's call it, for example, live-default.

    $ mkdir live-default && cd live-default

    Then, run the lb config command. This will create a "config/" hierarchy in the current directory for use by other commands:

    $ lb config

    No parameters are passed to lb config, so defaults for all of its various options will be used. See The lb config command for more details.

    Now that the "config/" hierarchy exists, build the image with the lb build command:

    # lb build

    This process can take a while, depending on the speed of your computer and your network connection. When it is complete, there should be a binary.hybrid.iso image file, ready to use, in the current directory.

    4.5 Using an ISO hybrid live image

    After either building or downloading an ISO hybrid image, which can be obtained at ‹https://www.debian.org/CD/live/›, the usual next step is to prepare your medium for booting, either CD-R(W) or DVD-R(W) optical media or a USB stick.

    4.5.1 Burning an ISO image to a physical medium

    Burning an ISO image is easy. Just install xorriso and use it from the command-line to burn the image. For instance:

    # apt-get install xorriso

    $ xorriso -as cdrecord -v dev=/dev/sr0 blank=as_needed binary.hybrid.iso

    4.5.2 Copying an ISO hybrid image to a USB stick

    ISO images prepared with xorriso, can be simply copied to a USB stick with the dd program or an equivalent. Plug in a USB stick with a size large enough for your image file and determine which device it is, which we hereafter refer to as ${USBSTICK}. This is the device file of your key, such as /dev/sdb, not a partition, such as /dev/sdb1! You can find the right device name by looking in dmesg's output after plugging in the stick, or better yet, ls -l /dev/disk/by-id.

    Once you are certain you have the correct device name, use the dd command to copy the image to the stick. This will definitely overwrite any previous contents on your stick!

    $ dd if=binary.hybrid.iso of=${USBSTICK}

    4.5.3 Using the space left on a USB stick

    To use the remaining free space after copying binary.hybrid.iso to a USB stick, use a partitioning tool such as gparted or parted to create a new partition on the stick. The first partition will be used by the Debian Live system.

    # gparted ${USBSTICK}

    After the partition is created, where ${PARTITION} is the name of the partition, such as /dev/sdb2, you have to create a filesystem on it. One possible choice would be ext4.

    # mkfs.ext4 ${PARTITION}

    Note: If you want to use the extra space with Windows, apparently that OS cannot normally access any partitions but the first. Some solutions to this problem have been discussed on our mailing list, but it seems there are no easy answers.

    Remember: Every time you install a new binary.hybrid.iso on the stick, all data on the stick will be lost because the partition table is overwritten by the contents of the image, so back up your extra partition first to restore again after updating the live image.

    4.5.4 Booting the live medium

    The first time you boot your live medium, whether CD, DVD, USB key, or PXE boot, some setup in your computer's BIOS may be needed first. Since BIOSes vary greatly in features and key bindings, we cannot get into the topic in depth here. Some BIOSes provide a key to bring up a menu of boot devices at boot time, which is the easiest way if it is available on your system. Otherwise, you need to enter the BIOS configuration menu and change the boot order to place the boot device for the live system before your normal boot device.

    Once you've booted the medium, you are presented with a boot menu. If you just press enter here, the system will boot using the default entry, Live and default options. For more information about boot options, see the "help" entry in the menu and also the live-boot and live-config man pages found within the live system.

    Assuming you've selected Live and booted a default desktop live image, after the boot messages scroll by, you should be automatically logged into the user account and see a desktop, ready to use. If you have booted a console-only image, such as standard or rescue flavour prebuilt images, you should be automatically logged in on the console to the user account and see a shell prompt, ready to use.

    4.6 Using a virtual machine for testing

    It can be a great time-saver for the development of live images to run them in a virtual machine (VM). This is not without its caveats:

  • Running a VM requires enough RAM for both the guest OS and the host and a CPU with hardware support for virtualization is recommended.
  • There are some inherent limitations to running on a VM, e.g. poor video performance, limited choice of emulated hardware.
  • When developing for specific hardware, there is no substitute for running on the hardware itself.
  • Occasionally there are bugs that relate only to running in a VM. When in doubt, test your image directly on the hardware.
  • Provided you can work within these constraints, survey the available VM software and choose one that is suitable for your needs.

    4.6.1 Testing an ISO image with QEMU

    The most versatile VM in Debian is QEMU. If your processor has hardware support for virtualization, use the qemu-kvm package; the qemu-kvm package description briefly lists the requirements.

    First, install qemu-kvm if your processor supports it. If not, install qemu, in which case the program name is qemu instead of kvm in the following examples. The qemu-utils package is also valuable for creating virtual disk images with qemu-img.

    # apt-get install qemu-kvm qemu-utils

    Booting an ISO image is simple:

    $ kvm -cdrom binary.hybrid.iso

    See the man pages for more details.

    4.6.2 Testing an ISO image with virtualbox

    In order to test the ISO with virtualbox:

    # apt-get install virtualbox virtualbox-qt virtualbox-dkms

    $ virtualbox

    Create a new virtual machine, change the storage settings to use binary.hybrid.iso as the CD/DVD device, and start the machine.

    Note: For live systems containing X.org that you want to test with virtualbox, you may wish to include the VirtualBox X.org driver package, virtualbox-guest-dkms and virtualbox-guest-x11, in your live-build configuration. Otherwise, the resolution is limited to 800x600.

    $ echo "virtualbox-guest-dkms virtualbox-guest-x11" >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    In order to make the dkms package work, also the kernel headers for the kernel flavour used in your image need to be installed. Instead of manually listing the correct linux-headers package in above created package list, the selection of the right package can be done automatically by live-build.

      $ lb config --linux-packages "linux-image linux-header"

    4.7 Building and using an HDD image

    Building an HDD image is similar to an ISO hybrid one in all respects except you specify -b hdd and the resulting filename is binary.img which cannot be burnt to optical media. It is suitable for booting from USB sticks, USB hard drives, and various other portable storage devices. Normally, an ISO hybrid image can be used for this purpose instead, but if you have a BIOS which does not handle hybrid images properly, you need an HDD image.

    Note: if you created an ISO hybrid image with the previous example, you will need to clean up your working directory with the lb clean command (see The lb clean command):

    # lb clean --binary

    Run the lb config command as before, except this time specifying the HDD image type:

    $ lb config -b hdd

    Now build the image with the lb build command:

    # lb build

    When the build finishes, a binary.img file should be present in the current directory.

    The generated binary image contains a VFAT partition and the syslinux bootloader, ready to be directly written on a USB device. Once again, using an HDD image is just like using an ISO hybrid one on USB. Follow the instructions in Using an ISO hybrid live image, except use the filename binary.img instead of binary.hybrid.iso.

    Likewise, to test an HDD image with Qemu, install qemu as described above in Testing an ISO image with QEMU. Then run kvm or qemu, depending on which version your host system needs, specifying binary.img as the first hard drive.

    $ kvm -hda binary.img

    4.8 Building a netboot image

    The following sequence of commands will create a basic netboot image containing a default live system without X.org. It is suitable for booting over the network.

    Note: if you performed any previous examples, you will need to clean up your working directory with the lb clean command:

    # lb clean

    In this specific case, a lb clean --binary would be not enough to clean up the necessary stages. The cause for this is that in netboot setups, a different initramfs configuration needs to be used which live-build performs automatically when building netboot images. Since the initramfs creation belongs to the chroot stage, switching to netboot in an existing build directory means to rebuild the chroot stage too. Therefore, lb clean (which will remove the chroot stage, too) needs to be used.

    Run the lb config command as follows to configure your image for netbooting:

    $ lb config -b netboot --net-root-path "/srv/debian-live" --net-root-server ""

    In contrast with the ISO and HDD images, netbooting does not, itself, serve the filesystem image to the client, so the files must be served via NFS. Different network filesystems can be chosen through lb config. The --net-root-path and --net-root-server options specify the location and server, respectively, of the NFS server where the filesytem image will be located at boot time. Make sure these are set to suitable values for your network and server.

    Now build the image with the lb build command:

    # lb build

    In a network boot, the client runs a small piece of software which usually resides on the EPROM of the Ethernet card. This program sends a DHCP request to get an IP address and information about what to do next. Typically, the next step is getting a higher level bootloader via the TFTP protocol. That could be pxelinux, GRUB, or even boot directly to an operating system like Linux.

    For example, if you unpack the generated binary.netboot.tar archive in the /srv/debian-live directory, you'll find the filesystem image in live/filesystem.squashfs and the kernel, initrd and pxelinux bootloader in tftpboot/debian-live/i386.

    We must now configure three services on the server to enable netboot: the DHCP server, the TFTP server and the NFS server.

    4.8.1 DHCP server

    We must configure our network's DHCP server to be sure to give an IP address to the netbooting client system, and to advertise the location of the PXE bootloader.

    Here is an example for inspiration, written for the ISC DHCP server isc-dhcp-server in the /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf configuration file:

    # /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf - configuration file for isc-dhcp-server

    ddns-update-style none;

    option domain-name "example.org";
    option domain-name-servers ns1.example.org, ns2.example.org;

    default-lease-time 600;
    max-lease-time 7200;

    log-facility local7;

    subnet netmask {
       next-server servername;
       filename "pxelinux.0";

    4.8.2 TFTP server

    This serves the kernel and initial ramdisk to the system at run time.

    You should install the tftpd-hpa package. It can serve all files contained inside a root directory, usually /srv/tftp. To let it serve files inside /srv/debian-live/tftpboot, run as root the following command:

    # dpkg-reconfigure -plow tftpd-hpa

    and fill in the new tftp server directory when being asked about it.

    4.8.3 NFS server

    Once the guest computer has downloaded and booted a Linux kernel and loaded its initrd, it will try to mount the Live filesystem image through a NFS server.

    You need to install the nfs-kernel-server package.

    Then, make the filesystem image available through NFS by adding a line like the following to /etc/exports:

    /srv/debian-live *(ro,async,no_root_squash,no_subtree_check)

    and tell the NFS server about this new export with the following command:

    # exportfs -rv

    Setting up these three services can be a little tricky. You might need some patience to get all of them working together. For more information, see the syslinux wiki at ‹http://www.syslinux.org/wiki/index.php/PXELINUX› or the Debian Installer Manual's TFTP Net Booting section at ‹http://d-i.alioth.debian.org/manual/en.i386/ch04s05.html›. They might help, as their processes are very similar.

    4.8.4 Netboot testing HowTo

    Netboot image creation is made easy with live-build, but testing the images on physical machines can be really time consuming.

    To make our life easier, we can use virtualization.

    4.8.5 Qemu
  • Install qemu, bridge-utils, sudo.
  • Edit /etc/qemu-ifup:

    sudo -p "Password for $0:" /sbin/ifconfig $1
    echo "Executing /etc/qemu-ifup"
    echo "Bringing up $1 for bridged mode..."
    sudo /sbin/ifconfig $1 promisc up
    echo "Adding $1 to br0..."
    sudo /usr/sbin/brctl addif br0 $1
    sleep 2

    Get, or build a grub-floppy-netboot.

    Launch qemu with "-net nic,vlan=0 -net tap,vlan=0,ifname=tun0"

    5. Overview of tools

    This chapter contains an overview of the three main tools used in building Debian Live systems: live-build, live-boot and live-config.

    5.1 The live-build package

    live-build is a collection of scripts to build Debian Live systems. These scripts are also referred to as "commands".

    The idea behind live-build is to be a framework that uses a configuration directory to completely automate and customize all aspects of building a Live image.

    Many concepts are similar to those used to build Debian packages with debhelper:

  • The scripts have a central location for configuring their operation. In debhelper, this is the debian/ subdirectory of a package tree. For example, dh_install will look, amongst others, for a file called debian/install to determine which files should exist in a particular binary package. In much the same way, live-build stores its configuration entirely under a config/ subdirectory.
  • The scripts are independent - that is to say, it is always safe to run each command.
  • Unlike debhelper, live-build contains a tool to generate a skeleton configuration directory, lb config. This could be considered to be similar to tools such as dh-make. For more information about lb config, please see The lb config command.

