You are here

Bootable LFS CD using lilo

Uditha Atukorala's picture

TITLE: Bootable LFS CD using lilo
LFS VERSION: LFS 4.0 onwards
AUTHOR: Chris Lingard
CREDITS Thanks to Gerard Beekmans, Martin L. Pursche and many others`

My boot disk
The package Please do not use this until after
I have upgraded it. Problems with ISP, since I took hosting away from them.


This hint involves using two LFS systems to build a third system on a CD.
It does not use any external packages, the boot method being LFS


1. Introduction
2. How it boots
3. What it boots
3. The base system
4. The image system
5. Making the package
6. Building the image
7. Some uses for the boot CD


1. Introduction

This is my method of making a bootable CD
I started this project when I realised that I had no proper recovery system,
and it just grew from there.

I tried various other systems; the best being cd_template by Martin L. Pursche.
Extending this package, to boot a full Linux system, became my goal.

Here are the standard warnings. You must be confident enough to build systems,
with various hacks and modifications. You must be careful enough to avoid
wrecking your systems; many of the scripts will mess up your base system if
run wrongly.

2. How it boots

First a few words on how to make a bootable CD, (using lilo). When you burn a
CD using mkisofs, you have the -b option to specify the boot image.
This boot image must be something that the hardware understands, therefore
you need to emulate a floppy. Since we are only pretending that is a floppy,
we may choose any type, so we choose the largest -- a 2.88Mb floppy.

We make a file using a loop device that is exactly 2.88Mb, copy files to
it, then run lilo on it.

Please note that it is the BIOS that reads this 2.88Mb image. Once this is
read, then BIOS/lilo gives control to the kernel. The kernel boots,
decompresses the initrd file, and mounts this as the root file system.

We need to run lilo on the 2.88Mb file. Here is a lilo.conf:

cat > $TOPDIR/lilo.conf << EOF
bios=0x00 # bios ID from drive A, we need that here because lilo
# need to know which boot device to use
sectors=36 # 2.88MB disk geometry


append = "root=/dev/ram0 init=/linuxrc rw"

# run lilo
/sbin/lilo -C $TOPDIR/lilo.conf

At the start of the above, you can see us telling lies to the hardware,
that this is a 2.88Mb floppy.

We have put a kernel and boot message into this file system.

The initrd.gz is a compressed file system.

linuxrc is an executable script in the root of this file system.

This must all fit inside 2.88Mb.

The initrd file system may be 6.5Mb, before compression,
and still be small enough.

linuxrc may be a symbolic link to bash

3. What it boots

The files in the base of this file are:
boot-menu.b boot.b boot.msg initrd.gz map vmlinuz

boot.b is a symbolic link to boot-menu.b, and these together with map
are copied from /boot on your base system

boot.msg is a text file that gives the start of boot greeting

vmlinux is the kernel, and initrd.gz is a compressed file system that
will become the root partition.

The file system may contain anything you like, but this is all you will
have after booting the CD

You can make this system inside a directory; it will look something like:

/dev # Use devfsd
/bin -> sbin
/lib # Needed if you are using dynamic programs
/lib/modules # See next paragraph`
/linuxrc # The script
/sbin # You selection of programs

The directory modules should be copied from your target system. These
will be the modules available during the boot. Once the boot is complete
then /lib/modules will be available from your target system via the CD.

Once you have made this; you calculate its size, make a file system on
loop device, copy the files, then compress it into initrd.gz.

During the linuxrc script you would mount the cdrom, giving you access to
whatever you put on the CD.

See the mount_cdrom script below that auto-detects the cdrom, and modify it
to do what you want.

4. The base system

The base system's kernel will need loop devices enabled. I use mkisofs and
cdrecord from package cdrtools. You will also need directories for
the loop back devices to use; /mnt/loop1 and /mnt/loop2 are what I use.

5. The image system

This system must be running devfsd, as this is used for hardware detection
You should implement the pciutils package to get the lspci program.

You must decide if you just want a CD that will work on your machine, (and
any identical); or you want a CD that will work on any PC.