    The remainder of this section discusses the three most important commands:

  • lb config: Responsible for initializing a Live system configuration directory. See The lb config command for more information.
  • lb build: Responsible for starting a Live system build. See The lb build command for more information.
  • lb clean: Responsible for removing parts of a Live system build. See The lb clean command for more information.
  • 5.1.1 The lb config command

    As discussed in live-build, the scripts that make up live-build read their configuration with the source command from a single directory named config/. As constructing this directory by hand would be time-consuming and error-prone, the lb config command can be used to create skeleton configuration folders.

    Issuing lb config without any arguments creates a config/ subdirectory which it populates with some default settings, and a skeleton auto/ subdirectory tree.

    $ lb config
    [2013-01-01 09:14:22] lb_config
    P: Considering defaults defined in /etc/live/build.conf
    P: Creating config tree for a debian/i386 system

    Using lb config without any arguments would be suitable for users who need a very basic image, or who intend to later provide a more complete configuration via auto/config (see Managing a configuration for details).

    Normally, you will want to specify some options. For example, to specify which distribution you want to build using its codename:

    $ lb config --distribution sid

    It is possible to specify many options, such as:

    $ lb config --binary-images netboot --bootappend-live "boot=live config hostname=live-host username=live-user" ...

    A full list of options is available in the lb_config man page.

    5.1.2 The lb build command

    The lb build command reads in your configuration from the config/ directory. It then runs the lower level commands needed to build your Live system.

    5.1.3 The lb clean command

    It is the job of the lb clean command to remove various parts of a build so subsequent builds can start from a clean state. By default, chroot, binary and source stages are cleaned, but the cache is left intact. Also, individual stages can be cleaned. For example, if you have made changes that only affect the binary stage, use lb clean --binary prior to building a new binary. See the lb_clean man page for a full list of options.

    5.2 The live-boot package

    live-boot is a collection of scripts providing hooks for the initramfs-tools, used to generate an initramfs capable of booting live systems, such as those created by live-build. This includes the Debian Live ISOs, netboot tarballs, and USB stick images.

    At boot time it will look for read-only media containing a /live/ directory where a root filesystem (often a compressed filesystem image like squashfs) is stored. If found, it will create a writable environment, using aufs, for Debian like systems to boot from.

    More information on initial ramfs in Debian can be found in the Debian Linux Kernel Handbook at ‹http://kernel-handbook.alioth.debian.org/› in the chapter on initramfs.

    5.3 The live-config package

    live-config consists of the scripts that run at boot time after live-boot to configure the live system automatically. It handles such tasks as setting the hostname, locales and timezone, creating the live user, inhibiting cron jobs and performing autologin of the live user.

    6. Managing a configuration

    This chapter explains how to manage a live configuration from initial creation, through successive revisions and successive releases of both the live-build software and the live image itself.

    6.1 Dealing with configuration changes

    Live configurations rarely are perfect on the first try. It may be fine to pass lb config options from the command-line to perform a single build, but it is more typical to revise those options and build again until you are satisfied. To support these changes, you will need auto scripts which ensure your configuration is kept in a consistent state.

    6.1.1 Why use auto scripts? What do they do?

    The lb config command stores the options you pass to it in config/* files along with many other options set to default values. If you run lb config again, it will not reset any option that was defaulted based on your initial options. So, for example, if you run lb config again with a new value for --distribution, any dependent options that were defaulted for the old distribution may no longer work with the new. Nor are these files intended to be read or edited. They store values for over a hundred options, so nobody, let alone yourself, will be able to see in these which options you actually specified. And finally, if you run lb config, then upgrade live-build and it happens to rename an option, config/* would still contain variables named after the old option that are no longer valid.

    For all these reasons, auto/* scripts will make your life easier. They are simple wrappers to the lb config, lb build and lb clean commands that are designed to help you manage your configuration. The auto/config script stores your lb config command with all desired options, the auto/clean script removes the files containing configuration variable values, and the auto/build script keeps a build.log of each build. Each of these scripts is run automatically every time you run the corresponding lb command. By using these scripts, your configuration is easier to read and is kept internally consistent from one revision to the next. Also, it will be much easier for you identify and fix options which need to change when you upgrade live-build after reading the updated documentation.

    6.1.2 Use example auto scripts

    For your convenience, live-build comes with example auto shell scripts to copy and edit. Start a new, default configuration, then copy the examples into it:

    $ mkdir mylive && cd mylive && lb config
    $ cp /usr/share/doc/live-build/examples/auto/* auto/

    Edit auto/config, adding any options as you see fit. For instance:

    lb config noauto \
         --architectures i386 \
         --linux-flavours 686-pae \
         --binary-images hdd \
         --mirror-bootstrap http://ftp.ch.debian.org/debian/ \
         --mirror-binary http://ftp.ch.debian.org/debian/ \

    Now, each time you use lb config, auto/config will reset the configuration based on these options. When you want to make changes to them, edit the options in this file instead of passing them to lb config. When you use lb clean, auto/clean will clean up the config/* files along with any other build products. And finally, when you use lb build, a log of the build will be written by auto/build in build.log.

    Note: A special noauto parameter is used here to suppress another call to auto/config, thereby preventing infinite recursion. Make sure you don't accidentally remove it when making edits. Also, take care to ensure when you split the lb config command across multiple lines for readability, as shown in the example above, that you don't forget the backslash (\) at the end of each line that continues to the next.

    6.2 Clone a configuration published via Git

    Use the lb config --config option to clone a Git repository that contains a Debian Live configuration. If you would like to base your configuration on one maintained by the Debian Live project, look at ‹http://live.debian.net/gitweb/› for the repository named live-images in the category Packages. This repository contains the configurations for the Debian Live prebuilt images.

    For example, to build a rescue image, use the live-images repository as follows:

    $ mkdir live-images && cd live-images
    $ lb config --config git://live.debian.net/git/live-images.git
    $ cd images/rescue

    Edit auto/config and any other things you need in the config tree to suit your needs. For example, the unofficial non-free prebuilt images are made by simply adding --archive-areas "main contrib non-free".

    You may optionally define a shortcut in your Git configuration by adding the following to your ${HOME}/.gitconfig:

    [url "git://live.debian.net/git/"]
             insteadOf = ldn:

    This enables you to use ldn: anywhere you need to specify the address of a live.debian.net git repository. If you also drop the optional .git suffix, starting a new image using this configuration is as easy as:

    $ lb config --config ldn:live-images

    Cloning the entire live-images repository pulls the configurations used for several images. If you feel like building a different image after you have finished with the first one, change to another directory and again and optionally, make any changes to suit your needs.

    In any case, remember that every time you will have to build the image as superuser: lb build

    7. Customization overview

    This chapter gives an overview of the various ways in which you may customize a Debian Live system.

    7.1 Build time vs. boot time configuration

    Live system configuration options are divided into build-time options which are options that are applied at build time and boot-time options which are applied at boot time. Boot-time options are further divided into those occurring early in the boot, applied by the live-boot package, and those that happen later in the boot, applied by live-config. Any boot-time option may be modified by the user by specifying it at the boot prompt. The image may also be built with default boot parameters so users can normally just boot directly to the live system without specifying any options when all of the defaults are suitable. In particular, the argument to lb --bootappend-live consists of any default kernel command line options for the Live system, such as persistence, keyboard layouts, or timezone. See Customizing locale and language, for example.

    Build-time configuration options are described in the lb config man page. Boot-time options are described in the man pages for live-boot and live-config. Although the live-boot and live-config packages are installed within the live system you are building, it is recommended that you also install them on your build system for easy reference when you are working on your configuration. It is safe to do so, as none of the scripts contained within them are executed unless the system is configured as a live system.

    7.2 Stages of the build

    The build process is divided into stages, with various customizations applied in sequence in each. The first stage to run is the bootstrap stage. This is the initial phase of populating the chroot directory with packages to make a barebones Debian system. This is followed by the chroot stage, which completes the construction of chroot directory, populating it with all of the packages listed in the configuration, along with any other materials. Most customization of content occurs in this stage. The final stage of preparing the live image is the binary stage, which builds a bootable image, using the contents of the chroot directory to construct the root filesystem for the Live system, and including the installer and any other additional material on the target medium outside of the Live system's filesystem. After the live image is built, if enabled, the source tarball is built in the source stage.

    Within each of these stages, there is a particular sequence in which commands are applied. These are arranged in such a way as to ensure customizations can be layered in a reasonable fashion. For example, within the chroot stage, preseeds are applied before any packages are installed, packages are installed before any locally included files are copied, and hooks are run later, after all of the materials are in place.

    7.3 Supplement lb config with files

    Although lb config creates a skeletal configuration in the config/ directory, to accomplish your goals, you may need to provide additional files in subdirectories of config/. Depending on where the files are stored in the configuration, they may be copied into the live system's filesystem or into the binary image filesystem, or may provide build-time configurations of the system that would be cumbersome to pass as command-line options. You may include things such as custom lists of packages, custom artwork, or hook scripts to run either at build time or at boot time, boosting the already considerable flexibility of debian-live with code of your own.

    7.4 Customization tasks

    The following chapters are organized by the kinds of customization task users typically perform: Customizing package installation, Customizing contents and Customizing locale and language cover just a few of the things you might want to do.

    8. Customizing package installation

    Perhaps the most basic customization of a Debian live system is the selection of packages to be included in the image. This chapter guides you through the various build-time options to customize live-build' s installation of packages. The broadest choices influencing which packages are available to install in the image are the distribution and archive areas. To ensure decent download speeds, you should choose a nearby distribution mirror. You can also add your own repositories for backports, experimental or custom packages, or include packages directly as files. You can define lists of packages, including metapackages which will install many related packages at once, such as packages for a particular desktop or language. Finally, a number of options give some control over apt, or if you prefer, aptitude, at build time when packages are installed. You may find these handy if you use a proxy, want to disable installation of recommended packages to save space, or need to control which versions of packages are installed via APT pinning, to name a few possibilities.

    8.1 Package sources
    8.1.1 Distribution, archive areas and mode

    The distribution you choose has the broadest impact on which packages are available to include in your live image. Specify the codename, which defaults to wheezy for the wheezy version of live-build. Any current distribution carried in the Debian archive may be specified by its codename here. (See Terms for more details.) The --distribution option not only influences the source of packages within the archive, but also instructs live-build to behave as needed to build each supported distribution. For example, to build against the unstable release, sid, specify:

    $ lb config --distribution sid

    Within the distribution archive, archive areas are major divisions of the archive. In Debian, these are main, contrib and non-free. Only main contains software that is part of the Debian distribution, hence that is the default. One or more values may be specified, e.g.

    $ lb config --archive-areas "main contrib non-free"

    Experimental support is available for some Debian derivatives through a --mode option. By default, this option is set to debian only if you are building on a Debian or on an unknown system. If lb config is invoked on any of the supported derivatives, it will default to create an image of that derivative. If lb config is run in e.g. ubuntu mode, the distribution names and archive areas for the specified derivative are supported instead of the ones for Debian. The mode also modifies live-build behaviour to suit the derivatives.

    Note: The projects for whom these modes were added are primarily responsible for supporting users of these options. The Debian live project, in turn, provides development support on a best-effort basis only, based on feedback from the derivative projects as we do not develop or support these derivatives ourselves.

    8.1.2 Distribution mirrors

    The Debian archive is replicated across a large network of mirrors around the world so that people in each region can choose a nearby mirror for best download speed. Each of the --mirror-* options governs which distribution mirror is used at various stages of the build. Recall from Stages of the build that the bootstrap stage is when the chroot is initially populated by debootstrap with a minimal system, and the chroot stage is when the chroot used to construct the live system's filesystem is built. Thus, the corresponding mirror switches are used for those stages, and later, in the binary stage, the --mirror-binary and --mirror-binary-security values are used, superseding any mirrors used in an earlier stage.

    8.1.3 Distribution mirrors used at build time

    To set the distribution mirrors used at build time to point at a local mirror, it is sufficient to set --mirror-bootstrap, --mirror-chroot-security and --mirror-chroot-backports as follows.

    $ lb config --mirror-bootstrap http://localhost/debian/ \
              --mirror-chroot-security http://localhost/debian-security/ \
              --mirror-chroot-backports http://localhost/debian-backports/

    The chroot mirror, specified by --mirror-chroot, defaults to the --mirror-bootstrap value.

    8.1.4 Distribution mirrors used at run time

    The --mirror-binary* options govern the distribution mirrors placed in the binary image. These may be used to install additional packages while running the live system. The defaults employ http.debian.net, a service that chooses a geographically close mirror based, among other things, on the user's IP family and the availability of the mirrors. This is a suitable choice when you cannot predict which mirror will be best for all of your users. Or you may specify your own values as shown in the example below. An image built from this configuration would only be suitable for users on a network where "mirror" is reachable.

    $ lb config --mirror-binary http://mirror/debian/ \
              --mirror-binary-security http://mirror/debian-security/ \
              --mirror-binary-backports http://mirror/debian-backports/

    8.1.5 Additional repositories

    You may add more repositories, broadening your package choices beyond what is available in your target distribution. These may be, for example, for backports, experimental or custom packages. To configure additional repositories, create config/archives/your-repository.list.chroot, and/or config/archives/your-repository.list.binary files. As with the --mirror-* options, these govern the repositories used in the chroot stage when building the image, and in the binary stage, i.e. for use when running the live system.

    For example, config/archives/live.list.chroot allows you to install packages from the debian-live snapshot repository at live system build time.

    deb http://live.debian.net/ sid-snapshots main contrib non-free

    If you add the same line to config/archives/live.list.binary, the repository will be added to your live system's /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ directory.

    If such files exist, they will be picked up automatically.

    You should also put the GPG key used to sign the repository into config/archives/your-repository.key.{binary,chroot} files.

    Should you need custom APT pinning, such APT preferences snippets can be placed in config/archives/your-repository.pref.{binary,chroot} files and will be automatically added to your live system's /etc/apt/preferences.d/ directory.

    Note: some preconfigured package repositories are available for easy selection through the --archives option, e.g. for enabling live snapshots, a simple command is enough to enable it:

    $ lb config --archives live.debian.net

    8.2 Choosing packages to install

    There are a number of ways to choose which packages live-build will install in your image, covering a variety of different needs. You can simply name individual packages to install in a package list. You can also use metapackages in those lists, or select them using package control file fields. And finally, you may place package files in your config/ tree, which is well suited to testing of new or experimental packages before they are available from a repository.

    8.2.1 Package lists

    Package lists are a powerful way of expressing which packages should be installed. The list syntax supports conditional sections which makes it easy to build lists and adapt them for use in multiple configurations. Package names may also be injected into the list using shell helpers at build time.

    Note: The behaviour of live-build when specifying a package that does not exist is determined by your choice of APT utility. See Choosing apt or aptitude for more details.

    8.2.2 Using metapackages

    The simplest way to populate your package list is to use a task metapackage maintained by your distribution. For example:

    $ lb config
    $ echo task-gnome-desktop > config/package-lists/desktop.list.chroot

    This supercedes the older predefined list method supported in live-build 2.x. Unlike predefined lists, task metapackages are not specific to the Debian Live project. Instead, they are maintained by specialist working groups within the distribution and therefore reflect the consensus of each group about which packages best serve the needs of the intended users. They also cover a much broader range of use cases than the predefined lists they replace.

    All task metapackages are prefixed task-, so a quick way to determine which are available (though it may contain a handful of false hits that match the name but aren't metapackages) is to match on the package name with:

    $ apt-cache search --names-only ^task-

    In addition to these, you will find other metapackages with various purposes. Some are subsets of broader task packages, like gnome-core, while others are individual specialized parts of a Debian Pure Blend, such as the education-* metapackages. To list all metapackages in the archive, install the debtags package and list all packages with the role::metapackage tag as follows:

    $ debtags search role::metapackage

    8.2.3 Local package lists

    Whether you list metapackages, individual packages, or a combination of both, all local package lists are stored in config/package-lists/. Since more than one list can be used, this lends itself well to modular designs. For example, you may decide to devote one list to a particular choice of desktop, another to a collection of related packages that might as easily be used on top of a different desktop. This allows you to experiment with different combinations of sets of packages with a minimum of fuss, sharing common lists between different live image projects.

    Package lists that exist in this directory need to have a .list suffix in order to be processed, and then an additional stage suffix, .chroot or .binary to indicate which stage the list is for.

    Note: If you don't specify the stage suffix, the list will be used for both stages. Normally, you want to specify .list.chroot so that the packages will only be installed in the live filesystem and not have an extra copy of the .deb placed on the medium.

    8.2.4 Local binary package lists

    To make a binary stage list, place a file suffixed with .list.binary in config/package-lists/. These packages are not installed in the live filesystem, but are included on the live medium under pool/. You would typically use such a list with one of the non-live installer variants. As mentioned above, if you want this list to be the same as your chroot stage list, simply use the .list suffix by itself.

    8.2.5 Generated package lists

    It sometimes happens that the best way to compose a list is to generate it with a script. Any line starting with an exclamation point indicates a command to be executed within the chroot when the image is built. For example, one might include the line ! grep-aptavail -n -sPackage -FPriority standard | sort in a package list to produce a sorted list of available packages with Priority: standard.

    In fact, selecting packages with the grep-aptavail command (from the dctrl-tools package) is so useful that live-build provides a Packages helper script as a convenience. This script takes two arguments: field and pattern. Thus, you can create a list with the following contents:

    $ lb config
    $ echo '! Packages Priority standard' > config/package-lists/standard.list.chroot

    8.2.6 Using conditionals inside package lists

    Any of the live-build configuration variables stored in config/* (minus the LB_ prefix) may be used in conditional statements in package lists. Generally, this means any lb config option uppercased and with dashes changed to underscores. But in practice, it is only the ones that influence package selection that make sense, such as DISTRIBUTION, ARCHITECTURES or ARCHIVE_AREAS.

    For example, to install ia32-libs if the --architectures amd64 is specified:

    #if ARCHITECTURES amd64

    You may test for any one of a number of values, e.g. to install memtest86+ if either --architectures i386 or --architectures amd64 is specified:

    #if ARCHITECTURES i386 amd64

    You may also test against variables that may contain more than one value, e.g. to install vrms if either contrib or non-free is specified via --archive-areas:

    #if ARCHIVE_AREAS contrib non-free

    The nesting of conditionals is not supported.

    8.2.7 Desktop and language tasks

    Desktop and language tasks are special cases that need some extra planning and configuration. Live images are different from Debian Installer images in this respect. In the Debian Installer, if the medium was prepared for a particular desktop environment flavour, the corresponding task will be automatically installed. Thus, there are internal gnome-desktop, kde-desktop, lxde-desktop and xfce-desktop tasks, none of which are offered in tasksel's menu. Likewise, there are no menu entries for tasks for languages, but the user's language choice during the install influences the selection of corresponding language tasks.

    When developing a desktop live image, the image typically boots directly to a working desktop, the choices of both desktop and default language having been made at build time, not at run time as in the case of the Debian Installer. That's not to say that a live image couldn't be built to support multiple desktops or multiple languages and offer the user a choice, but that is not live-build' s default behaviour.

    Because there is no provision made automatically for language tasks, which include such things as language-specific fonts and input-method packages, if you want them, you need to specify them in your configuration. For example, a GNOME desktop image containing support for German might include these task metapackages:

    $ lb config
    $ echo "task-gnome-desktop task-laptop" >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot
    $ echo "task-german task-german-desktop task-german-gnome-desktop" >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    8.2.8 Kernel flavour and version

    One or more kernel flavours will be included in your image by default, depending on the architecture. You can choose different flavours via the --linux-flavours option. Each flavour is suffixed to the default stub linux-image to form each metapackage name which in turn depends on an exact kernel package to be included in your image.

    Thus by default, an amd64 architecture image will include the linux-image-amd64 flavour metapackage, and an i386 architecture image will include the linux-image-486 and linux-image-686-pae metapackages. At time of writing, these packages depend on linux-image-3.2.0-4-amd64, linux-image-3.2.0-4-486 and linux-image-3.2.0-4-686-pae, respectively.

    When more than one kernel package version is available in your configured archives, you can specify a different kernel package name stub with the --linux-packages option. For example, supposing you are building an amd64 architecture image and add the experimental archive for testing purposes so you can install the linux-image-3.7-trunk-amd64 kernel. You would configure that image as follows:

    $ lb config --linux-packages linux-image-3.7-trunk
    $ echo "deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ experimental main" > config/archives/experimental.list.chroot

    8.2.9 Custom kernels

    You can build and include your own custom kernels, so long as they are integrated within the Debian package management system. The live-build system does not support kernels not built as .deb packages.

    The proper and recommended way to deploy your own kernel packages is to follow the instructions in the kernel-handbook. Remember to modify the ABI and flavour suffixes appropriately, then include a complete build of the linux and matching linux-latest packages in your reposistory.

    If you opt to build the kernel packages without the matching metapackages, you need to specify an appropriate --linux-packages stub as discussed in Kernel flavour and version. As we explain in Installing modified or third-party packages, it is best if you include your custom kernel packages in your own repository, though the alternatives discussed in that section work as well.

    It is beyond the scope of this document to give advice on how to customize your kernel. However, you must at least ensure your configuration satisfies these minimum requirements:

  • Use an initial ramdisk.
  • Include the union filesystem module (i.e. usually aufs).
  • Include any other filesystem modules required by your configuration (i.e. usually squashfs).
  • 8.3 Installing modified or third-party packages

    While it is against the philosophy of Debian Live, it may sometimes be necessary to build a Live system with modified versions of packages that are in the Debian repository. This may be to modify or support additional features, languages and branding, or even to remove elements of existing packages that are undesirable. Similarly, "third-party" packages may be used to add bespoke and/or proprietary functionality.

    This section does not cover advice regarding building or maintaining modified packages. Joachim Breitner's 'How to fork privately' method from ‹http://www.joachim-breitner.de/blog/archives/282-How-to-fork-privately.html› may be of interest, however. The creation of bespoke packages is covered in the Debian New Maintainers' Guide at ‹https://www.debian.org/doc/maint-guide/› and elsewhere.

    There are two ways of installing modified custom packages:

  • packages.chroot
  • Using a custom APT repository
  • Using packages.chroot is simpler to achieve and useful for "one-off" customizations but has a number of drawbacks, while using a custom APT repository is more time-consuming to set up.

    8.3.1 Using packages.chroot to install custom packages

    To install a custom package, simply copy it to the config/packages.chroot/ directory. Packages that are inside this directory will be automatically installed into the live system during build - you do not need to specify them elsewhere.

    Packages must be named in the prescribed way. One simple way to do this is to use dpkg-name.

    Using packages.chroot for installation of custom packages has disadvantages:

  • It is not possible to use secure APT.
  • You must install all appropriate packages in the config/packages.chroot/ directory.
  • It does not lend itself to storing Debian Live configurations in revision control.
  • 8.3.2 Using an APT repository to install custom packages

    Unlike using packages.chroot, when using a custom APT repository you must ensure that you specify the packages elsewhere. See Choosing packages to install for details.

    While it may seem unnecessary effort to create an APT repository to install custom packages, the infrastructure can be easily re-used at a later date to offer updates of the modified packages.

    8.3.3 Custom packages and APT

    live-build uses APT to install all packages into the live system so will therefore inherit behaviours from this program. One relevant example is that (assuming a default configuration) given a package available in two different repositories with different version numbers, APT will elect to install the package with the higher version number.