If you want a generic CD, then you must build a generic system to act as the
image; follow the cross compile hint to build a generic 486 LFS system.

The system used for the image can be any working combination you choose.
Things that use many shared libraries, such as KDE, should be avoided,
because they will be too slow for any effective work on a CD.
I use a standard LFS plus a few extras such as gpm, X and lynx.

If you really want a large KDE type system, then get the cloop daemon
from Knoppix. This allows you to make and mount compressed partitions.

The kernel of the booting system must have been built with:

6. Making the package

You will need two LFS systems to generate a bootable CD. One is the base
system that will be used for building. The other is the system that provides
the image.

Here is how it works.

Let us first consider what we want. We need a writable root partition,
so we will make one out of RAM. We will want /proc and /cdrom mounted on
the root.

We also want /root and /etc writeable, so these are unpacked from
tar files during the boot process. (How the image system is prepared is
described later).

The start up linuxrc will achieve this, then pass control to init. Here
is my linuxrc script:


/sbin/devfsd /dev

mount -t proc none /proc
modprobe -q -s `cat /scsi`

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/ram2 bs=1k count=25000
mkdir -p ram
mke2fs -q /dev/ram2
mount /dev/ram2 /ram
cd /ram
mkdir cdrom
mkdir proc
mount -t proc none /ram/proc
cdrom/bin/ln -s cdrom/bin bin
bin/ln -s cdrom/sbin sbin
bin/ln -s cdrom/lib lib
bin/ln -s cdrom/boot boot
bin/ln -s /cdrom/usr usr
dd if=/dev/zero of=swapspace bs=1k count=5000
sbin/mkswap swapspace
bin/echo "Preparing file systems for pivot"
mkdir home
mkdir dev
mkdir tmp
mkdir mnt
mkdir mnt/lfs
mkdir var
cd var
mkdir lib lock log mail run spool tmp opt cache lib/misc local
cd /ram
bin/echo "Unpacking tar files for /etc and /root"
bin/tar xf /ram/cdrom/etc.tar
bin/tar xf /ram/cdrom/root.tar
mkdir initrd
sbin/pivot_root . initrd
# Get devices on the new root
/bin/killall devfsd
mount devfs -t devfs /dev
exec /usr/sbin/chroot . /sbin/init dev/console 2>&1

The only non standard thing used here is mount_cdrom, this is it.

for disk in 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7; do
if mount -t iso9660 -o ro -n /dev/cdroms/cdrom$disk /ram/cdrom 2> /dev/null ; then
if [ -r /ram/cdrom/LFS-4.1 ]; then
echo "Found the CD-ROM"
umount /ram/cdrom;
echo "No CD-ROM found"

The file LFS-4.1 is to make sure tha the right CD is mounted.

The file scsi is a list of scsi modules like:


Each is loaded in turn in case the machine has this scsi driver.

From this is can be seen that the following programs are needed during the
boot process:

bash chroot devfsd insmod ksyms mkdir modprobe pivot_root sh
cat dd echo kallsyms lsmod mke2fs mount rmmod umount

(kallsyms, ksyms, lsmod, modprobe and rmmod are symbolic links to insmod)
(sh is a symbolic link to bash)

Because shared libraries plus programs are smaller than static programs,
the following libraries are needed: -> -> -> -> -> -> ->

We can therefore make a system like this in a directory called initrdtree

ls initrdtree/
bin dev etc initrd lib linuxrc
mount_cdrom proc root sbin tmp usr var

Where bin a link to sbin, sbin contains the programs and lib the libraries.
linuxrc and mount_cdrom are the scripts, and dev has the devices.

This file system must be small enough, ( 6-7Mb ), so that its compressed size,
plus a kernel is less than 2.88Mb.

A file system can be made on a loop device, and the directory initrdtree
copied to it. The file system is then compressed.

This put into a futher file system containing a kernel.
This file system must be exactly 2.88Mb, (it is a floppy to the hardware).