    Because of this, you may wish to increment the version number in your custom packages' debian/changelog files to ensure that your modified version is installed over one in the official Debian repositories. This may also be achieved by altering the live system's APT pinning preferences - see APT pinning for more information.

    8.4 Configuring APT at build time

    You can configure APT through a number of options applied only at build time. (APT configuration used in the running live system may be configured in the normal way for live system contents, that is, by including the appropriate configurations through config/includes.chroot/.) For a complete list, look for options starting with apt in the lb_config man page.

    8.4.1 Choosing apt or aptitude

    You can elect to use either apt or aptitude when installing packages at build time. Which utility is used is governed by the --apt argument to lb config. Choose the method implementing the preferred behaviour for package installation, the notable difference being how missing packages are handled.

  • apt: With this method, if a missing package is specified, the package installation will fail. This is the default setting.
  • aptitude: With this method, if a missing package is specified, the package installation will succeed.
  • 8.4.2 Using a proxy with APT

    One commonly required APT configuration is to deal with building an image behind a proxy. You may specify your APT proxy with the --apt-ftp-proxy or --apt-http-proxy options as needed, e.g.

    $ lb config --apt-http-proxy http://proxy/

    8.4.3 Tweaking APT to save space

    You may find yourself needing to save some space on the image medium, in which case one or the other or both of the following options may be of interest.

    If you don't want to include APT indices in the image, you can omit those with:

    $ lb config --apt-indices false

    This will not influence the entries in /etc/apt/sources.list, but merely whether /var/lib/apt contains the indices files or not. The tradeoff is that APT needs those indices in order to operate in the live system, so before performing apt-cache search or apt-get install, for instance, the user must apt-get update first to create those indices.

    If you find the installation of recommended packages bloats your image too much, provided you are prepared to deal with the consequences discussed below, you may disable that default option of APT with:

    $ lb config --apt-recommends false

    The most important consequence of turning off recommends is that live-boot and live-config themselves recommend some packages that provide important functionality used by most Live configurations, such as user-setup which live-config recommends and is used to create the live user. In all but the most exceptional circumstances you need to add back at least some of these recommends to your package lists or else your image will not work as expected, if at all. Look at the recommended packages for each of the live-* packages included in your build and if you are not certain you can omit them, add them back into your package lists.

    The more general consequence is that if you don't install recommended packages for any given package, that is, "packages that would be found together with this one in all but unusual installations" (Debian Policy Manual, section 7.2), some packages that users of your Live system actually need may be omitted. Therefore, we suggest you review the difference turning off recommends makes to your packages list (see the binary.packages file generated by lb build) and re-include in your list any missing packages that you still want installed. Alternatively, if you find you only want a small number of recommended packages left out, leave recommends enabled and set a negative APT pin priority on selected packages to prevent them from being installed, as explained in APT pinning.

    8.4.4 Passing options to apt or aptitude

    If there is not a lb config option to alter APT's behaviour in the way you need, use --apt-options or --aptitude-options to pass any options through to your configured APT tool. See the man pages for apt and aptitude for details. Note that both options have default values that you will need to retain in addition to any overrides you may provide. So, for example, suppose you have included something from snapshot.debian.org for testing purposes and want to specify Acquire::Check-Valid-Until=false to make APT happy with the stale Release file, you would do so as per the following example, appending the new option after the default value --yes:

    $ lb config --apt-options "--yes -oAcquire::Check-Valid-Until=false"

    Please check the man pages to fully understand these options and when to use them. This is an example only and should not be construed as advice to configure your image this way. This option would not be appropriate for, say, a final release of a live image.

    For more complicated APT configurations involving apt.conf options you might want to create a config/apt/apt.conf file instead. See also the other apt-* options for a few convenient shortcuts for frequently needed options.

    8.4.5 APT pinning

    For background, please first read the apt_preferences(5) man page. APT pinning can be configured either for build time, or else for run time. For the former, create config/archives/*.pref, config/archives/*.pref.chroot, and config/apt/preferences. For the latter, create config/includes.chroot/etc/apt/preferences.

    Let's say you are building a wheezy live system but need all the live packages that end up in the binary image to be installed from sid at build time. You need to add sid to your APT sources and pin the live packages from it higher, but all other packages from it lower, than the default priority. Thus, only the packages you want are installed from sid at build time and all others are taken from the target system distribution, wheezy. The following will accomplish this:

    $ echo "deb http://mirror/debian/ sid main" > config/archives/sid.list.chroot
    $ cat >> config/archives/sid.pref.chroot << EOF
    Package: live-*
    Pin: release n=sid
    Pin-Priority: 600

    Package: *
    Pin: release n=sid
    Pin-Priority: 1

    Negative pin priorities will prevent a package from being installed, as in the case where you do not want a package that is recommended by another package. Suppose you are building an LXDE image using task-lxde-desktop in config/package-lists/desktop.list.chroot, but don't want the user prompted to store wifi passwords in the keyring. This metapackage depends on lxde-core, which recommends gksu, which in turn recommends gnome-keyring. So you want to omit the recommended gnome-keyring package. This can be done by adding the following stanza to config/apt/preferences:

    Package: gnome-keyring
    Pin: version *
    Pin-Priority: -1

    9. Customizing contents

    This chapter discusses fine-tuning customization of the live system contents beyond merely choosing which packages to include. Includes allow you to add or replace arbitrary files in your Debian Live image, hooks allow you to execute arbitrary commands at different stages of the build and at boot time, and preseeding allows you to configure packages when they are installed by supplying answers to debconf questions.

    9.1 Includes

    While ideally a Debian live system would include files entirely provided by unmodified Debian packages, it is sometimes convenient to provide or modify some content by means of files. Using includes, it is possible to add (or replace) arbitrary files in your Debian Live image. live-build provides two mechanisms for using them:

  • Chroot local includes: These allow you to add or replace files to the chroot/Live filesystem. Please see Live/chroot local includes for more information.
  • Binary local includes: These allow you to add or replace files in the binary image. Please see Binary local includes for more information.
  • Please see Terms for more information about the distinction between the "Live" and "binary" images.

    9.1.1 Live/chroot local includes

    Chroot local includes can be used to add or replace files in the chroot/Live filesystem so that they may be used in the Live system. A typical use is to populate the skeleton user directory (/etc/skel) used by the Live system to create the live user's home directory. Another is to supply configuration files that can be simply added or replaced in the image without processing; see Live/chroot local hooks if processing is needed.

    To include files, simply add them to your config/includes.chroot directory. This directory corresponds to the root directory / of the live system. For example, to add a file /var/www/index.html in the live system, use:

    $ mkdir -p config/includes.chroot/var/www
    $ cp /path/to/my/index.html config/includes.chroot/var/www

    Your configuration will then have the following layout:

    -- config
         |-- includes.chroot
         |   `-- var
         |       `-- www
         |           `-- index.html

    Chroot local includes are installed after package installation so that files installed by packages are overwritten.

    9.1.2 Binary local includes

    To include material such as documentation or videos on the medium filesystem so that it is accessible immediately upon insertion of the medium without booting the Live system, you can use binary local includes. This works in a similar fashion to chroot local includes. For example, suppose the files ~/video_demo.* are demo videos of the live system described by and linked to by an HTML index page. Simply copy the material to config/includes.binary/ as follows:

    $ cp ~/video_demo.* config/includes.binary/

    These files will now appear in the root directory of the live medium.

    9.2 Hooks

    Hooks allow commands to be performed in the chroot and binary stages of the build in order to customize the image.

    9.2.1 Live/chroot local hooks

    To run commands in the chroot stage, create a hook script with a .chroot suffix containing the commands in the config/hooks/ directory. The hook will run in the chroot after the rest of your chroot configuration has been applied, so remember to ensure your configuration includes all packages and files your hook needs in order to run. See the example chroot hook scripts for various common chroot customization tasks provided in /usr/share/doc/live-build/examples/hooks which you can copy or symlink to use them in your own configuration.

    9.2.2 Boot-time hooks

    To execute commands at boot time, you can supply live-config hooks as explained in the "Customization" section of its man page. Examine live-config' s own hooks provided in /lib/live/config/, noting the sequence numbers. Then provide your own hook prefixed with an appropriate sequence number, either as a chroot local include in config/includes.chroot/lib/live/config/, or as a custom package as discussed in Installing modified or third-party packages.

    9.2.3 Binary local hooks

    To run commands in the binary stage, create a hook script with a .binary suffix containing the commands in the config/hooks/ directory. The hook will run after all other binary commands are run, but before binary_checksums, the very last binary command. The commands in your hook do not run in the chroot, so take care to not modify any files outside of the build tree, or you may damage your build system! See the example binary hook scripts for various common binary customization tasks provided in /usr/share/doc/live-build/examples/hooks which you can copy or symlink to use them in your own configuration.

    9.3 Preseeding Debconf questions

    Files in the config/preseed/ directory suffixed with .cfg followed by the stage (.chroot or .binary) are considered to be debconf preseed files and are installed by live-build using debconf-set-selections during the corresponding stage.

    For more information about debconf, please see debconf(7) in the debconf package.

    10. Customizing run time behaviours

    All configuration that is done during run time is done by live-config. Here are some of the most common options of live-config that users are interested in. A full list of all possibilities can be found in the man page of live-config.

    10.1 Customizing the live user

    One important consideration is that the live user is created by live-boot at boot time, not by live-build at build time. This not only influences where materials relating to the live user are introduced in your build, as discussed in Live/chroot local includes, but also any groups and permissions associated with the live user.

    You can specify additional groups that the live user will belong to by using any of the possibilities to configure live-config. For example, to add the live user to the fuse group, you can either add the following file in config/includes.chroot/etc/live/config/user-setup.conf:

    LIVE_USER_DEFAULT_GROUPS="audio cdrom dip floppy video plugdev netdev powerdev scanner bluetooth fuse"

    or use live-config.user-default-groups=audio,cdrom,dip,floppy,video,plugdev,netdev,powerdev,scanner,bluetooth,fuse as a boot parameter.

    It is also possible to change the default username "user" and the default password "live". If you want to do that for any reason, you can easily achieve it as follows:

    To change the default username you can simply specify it in your config:

    $ lb config --bootappend-live "boot=live config username=live-user"

    One possible way of changing the default password is by means of a hook as described in Boot-time hooks. In order to do that you can use the "passwd" hook from /usr/share/doc/live-config/examples/hooks, prefix it accordingly (e.g. 2000-passwd) and add it to config/includes.chroot/lib/live/config/

    10.2 Customizing locale and language

    When the live system boots, language is involved in two steps:

  • the locale generation
  • setting the keyboard configuration
  • The default locale when building a Live system is locales=en_US.UTF-8. To define the locale that should be generated, use the locales parameter in the --bootappend-live option of lb config, e.g.

    $ lb config --bootappend-live "boot=live config locales=de_CH.UTF-8"

    Multiple locales may be specified as a comma-delimited list.

    This parameter, as well as the keyboard configuration parameters indicated below, can also be used at the kernel command line. You can specify a locale by language_country (in which case the default encoding is used) or the full language_country.encoding word. A list of supported locales and the encoding for each can be found in /usr/share/i18n/SUPPORTED.

    Both the console and X keyboard configuration are performed by live-config using the console-setup package. To configure them, use the keyboard-layouts, keyboard-variants, keyboard-options and keyboard-model boot parameters via the --bootappend-live option. Valid options for these can be found in /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/base.lst. To find layouts and variants for a given language, try searching for the English name of the language and/or the country where the language is spoken, e.g:

    $ egrep -i '(^!|german.*switzerland)' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/base.lst
    ! model
    ! layout
       ch              German (Switzerland)
    ! variant
       legacy          ch: German (Switzerland, legacy)
       de_nodeadkeys   ch: German (Switzerland, eliminate dead keys)
       de_sundeadkeys  ch: German (Switzerland, Sun dead keys)
       de_mac          ch: German (Switzerland, Macintosh)
    ! option

    Note that each variant lists the layout to which it applies in the description.

    Often, only the layout needs to be configured. For example, to get the locale files for German and Swiss German keyboard layout in X use:

    $ lb config --bootappend-live "boot=live config locales=de_CH.UTF-8 keyboard-layouts=ch"

    However, for very specific use cases, you may wish to include other parameters. For example, to set up a French system with a French-Dvorak layout (called Bepo) on a TypeMatrix EZ-Reach 2030 USB keyboard, use:

    $ lb config --bootappend-live \
         "boot=live config locales=fr_FR.UTF-8 keyboard-layouts=fr keyboard-variants=bepo keyboard-model=tm2030usb"

    Multiple values may be specified as comma-delimited lists for each of the keyboard-* options, with the exception of keyboard-model, which accepts only one value. Please see the keyboard(5) man page for details and examples of XKBMODEL, XKBLAYOUT, XKBVARIANT and XKBOPTIONS variables. If multiple keyboard-variants values are given, they will be matched one-to-one with keyboard-layouts values (see setxkbmap(1) -variant option). Empty values are allowed; e.g. to define two layouts, the default being US QWERTY and the other being US Dvorak, use:

    $ lb config --bootappend-live \
         "boot=live config keyboard-layouts=us,us keyboard-variants=,dvorak"

    10.3 Persistence

    A live cd paradigm is a pre-installed system which runs from read-only media, like a cdrom, where writes and modifications do not survive reboots of the host hardware which runs it.

    A Debian Live system is a generalization of this paradigm and thus supports other media in addition to CDs; but still, in its default behaviour, it should be considered read-only and all the run-time evolutions of the system are lost at shutdown.

    'Persistence' is a common name for different kinds of solutions for saving across reboots some, or all, of this run-time evolution of the system. To understand how it works it would be handy to know that even if the system is booted and run from read-only media, modifications to the files and directories are written on writable media, typically a ram disk (tmpfs) and ram disks' data do not survive reboots.

    The data stored on this ramdisk should be saved on a writable persistent medium like local storage media, a network share or even a session of a multisession (re)writable CD/DVD. All these media are supported in Debian Live in different ways, and all but the last one require a special boot parameter to be specified at boot time: persistence.

    If the boot parameter persistence is set (and nopersistence is not set), local storage media (e.g. hard disks, USB drives) will be probed for persistence volumes during boot. It is possible to restrict which types of persistence volumes to use by specifying certain boot parameters described in the live-boot(7) man page. A persistence volume is any of the following:

  • a partition, identified by its GPT name.
  • a filesystem, identified by its filesystem label.
  • an image file located on the root of any readable filesystem (even an NTFS partition of a foreign OS), identified by its filename.
  • The volume label for overlays must be persistence but it will be ignored unless it contains in its root a file named persistence.conf which is used to fully customize the volume's persistence, this is to say, specifying the directories that you want to save in your persistence volume after a reboot. See The persistence.conf file for more details.

    Here are some examples of how to prepare a volume to be used for persistence. It can be, for instance, an ext4 partition on a hard disk or on a usb key created with, e.g.:

    # mkfs.ext4 -L persistence /dev/sdb1

    See also Using the space left on a USB stick.

    If you already have a partition on your device, you could just change the label with one of the following:

    # tune2fs -L persistence /dev/sdb1 # for ext2,3,4 filesystems

    Here's an example of how to create an ext4-based image file to be used for persistence:

    $ dd if=/dev/null of=persistence bs=1 count=0 seek=1G # for a 1GB sized image file
    $ /sbin/mkfs.ext4 -F persistence

    Once the image file is created, as an example, to make /usr persistent but only saving the changes you make to that directory and not all the contents of /usr, you can use the "union" option. If the image file is located in your home directory, copy it to the root of your hard drive's filesystem and mount it in /mnt as follows:

    # cp persistence /
    # mount -t ext4 /persistence /mnt

    Then, create the persistence.conf file adding content and unmount the image file.

    # echo "/usr union" >> /mnt/persistence.conf
    # umount /mnt

    Now, reboot into your live medium with the boot parameter "persistence".

    10.3.1 The persistence.conf file

    A volume with the label persistence must be configured by means of the persistence.conf file to make arbitrary directories persistent. That file, located on the volume's filesystem root, controls which directories it makes persistent, and in which way.

    How custom overlay mounts are configured is described in full detail in the persistence.conf(5) man page, but a simple example should be sufficient for most uses. Let's say we want to make our home directory and APT cache persistent in an ext4 filesystem on the /dev/sdb1 partition:

    # mkfs.ext4 -L persistence /dev/sdb1
    # mount -t ext4 /dev/sdb1 /mnt
    # echo "/home" >> /mnt/persistence.conf
    # echo "/var/cache/apt" >> /mnt/persistence.conf
    # umount /mnt

    Then we reboot. During the first boot the contents of /home and /var/cache/apt will be copied into the persistence volume, and from then on all changes to these directories will live in the persistence volume. Please note that any paths listed in the persistence.conf file cannot contain white spaces or the special . and .. path components. Also, neither /lib, /lib/live (or any of their sub-directories) nor / can be made persistent using custom mounts. As a workaround for this limitation you can add / union to your persistence.conf file to achieve full persistence.

    10.3.2 Using more than one persistence store

    There are different methods of using multiple persistence store for different use cases. For instance, using several volumes at the same time or selecting only one, among various, for very specific purposes.

    Several different custom overlay volumes (with their own persistence.conf files) can be used at the same time, but if several volumes make the same directory persistent, only one of them will be used. If any two mounts are "nested" (i.e. one is a sub-directory of the other) the parent will be mounted before the child so no mount will be hidden by the other. Nested custom mounts are problematic if they are listed in the same persistence.conf file. See the persistence.conf(5) man page for how to handle that case if you really need it (hint: you usually don't).

    One possible use case: If you wish to store the user data i.e. /home and the superuser data i.e. /root in different partitions, create two partitions with the persistence label and add a persistence.conf file in each one like this, # echo "/home" > persistence.conf for the first partition that will save the user's files and # echo "/root" > persistence.conf for the second partition which will store the superuser's files. Finally use the persistence boot parameter.

    If a user would need multiple persistence store of the same type for different locations or testing, such as private and work, the boot parameter persistence-label used in conjunction with the boot parameter persistence will allow for multiple but unique persistence media. An example would be if a user wanted to use a persistence partition labeled private for personal data like browser bookmarks or other types, they would use the boot parameters: persistence persistence-label=private. And to store work related data, like documents, research projects or other types, they would use the boot parameters: persistence persistence-label=work.

    It is important to remember that each of these volumes, private and work, also needs a persistence.conf file in its root. The live-boot man page contains more information about how to use these labels with legacy names.

    11. Customizing the binary image

    11.1 Bootloader

    live-build uses syslinux and some of its derivatives (depending on the image type) as bootloaders by default. They can be easily customized in two ways.

    In order to use a full theme, copy /usr/share/live/build/bootloaders into config/bootloaders and edit files in there. If you do not want to bother modifying all supported bootloader configurations, only providing a local customized copy of one of the bootloaders, e.g. isolinux in config/bootloaders/isolinux is enough too, depending on your use case.

    There is also the possibility of making smaller changes. For instance, syslinux derivatives are configured by default with a timeout of 0 (zero) which means that they will pause indefinitely at their splash screen until you press a key.

    To modify the boot timeout of a default iso-hybrid image just edit a default isolinux.cfg file specifying the timeout in units of seconds and add it to config/includes.binary/isolinux/

    A modified isolinux.cfg to boot after five seconds would be similar to this:

    include menu.cfg
    default vesamenu.c32
    prompt 0
    timeout 50

    An alternative way of achieving the same goal could be writing a hook and adding it to config/hooks/. Remember to add the .binary suffix to run in the binary stage. A proposed example:


    sed -i -e 's|timeout 0|timeout 50|' binary/isolinux/isolinux.cfg

    Likewise, if you want to use a personalized splash.png image, add a picture of 640x480 pixels to config/includes.binary/isolinux/

    11.2 ISO metadata

    When creating an ISO9660 binary image, you can use the following options to add various textual metadata for your image. This can help you easily identify the version or configuration of an image without booting it.

  • LB_ISO_APPLICATION/--iso-application NAME: This should describe the application that will be on the image. The maximum length for this field is 128 characters.
  • LB_ISO_PREPARER/--iso-preparer NAME: This should describe the preparer of the image, usually with some contact details. The default for this option is the live-build version you are using, which may help with debugging later. The maximum length for this field is 128 characters.
  • LB_ISO_PUBLISHER/--iso-publisher NAME: This should describe the publisher of the image, usually with some contact details. The maximum length for this field is 128 characters.
  • LB_ISO_VOLUME/--iso-volume NAME: This should specify the volume ID of the image. This is used as a user-visible label on some platforms such as Windows and Apple Mac OS. The maximum length for this field is 32 characters.
  • 12. Customizing Debian Installer

    Debian Live system images can be integrated with Debian Installer. There are a number of different types of installation, varying in what is included and how the installer operates.

    Please note the careful use of capital letters when referring to the "Debian Installer" in this section - when used like this we refer explicitly to the official installer for the Debian system, not anything else. It is often seen abbreviated to "d-i".

    12.1 Types of Debian Installer

    The three main types of installer are:

    "Normal" Debian Installer: This is a normal Debian Live image with a separate kernel and initrd which (when selected from the appropriate bootloader) launches into a standard Debian Installer instance, just as if you had downloaded a CD image of Debian and booted it. Images containing a live system and such an otherwise independent installer are often referred to as "combined images".

    On such images, Debian is installed by fetching and installing .deb packages using debootstrap, from local media or some network-based network, resulting in a default Debian system being installed to the hard disk.

    This whole process can be preseeded and customized in a number of ways; see the relevant pages in the Debian Installer manual for more information. Once you have a working preseeding file, live-build can automatically put it in the image and enable it for you.

    "Live" Debian Installer: This is a Debian Live image with a separate kernel and initrd which (when selected from the appropriate bootloader) launches into an instance of the Debian Installer.

    Installation will proceed in an identical fashion to the "normal" installation described above, but at the actual package installation stage, instead of using debootstrap to fetch and install packages, the live filesystem image is copied to the target. This is achieved with a special udeb called live-installer.

    After this stage, the Debian Installer continues as normal, installing and configuring items such as bootloaders and local users, etc.

    Note: to support both normal and live installer entries in the bootloader of the same live medium, you must disable live-installer by preseeding live-installer/enable=false.

    "Desktop" Debian Installer: Regardless of the type of Debian Installer included, d-i can be launched from the Desktop by clicking on an icon. This is user friendlier in some situations. In order to make use of this, the debian-installer-launcher package needs to be included.

    Note that by default, live-build does not include Debian Installer images in the images, it needs to be specifically enabled with lb config. Also, please note that for the "Desktop" installer to work, the kernel of the live system must match the kernel d-i uses for the specified architecture. For example:

    $ lb config --architectures i386 --linux-flavours 486 \
             --debian-installer live
    $ echo debian-installer-launcher >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    12.2 Customizing Debian Installer by preseeding

    As described in the Debian Installer Manual, Appendix B at ‹https://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i386/apb.html›, "Preseeding provides a way to set answers to questions asked during the installation process, without having to manually enter the answers while the installation is running. This makes it possible to fully automate most types of installation and even offers some features not available during normal installations." This kind of customization is best accomplished with live-build by placing the configuration in a preseed.cfg file included in config/debian-installer/. For example, to preseed setting the locale to en_US:

    $ echo "d-i debian-installer/locale string en_US" \
             >> config/debian-installer/preseed.cfg

    12.3 Customizing Debian Installer content

    For experimental or debugging purposes, you might want to include locally built d-i component udeb packages. Place these in config/packages.binary/ to include them in the image. Additional or replacement files and directories may be included in the installer initrd as well, in a similar fashion to Live/chroot local includes, by placing the material in config/includes.debian-installer/.


    13. Contributing to the project

    When submitting a contribution, please clearly identify its copyright holder and include the licensing statement. Note that to be accepted, the contribution must be licensed under the same license as the rest of the documents, namely, GPL version 3 or later.

    Contributions to the project, such as translations and patches, are greatly welcome. Anyone can directly commit to the repositories, however, we ask you to send bigger changes to the mailing list to discuss them first. See the section Contact for more information.

    The Debian Live Project uses Git as version control system and source code management. As explained in Git repositories there are two main development branches: debian and debian-next. Everybody can commit to the debian-next branches of the live-boot, live-build, live-config, live-images, live-manual and live-tools repositories.

    However, there are certain restrictions. The server will reject:

  • Non fast-forward pushes.
  • Merge commits.
  • Adding or removing tags or branches.
  • Even though all commits might be revised, we ask you to use your common sense and make good commits with good commit messages.

  • Write commit messages that consist of complete, meaningful sentences in English, starting with a capital letter and ending with a full stop. Usually, these will start with the form "Fixing/Adding/Removing/Correcting/Translating/...".
  • Write good commit messages. The first line must be an accurate summary of the contents of the commit which will be included in the changelog. If you need to make some further explanations, write them below leaving a blank line after the first one and then another blank line after each paragraph. Lines of paragraphs should not exceed 80 characters in length.
  • Commit atomically, this is to say, do not mix unrelated things in the same commit. Make one different commit for each change you make.
  • 13.1 Making changes

    In order to push to the repositories, you must follow the following procedure. Here we use live-manual as an example so replace it with the name of the repository you want to work with. For detailed information on how to edit live-manual see Contributing to this document.

  • Fetch the public commit key:
  • $ mkdir -p ~/.ssh/keys
    $ wget http://live.debian.net/other/keys/[email protected] -O ~/.ssh/keys/[email protected]
    $ wget http://live.debian.net/other/keys/[email protected] -O ~/.ssh/keys/[email protected]
    $ chmod 0600 ~/.ssh/keys/[email protected]*

  • Add the following section to your openssh-client config:
  • $ cat >> ~/.ssh/config << EOF
    Host live.debian.net
         Hostname live.debian.net
         User git
         IdentityFile ~/.ssh/keys/[email protected]

  • Check out a clone of live-manual through ssh:
  • $ git clone [email protected]:/live-manual.git
    $ cd live-manual && git checkout debian-next

  • Make sure you have Git author and email set:
  •   $ git config user.name "John Doe"
      $ git config user.email [email protected]

    Important: Remember that you should commit any changes on the debian-next branch.

  • Make your changes. In this example you would first write a new section dealing with applying patches and then prepare to commit adding the files and writing your commit message like this:
  • $ git commit -a -m "Adding a section on applying patches."

  • Push the commit to the server:
  • $ git push

    14. Reporting bugs

    Debian Live is far from being perfect, but we want to make it as close as possible to perfect - with your help. Do not hesitate to report a bug. It is better to fill a report twice than never. However, this chapter includes recommendations on how to file good bug reports.

    For the impatient:

  • Always check first the image status updates on our homepage at ‹http://live.debian.net/› for known issues.
  • Always try to reproduce the bug with the most recent versions of live-build, live-boot, live-config and live-tools before submitting a bug report.
  • Try to give as specific information as possible about the bug. This includes (at least) the version of live-build, live-boot, live-config, and live-tools used and the distribution of the live system you are building.
  • 14.1 Known issues

    Since Debian testing and Debian unstable distributions are moving targets, when you specify either of them as the target system distribution, a successful build may not always be possible.

    If this causes too much difficulty for you, do not build a system based on testing or unstable, but rather, use stable. live-build always defaults to the stable release.

    Currently known issues are listed under the section 'status' on our homepage at ‹http://live.debian.net/›.

    It is out of the scope of this manual to train you to correctly identify and fix problems in packages of the development distributions, however, there are two things you can always try: If a build fails when the target distribution is testing, try unstable. If unstable does not work either, revert to testing and pin the newer version of the failing package from unstable (see APT pinning for details).

    14.2 Rebuild from scratch

    To ensure that a particular bug is not caused by an uncleanly built system, please always rebuild the whole live system from scratch to see if the bug is reproducible.

    14.3 Use up-to-date packages

    Using outdated packages can cause significant problems when trying to reproduce (and ultimately fix) your problem. Make sure your build system is up-to-date and any packages included in your image are up-to-date as well.

    14.4 Collect information

    Please provide enough information with your report. Include, at least, the exact version of live-build where the bug is encountered and the steps to reproduce it. Please use your common sense and provide any other relevant information if you think that it might help in solving the problem.

    To make the most out of your bug report, we require at least the following information:

  • Architecture of the host system
  • Version of live-build on the host system
  • Version of debootstrap and/or cdebootstrap on the host system
  • Architecture of the live system
  • Distribution of the live system
  • Version of live-boot on the live system
  • Version of live-config on the live system
  • Version of live-tools on the live system
  • You can generate a log of the build process by using the tee command. We recommend doing this automatically with an auto/build script (see Managing a configuration for details).

    # lb build 2>&1 | tee build.log

    At boot time, live-boot and live-config store their logfiles in /var/log/live/. Check them for error messages.

    Additionally, to rule out other errors, it is always a good idea to tar up your config/ directory and upload it somewhere (do not send it as an attachment to the mailing list), so that we can try to reproduce the errors you encountered. If this is difficult (e.g. due to size) you can use the output of lb config --dump which produces a summary of your config tree (i.e. lists files in subdirectories of config/ but does not include them).

    Remember to send in any logs that were produced with English locale settings, e.g. run your live-build commands with a leading LC_ALL=C or LC_ALL=en_US.

    14.5 Isolate the failing case if possible

    If possible, isolate the failing case to the smallest possible change that breaks. It is not always easy to do this so if you cannot manage it for your report, do not worry. However, if you plan your development cycle well, using small enough change sets per iteration, you may be able to isolate the problem by constructing a simpler 'base' configuration that closely matches your actual configuration plus just the broken change set added to it. If you have a hard time sorting out which of your changes broke, it may be that you are including too much in each change set and should develop in smaller increments.

    14.6 Use the correct package to report the bug against

    If you do not know what component is responsible for the bug or if the bug is a general bug concerning live systems, you can fill a bug against the debian-live pseudo-package.

    However, we would appreciate it if you try to narrow it down according to where the bug appears.

    14.6.1 At build time while bootstrapping

    live-build first bootstraps a basic Debian system with debootstrap or cdebootstrap. Depending on the bootstrapping tool used and the Debian distribution it is bootstrapping, it may fail. If a bug appears here, check if the error is related to a specific Debian package (most likely), or if it is related to the bootstrapping tool itself.

    In both cases, this is not a bug in Debian Live, but rather in Debian itself and probably we cannot fix it directly. Please report such a bug against the bootstrapping tool or the failing package.

    14.6.2 At build time while installing packages

    live-build installs additional packages from the Debian archive and depending on the Debian distribution used and the daily archive state, it can fail. If a bug appears here, check if the error is also reproducible on a normal system.

    If this is the case, this is not a bug in Debian Live, but rather in Debian - please report it against the failing package. Running debootstrap separately from the Live system build or running lb bootstrap --debug will give you more information.

    Also, if you are using a local mirror and/or any sort of proxy and you are experiencing a problem, please always reproduce it first by bootstrapping from an official mirror.

    14.6.3 At boot time

    If your image does not boot, please report it to the mailing list together with the information requested in Collect information. Do not forget to mention, how/when the image failed exactly, whether using virtualization or real hardware. If you are using a virtualization technology of any kind, please always run it on real hardware before reporting a bug. Providing a screenshot of the failure is also very helpful.

    14.6.4 At run time

    If a package was successfully installed, but fails while actually running the Live system, this is probably a bug in Debian Live. However:

    14.7 Do the research

    Before filing the bug, please search the web for the particular error message or symptom you are getting. As it is highly unlikely that you are the only person experiencing a particular problem. There is always a chance that it has been discussed elsewhere and a possible solution, patch, or workaround has been proposed.

    You should pay particular attention to the Debian Live mailing list, as well as the homepage, as these are likely to contain the most up-to-date information. If such information exists, always include the references to it in your bug report.

    In addition, you should check the current bug lists for live-build, live-boot, live-config and live-tools to see whether something similar has already been reported.

    14.8 Where to report bugs

    The Debian Live project keeps track of all bugs in the Debian Bug Tracking System (BTS). For information on how to use the system, please see ‹https://bugs.debian.org/›. You can also submit the bugs by using the reportbug command from the package with the same name.

    In general, you should report build time errors against the live-build package, boot time errors against live-boot, and run time errors against live-config. If you are unsure of which package is appropriate or need more help before submitting a bug report, please report it against the debian-live pseudo-package. We will then take care about it and reassign it where appropriate.

    Please note that bugs found in distributions derived from Debian (such as Ubuntu and others) should not be reported to the Debian BTS unless they can be also reproduced on a Debian system using official Debian packages.

    15. Coding Style

    This chapter documents the coding style used in Debian Live.

    15.1 Compatibility
  • Don't use syntax or semantics that are unique to the Bash shell. For example, the use of array constructs.
  • Only use the POSIX subset - for example, use $(foo) over `foo`.
  • You can check your scripts with 'sh -n' and 'checkbashisms'.
  • Make sure all shell code runs with 'set -e'.
  • 15.2 Indenting
  • Always use tabs over spaces.
  • 15.3 Wrapping
  • Generally, lines are 80 chars at maximum.
  • Use the "Linux style" of line breaks:
  • Bad:

    if foo; then


    if foo

  • The same holds for functions:
  • Bad:

    Foo () {


    Foo ()

    15.4 Variables
  • Variables are always in capital letters.
  • Variables used in live-build always start with LB_ prefix.
  • Internal temporary variables in live-build should start with the _LB_ prefix.
  • Local variables start with live-build __LB_ prefix.
  • Variables in connection to a boot parameter in live-config start with LIVE_.
  • All other variables in live-config start with _ prefix.
  • Use braces around variables; e.g. write ${FOO} instead of $FOO.
  • Always protect variables with quotes to respect potential whitespaces: write "${FOO}" not ${FOO}.
  • For consistency reasons, always use quotes when assigning values to variables:
  • Bad:




  • If multiple variables are used, quote the full expression:
  • Bad:

    if [ -f "${FOO}"/foo/"${BAR}"/bar ]


    if [ -f "${FOO}/foo/${BAR}/bar" ]

    15.5 Miscellaneous
  • Use "|" (without the surround quotes) as a separator in calls to sed, e.g. "sed -e 's|foo|bar|'" (without "").
  • Don't use the test command for comparisons or tests, use "[" "]" (without ""); e.g. "if [ -x /bin/foo ]; ..." and not "if test -x /bin/foo; ...".
  • Use case wherever possible over test, as it's easier to read and faster in execution.
  • Use capitalized names for functions to limit messing with the users environment.
  • 16. Procedures

    This chapter documents the procedures within the Debian Live project for various tasks that need cooperation with other teams in Debian.

    16.1 Major Releases

    Releasing a new stable major version of Debian includes a lot of different teams working together to make it happen. At some point, the Live team comes in and builds live system images. The requirements to do this are:

  • A mirror containing the released versions for the debian and debian-security archives which the debian-live buildd can access.
  • The names of the image need to be known (e.g. debian-live-VERSION-ARCH-FLAVOUR.iso).
  • The data from debian-cd needs to be synced (udeb exclude lists).
  • The includes from debian-cd needs to be synced (README.*, doc/*, etc.).
  • Images are built and mirrored on cdimage.debian.org.
  • 16.2 Point Releases
  • Again, we need updated mirrors of debian and debian-security.
  • Images are built and mirrored on cdimage.debian.org.
  • Send announcement mail.
  • 16.2.1 Last Point Release of a Debian Release

    Remember to adjust both chroot and binary mirrors when building the last set of images for a Debian release after it has been moved away from ftp.debian.org to archive.debian.org. That way, old prebuilt live images are still useful without user modifications.

    16.2.2 Point release announcement template

    An annoucement mail for point releases can be generated using the template below and the following command:

    $ sed \
         -e 's|@MAJOR@|7.0|g' \
         -e 's|@MINOR@|7.0.1|g' \
         -e 's|@CODENAME@|wheezy|g' \
         -e 's|@ANNOUNCE@|2013/msgXXXXX.html|g'

    Please check the mail carefully before sending and pass it to others for proof-reading.

    Updated Debian Live @MAJOR@: @MINOR@ released

    The Debian Live project is pleased to announce the @MINOR@ update of the
    Live images for the stable distribution Debian @MAJOR@ (codename "@CODENAME@").

    The images are available for download at:


    and later at:


    This update includes the changes of the Debian @MINOR@ release:


    Additionally it includes the following Live-specific changes:


    About Debian Live
    The Debian Live project produces the tools used to build official
    Debian Live systems and the official Debian Live images themselves.

    About Debian
    The Debian Project is an association of Free Software developers who
    volunteer their time and effort in order to produce the completely free
    operating system Debian.

    Contact Information
    For further information, please visit the Debian Live web pages at
    <http://live.debian.net/>, or contact the Debian Live team at
    <[email protected]>.

    17. Git repositories

    The list of all the available repositories of the Debian Live Project can be found at ‹http://live.debian.net/gitweb/›. The project's git URLs have the form: protocol://live.debian.net/git/repository. Thus, in order to clone live-manual read-only, launch:

    $ git clone git://live.debian.net/git/live-manual.git


    $ git clone https://live.debian.net/git/live-manual.git


    $ git clone http://live.debian.net/git/live-manual.git

    The cloning addresses with write permission have the form: [email protected]:/repository.

    So, again, to clone live-manual over ssh you must type:

    $ git clone [email protected]:live-manual.git

    The git tree is made up of several different branches. The debian and the debian-next branches are particularly noteworthy because they contain the actual work that will eventually be included in each new release.

    After cloning any of the existing repositories, you will be on the debian branch. This is appropriate to take a look at the state of the project's latest release but before starting work it is crucial to switch to the debian-next branch. To do so:

    $ git checkout debian-next

    The debian-next branch, which is not always fast-forward, is where all the changes are committed first before being merged into the debian branch. To make an analogy, it is like a testing ground. If you are working on this branch and need to pull, you will have to do a git pull --rebase so that your local modifications are staged while pulling from the server and then your changes will be put on top of it all.

    17.1 Handling multiple repositories

    If you intend to clone several of the Debian Live repositories and want to switch to the debian-next branch right away to check the latest code, write a patch or contribute with a translation you ought to know that the git server provides a mrconfig file to ease the handling of multiple repositories. In order to use it you need to install the mr package and after that, launch:

    $  mr bootstrap http://live.debian.net/other/mr/mrconfig

    This command will automatically clone and checkout to the debian-next branch the development repositories of the Debian packages produced by the project. These include, among others, the live-images repository, which contains the configurations used for the prebuilt images that the project publishes for general use. For more information on how to use this repository, see Clone a configuration published via Git


    18. Examples

    This chapter covers example builds for specific use cases with Debian Live. If you are new to building your own Debian Live images, we recommend you first look at the three tutorials in sequence, as each one teaches new techniques that will help you use and understand the remaining examples.

    18.1 Using the examples

    To use these examples you need a system to build them on that meets the requirements listed in Requirements and has live-build installed as described in Installing live-build.

    Note that, for the sake of brevity, in these examples we do not specify a local mirror to use for the build. You can speed up downloads considerably if you use a local mirror. You may specify the options when you use lb config, as described in Distribution mirrors used at build time, or for more convenience, set the default for your build system in /etc/live/build.conf. Simply create this file and in it, set the corresponding LB_MIRROR_* variables to your preferred mirror. All other mirrors used in the build will be defaulted from these values. For example:


    18.2 Tutorial 1: A default image

    Use case: Create a simple first image, learning the basics of live-build.

    In this tutorial, we will build a default ISO hybrid Debian Live image containing only base packages (no Xorg) and some Debian Live support packages, as a first exercise in using live-build.

    You can't get much simpler than this:

    $ mkdir tutorial1 ; cd tutorial1 ; lb config

    Examine the contents of the config/ directory if you wish. You will see stored here a skeletal configuration, ready to customize or, in this case, use immediately to build a default image.

    Now, as superuser, build the image, saving a log as you build with tee.

    # lb build 2>&1 | tee build.log

    Assuming all goes well, after a while, the current directory will contain binary.hybrid.iso. This ISO hybrid image can be booted directly in a virtual machine as described in Testing an ISO image with Qemu and Testing an ISO image with virtualbox, or else imaged onto optical media or a USB flash device as described in Burning an ISO image to a physical medium and Copying an ISO hybrid image to a USB stick, respectively.

    18.3 Tutorial 2: A web browser utility

    Use case: Create a web browser utility image, learning how to apply customizations.

    In this tutorial, we will create an image suitable for use as a web browser utility, serving as an introduction to customizing Debian Live images.

    $ mkdir tutorial2
    $ cd tutorial2
    $ echo "task-lxde-desktop iceweasel" >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    Our choice of LXDE for this example reflects our desire to provide a minimal desktop environment, since the focus of the image is the single use we have in mind, the web browser. We could go even further and provide a default configuration for the web browser in config/includes.chroot/etc/iceweasel/profile/, or additional support packages for viewing various kinds of web content, but we leave this as an exercise for the reader.

    Build the image, again as superuser, keeping a log as in Tutorial 1:

    # lb build 2>&1 | tee build.log

    Again, verify the image is OK and test, as in Tutorial 1.

    18.4 Tutorial 3: A personalized image

    Use case: Create a project to build a personalized image, containing your favourite software to take with you on a USB stick wherever you go, and evolving in successive revisions as your needs and preferences change.

    Since we will be changing our personalized image over a number of revisions, and we want to track those changes, trying things experimentally and possibly reverting them if things don't work out, we will keep our configuration in the popular git version control system. We will also use the best practice of autoconfiguration via auto scripts as described in Managing a configuration.

    18.4.1 First revision

    $ mkdir -p tutorial3/auto
    $ cp /usr/share/doc/live-build/examples/auto/* tutorial3/auto/
    $ cd tutorial3

    Edit auto/config to read as follows:


    lb config noauto \
         --architectures i386 \
         --linux-flavours 686-pae \

    Perform lb config to generate the config tree, using the auto/config script you just created:

    $ lb config

    Now populate your local package list:

    $ echo "task-lxde-desktop iceweasel xchat" >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    First, --architectures i386 ensures that on our amd64 build system, we build a 32-bit version suitable for use on most machines. Second, we use --linux-flavours 686-pae because we don't anticipate using this image on much older systems. Third, we have chosen the lxde task metapackage to give us a minimal desktop. And finally, we have added two initial favourite packages: iceweasel and xchat.

    Now, build the image:

    # lb build

    Note that unlike in the first two tutorials, we no longer have to type 2>&1 | tee build.log as that is now included in auto/build.

    Once you've tested the image (as in Tutorial 1) and are satisfied it works, it's time to initialize our git repository, adding only the auto scripts we just created, and then make the first commit:

    $ git init
    $ cp /usr/share/doc/live-build/examples/gitignore .gitignore
    $ git add .
    $ git commit -a -m "Initial import."

    18.4.2 Second revision

    In this revision, we're going to clean up from the first build, add the vlc package to our configuration, rebuild, test and commit.

    The lb clean command will clean up all generated files from the previous build except for the cache, which saves having to re-download packages. This ensures that the subsequent lb build will re-run all stages to regenerate the files from our new configuration.

    # lb clean

    Now append the vlc package to our local package list in config/package-lists/my.list.chroot:

    $ echo vlc >> config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    Build again:

    # lb build

    Test, and when you're satisfied, commit the next revision:

    $ git commit -a -m "Adding vlc media player."

    Of course, more complicated changes to the configuration are possible, perhaps adding files in subdirectories of config/. When you commit new revisions, just take care not to hand edit or commit the top-level files in config containing LB_* variables, as these are build products, too, and are always cleaned up by lb clean and re-created with lb config via their respective auto scripts.

    We've come to the end of our tutorial series. While many more kinds of customization are possible, even just using the few features explored in these simple examples, an almost infinite variety of different images can be created. The remaining examples in this section cover several other use cases drawn from the collected experiences of users of Debian Live.

    18.5 A VNC Kiosk Client

    Use case: Create an image with live-build to boot directly to a VNC server.

    Make a build directory and create an skeletal configuration inside it, disabling recommends to make a minimal system. And then create two initial package lists: the first one generated with a script provided by live-build named Packages (see Generated package lists), and the second one including xorg, gdm3, metacity and xvnc4viewer.

    $ mkdir vnc-kiosk-client
    $ cd vnc-kiosk-client
    $ lb config -a i386 -k 686-pae --apt-recommends false
    $ echo '! Packages Priority standard' > config/package-lists/standard.list.chroot
    $ echo "xorg gdm3 metacity xvnc4viewer" > config/package-lists/my.list.chroot

    As explained in Tweaking APT to save space you may need to re-add some recommended packages to make your image work properly.

    An easy way to list recommends is using apt-cache. For example:

    $ apt-cache depends live-config live-boot

    In this example we found out that we had to re-include several packages recommended by live-config and live-boot: user-setup to make autologin work and sudo as an essential program to shutdown the system. Besides, it could be handy to add live-tools to be able to copy the image to RAM and eject to eventually eject the live medium. So:

    $ echo "live-tools user-setup sudo eject" > config/package-lists/recommends.list.chroot

    After that, create the directory /etc/skel in config/includes.chroot and put a custom .xsession in it for the default user that will launch metacity and start xvncviewer, connecting to port 5901 on a server at

    $ mkdir -p config/includes.chroot/etc/skel
    $ cat > config/includes.chroot/etc/skel/.xsession << EOF

    /usr/bin/metacity &


    Build the image:

    # lb build


    18.6 A base image for a 128MB USB key

    Use case: Create a default image with some components removed in order to fit on a 128MB USB key with a little space left over to use as you see fit.

    When optimizing an image to fit a certain media size, you need to understand the tradeoffs you are making between size and functionality. In this example, we trim only so much as to make room for additional material within a 128MB media size, but without doing anything to destroy the integrity of the packages contained within, such as the purging of locale data via the localepurge package, or other such "intrusive" optimizations. Of particular note, we use --debootstrap-options to create a minimal system from scratch.

    $ lb config -k 486 --apt-indices false --apt-recommends false --debootstrap-options "--variant=minbase" --firmware-chroot false --memtest none

    To make the image work properly, we must re-add, at least, two recommended packages which are left out by the --apt-recommends false option. See Tweaking APT to save space

    $ echo "user-setup sudo" > config/package-lists/recommends.list.chroot

    Now, build the image in the usual way:

    # lb build 2>&1 | tee build.log

    On the author's system at the time of writing this, the above configuration produced a 77MB image. This compares favourably with the 177MB image produced by the default configuration in Tutorial 1.

    The biggest space-saver here, compared to building a default image on an i386 architecture system, is to select only the 486 kernel flavour instead of the default -k "486 686-pae". Leaving off APT's indices with --apt-indices false also saves a fair amount of space, the tradeoff being that you need to do an apt-get update before using apt in the live system. Dropping recommended packages with --apt-recommends false saves some additional space, at the expense of omitting some packages you might otherwise expect to be there. --debootstrap-options "--variant=minbase" bootstraps a minimal system from the start. Not automatically including firmware packages with --firmware-chroot false saves some space too. And finally, --memtest none prevents the installation of a memory tester.

    Note: A minimal system can also be achieved using hooks, like for example the stripped.chroot hook found in /usr/share/doc/live-build/examples/hooks. It may shave off additional small amounts of space and produce an image of 62MB. However, it does so by removal of documentation and other files from packages installed on the system. This violates the integrity of those packages and that, as the comment header warns, may have unforeseen consequences. That is why using a minimal debootstrap is the recommended way of achieving this goal.

    18.7 A localized GNOME desktop and installer

    Use case: Create a GNOME desktop image, localized for Switzerland and including an installer.

    We want to make an iso-hybrid image for i386 architecture using our preferred desktop, in this case GNOME, containing all of the same packages that would be installed by the standard Debian installer for GNOME.

    Our initial problem is the discovery of the names of the appropriate language tasks. Currently, live-build cannot help with this. While we might get lucky and find this by trial-and-error, there is a tool, grep-dctrl, which can be used to dig it out of the task descriptions in tasksel-data, so to prepare, make sure you have both of those things:

    # apt-get install dctrl-tools tasksel-data

    Now we can search for the appropriate tasks, first with:

    $ grep-dctrl -FTest-lang de /usr/share/tasksel/descs/debian-tasks.desc -sTask
    Task: german

    By this command, we discover the task is called, plainly enough, german. Now to find the related tasks:

    $ grep-dctrl -FEnhances german /usr/share/tasksel/descs/debian-tasks.desc -sTask
    Task: german-desktop
    Task: german-kde-desktop

    At boot time we will generate the de_CH.UTF-8 locale and select the ch keyboard layout. Now let's put the pieces together. Recalling from Using metapackages that task metapackages are prefixed task-, we just specify these language boot parameters, then add standard priority packages and all our discovered task metapackages to our package list as follows:

    $ mkdir live-gnome-ch
    $ cd live-gnome-ch
    $ lb config \
         -a i386 \
         -k 486 \
         --bootappend-live "boot=live config locales=de_CH.UTF-8 keyboard-layouts=ch" \
         --debian-installer live
    $ echo '! Packages Priority standard' > config/package-lists/standard.list.chroot
    $ echo task-gnome-desktop task-german task-german-desktop >> config/package-lists/desktop.list.chroot
    $ echo debian-installer-launcher >> config/package-lists/installer.list.chroot

    Note that we have included the debian-installer-launcher package to launch the installer from the live desktop, and have also specified the 486 flavour kernel, as it is currently necessary to make the installer and live system kernels match for the launcher to work properly.


    18.8 Guidelines for authors

    This section deals with some general considerations to be taken into account when writing technical documentation for live-manual. They are divided into linguistic features and recommended procedures.

    Note: Authors should first read Contributing to this document

    18.8.1 Linguistic features
  • Use plain English
  • Keep in mind that a high percentage of your readers are not native speakers. So as a general rule try to use short, meaningful sentences, followed by a full stop.

    This does not mean that you have to use a simplistic, naive style. It is a suggestion to try to avoid, as much as possible, complex subordinate sentences that make the text difficult to understand for non-native speakers.

  • Variety of English
  • The most widely spread varieties of English are British and American so it is very likely that most authors will use either one or the other. In a collaborative environment, the ideal variety would be "International English" but it is very difficult, not to say impossible, to decide on which variety among all the existing ones, is the best to use.

    We expect that different varieties may mix without creating misunderstandings but in general terms you should try to be coherent and before deciding on using British, American or any other English flavour at your discretion, please take a look at how other people write and try to imitate them.

  • Be balanced
  • Do not be biased. Avoid including references to ideologies completely unrelated to live-manual. Technical writing should be as neutral as possible. It is in the very nature of scientific writing.

  • Be politically correct
  • Try to avoid sexist language as much as possible. If you need to make references to the third person singular preferably use "they" rather than "he" or "she" or awkward inventions such as "s/he", "s(he)" and the like.

  • Be concise
  • Go straight to the point and do not wander around aimlessly. Give as much information as necessary but do not give more information than necessary, this is to say, do not explain unnecessary details. Your readers are intelligent. Presume some previous knowledge on their part.

  • Minimize translation work
  • Keep in mind that whatever you write will have to be translated into several other languages. This implies that a number of people will have to do an extra work if you add useless or redundant information.

  • Be coherent
  • As suggested before, it is almost impossible to standardize a collaborative document into a perfectly unified whole. However, every effort on your side to write in a coherent way with the rest of the authors will be appreciated.

  • Be cohesive
  • Use as many text-forming devices as necessary to make your text cohesive and unambiguous. (Text-forming devices are linguistic markers such as connectors).

  • Be descriptive
  • It is preferable to describe the point in one or several paragraphs than merely using a number of sentences in a typical "changelog" style. Describe it! Your readers will appreciate it.

  • Dictionary
  • Look up the meaning of words in a dictionary or encyclopedia if you do not know how to express certain concepts in English. But keep in mind that a dictionary can either be your best friend or can turn into your worst enemy if you do not know how to use it correctly.

    English has the largest vocabulary that exists (with over one million words). Many of these words are borrowings from other languages. When looking up the meaning of words in a bilingual dictionary the tendency of a non-native speaker is to choose the one that sounds more similar in their mother tongue. This often turns into an excessively formal discourse which does not sound quite natural in English.

    As a general rule, if a concept can be expressed using different synonyms, it is a good advice to choose the first word proposed by the dictionary. If in doubt, choosing words of Germanic origin (Usually monosyllabic words) is often the right thing to do. Be warned that these two techniques might produce a rather informal discourse but at least your choice of words will be of wide use and generally accepted.

    Using a dictionary of collocations is recommended. They are extremely helpful when it comes to know which words usually occur together.

    Again it is a good practice to learn from the work of others. Using a search engine to check how other authors use certain expressions may help a lot.

  • False friends, idioms and other idiomatic expressions
  • Watch out for false friends. No matter how proficient you are in a foreign language you cannot help falling from time to time in the trap of the so called "false friends", words that look similar in two languages but whose meanings or uses might be completely different.

    Try to avoid idioms as much as possible. "Idioms" are expressions that may convey a completely different meaning from what their individual words seem to mean. Sometimes, idioms are difficult to understand even for native speakers!

  • Avoid slang, abbreviations, contractions...
  • Even though you are encouraged to use plain, everyday English, technical writing belongs to the formal register of the language.

    Try to avoid slang, unusual abbreviations that are difficult to understand and above all contractions that try to imitate the spoken language. Not to mention typical irc and family friendly expressions.

    18.8.2 Procedures
  • Test before write
  • It is important that authors test their examples before adding them to live-manual to ensure that everything works as described. Testing on a clean chroot or VM can be a good starting point. Besides, it would be ideal if the tests were then carried out on different machines with different hardware to spot possible problems that may arise.

  • Examples
  • When providing an example try to be as specific as you can. An example is, after all, just an example.

    It is often better to use a line that only applies to a specific case than using abstractions that may confuse your readers. In this case you can provide a brief explanation of the effects of the proposed example.

    There may be some exceptions when the example suggests using some potentially dangerous commands that, if misused, may cause data loss or other similar undesirable effects. In this case you should provide a thorough explanation of the possible side effects.

  • External links
  • Links to external sites should only be used when the information on those sites is crucial when it comes to understanding a special point. Even so, try to use links to external sites as sparsely as possible. Internet links are likely to change from time to time resulting in broken links and leaving your arguments in an incomplete state.

    Besides, people who read the manual offline will not have the chance to follow those links.

  • Avoid branding and things that violate the license under which the manual is published
  • Try to avoid branding as much as possible. Keep in mind that other downstream projects might make use of the documentation you write. So you are complicating things for them if you add certain specific material.

    live-manual is licensed under the GNU GPL. This has a number of implications that apply to the distribution of the material (of any kind, including copyrighted graphics or logos) that is published with it.

  • Write a first draft, revise, edit, improve, redo if necessary
  • - Brainstorm!. You need to organize your ideas first in a logical sequence of events.

    - Once you have somehow organized those ideas in your mind write a first draft.

    - Revise grammar, syntax and spelling. Keep in mind that the proper names of the releases, such as wheezy or sid, should not be capitalized when referred to as code names.

    - Improve your statements and redo any part if necessary.

  • Chapters
  • Use the conventional numbering system for chapters and subtitles. e.g. 1, 1.1, 1.1.1, 1.1.2 ... 1.2, 1.2.1, 1.2.2 ... 2, 2.1 ... and so on. See markup below.

    If you have to enumerate a series of steps or stages in your description, you can also use ordinal numbers: First, second, third ... or First, Then, After that, Finally ... Alternatively you can use bulleted items.

  • Markup
  • And last but not least, live-manual uses SiSU to process the text files and produce a multiple format output. It is recommended to take a look at SiSU's manual to get familiar with its markup, or else type:

    $ sisu --help markup

    Here are some markup examples that may prove useful:

    - For emphasis/bold text:

    *{foo}* or !{foo}!

    produces: foo or foo. Use it to emphasize certain key words.

    - For italics:


    produces: foo. Use them e.g. for the names of Debian packages.

    - For monospace:


    produces: foo. Use it e.g. for the names of commands. And also to highlight some key words or things like paths.

    - For code blocks:


      $ foo
      # bar



    $ foo
    # bar

    Use code{ to open and }code to close the tags. It is important to remember to leave a space at the beginning of each line of code.

    18.9 Guidelines for translators

    This section deals with some general considerations to be taken into account when translating the contents of live-manual.

    As a general recommendation, translators should have read and understood the translation rules that apply to their specific languages. Usually, translation groups and mailing lists provide information on how to produce translated work that complies with Debian quality standards.

    Note: Translators should also read Contributing to this document. In particular the section Translation

    18.9.1 Translation hints
  • Comments
  • The role of the translator is to convey as faithfully as possible the meaning of words, sentences, paragraphs and texts as written by the original authors into their target language.

    So they should refrain from adding personal comments or extra bits of information of their own. If they want to add a comment for other translators working on the same documents, they can leave it in the space reserved for that. That is, the header of the strings in the po files preceded by a number sign #. Most graphical translation programs can automatically handle those types of comments.

  • TN, Translator's Note
  • It is perfectly acceptable however, to include a word or an expression in brackets in the translated text if, and only if, that makes the meaning of a difficult word or expression clearer to the reader. Inside the brackets the translator should make evident that the addition was theirs using the abbreviation "TN" or "Translator's Note".

  • Impersonal sentences
  • Documents written in English make an extensive use of the impersonal form "you". In some other languages that do not share this characteristic, this might give the false impression that the original texts are directly addressing the reader when they are actually not doing so. Translators must be aware of that fact and reflect it in their language as accurately as possible.

  • False friends
  • The trap of "false friends" explained before especially applies to translators. Double check the meaning of suspicious false friends if in doubt.

  • Markup
  • Translators working initially with pot files and later on with po files will find many markup features in the strings. They can translate the text anyway, as long as it is translatable, but it is extremely important that they use exactly the same markup as the original English version.

  • Code blocks
  • Even though the code blocks are usually untranslatable, including them in the translation is the only way to score a 100% complete translation. And even though it means more work at first because it requires the intervention of the translators if the code changes, it is the best way, in the long run, to identify what has already been translated and what has not when checking the integrity of the .po files.

  • Newlines
  • The translated texts need to have the exact same newlines as the original texts. Be careful to press the "Enter" key or type \n if they appear in the original files. These newlines often appear, for instance, in the code blocks.

    Make no mistake, this does not mean that the translated text needs to have the same length as the English version. That is nearly impossible.

  • Untranslatable strings
  • Translators should never translate:

    - The code names of releases (which should be written in lowercase)

    - The names of programs

    - The commands given as examples

    - Metadata (often between colons :metadata:)

    - Links

    - Paths