This is also mounted on a loop device and lilo is run on it.
This is then the boot image that mkisofs sees with the -b flag

The build directory looks like:

bootimagetree # Contains the kernel and the compressed file system # The script
initrdtree # Contains the boot image system before compression
cdtree # The system providing the CD image is mounted here

Here is the script that builds the iso; note that the system
providing the CD image is mounted on cdtree/

#! /bin/sh

if [ -z $TOPDIR ] ; then
echo "you must define TOPDIR"



# we need to set aside a few loop devices. I chose (in reverse order of their appearance)
# -- loop1 for the boot image
# -- loop2 for the ram disk image
# since the loop1 choice is reflected in the lilo.loopfix file,
# you should not change that (or you need to change the file).
# I had used loop0 first, but I found that this is used by the Samba daemon.
# Also, I assume that the mount points are /mnt/loop{1,2}.
# In principle we could do with one, but it comes in handy to be able to
# leave one mounted, so I took two different ones.

# we first assume that a proper directory tree of the later ramdisk
# is in the initrdtree directory. Put everything in there what you think
# will be needed. We assume that this is the case.

echo -n "Creating the Initial Ramdisk image.... "

# first find out how much space we need.
ISIZE=`du -s -k $TOPDIR/initrdtree/ | awk '{print $1}'`

# is that true? Anyway, we are smaller than that.
if [ $ISIZE -gt 8192 ]; then
echo "Initial Ramdisk max size exceeded ($ISIZE, max is 8192KB)"
exit 1

ISIZE=`expr $ISIZE + 1024`
echo "Initial Ramdisk contents will be $ISIZE KB"

# delete the existing ramdisk image, if there is one
rm -f $TOPDIR/ramdisk

# create a file of $ISIZE Kb
dd if=/dev/zero of=$TOPDIR/ramdisk bs=1k count=$ISIZE

# associate it with /dev/loop2
losetup /dev/loop2 $TOPDIR/ramdisk

# make an ext2 filesystem on it. We set the amount of unused space to 0%
# and turn down the number of inodes to save space
#mkfs -t ext2 -i 16384 -m 0 /dev/loop2
mke2fs -F -m0 -b 1024 /dev/loop2

# we mount it...
mount /dev/loop2 /mnt/loop2

# ... and delete the lost+found directory
rm -rf /mnt/loop2/lost+found

# then we copy the contents of our initrdtree to this filesystem
cp -dpR $TOPDIR/initrdtree/* /mnt/loop2/

# and unmount and divorce /dev/loop2
umount /mnt/loop2
losetup -d /dev/loop2

echo "done"

# Now we have the image of the ramdisk in $TOPDIR/ramdisk. We
# compress this one and write the compressed image to the boot tree:

echo -n "Compressing the Ramdisk image.... "

# delete any existing one
rm -f $TOPDIR/bootimagetree/initrd.*

# and gzip our ramdisk image and put it in the right place.
gzip -9 -c $TOPDIR/ramdisk > $TOPDIR/bootimagetree/initrd.gz

# we are done with the uncompressed ramdisk image, delete it
rm $TOPDIR/ramdisk

# how much is the contents of the bootimagetree?
ISIZE=`du -s -k $TOPDIR/bootimagetree/ | awk '{print $1}'`
echo "Boot image size is $ISIZE KB"

echo "done"

# Part II. We work the boot tree (with the image of the ramdisk) now.
# we put that into yet another image which we put on the CD.
# This image has to be 2.88 MB exactly, because we emulate a 2.88MB floppy.

echo -n "Creating the boot image.... "

# delete any leftover version
rm -f $TOPDIR/cdtree/Boot.img

# and make a file of the proper size (this time it's fixed at 2880 KB)
# note that the file gets created already in the right place to be the boot image.
dd if=/dev/zero of=$TOPDIR/cdtree/Boot.img bs=1k count=2880

# this one gets associated with loop1 and gets a ext2 file system
losetup /dev/loop1 $TOPDIR/cdtree/Boot.img
mke2fs -F -m0 -b 1024 /dev/loop1

# mount it...
mount /dev/loop1 /mnt/loop1
rm -rf /mnt/loop1/lost+found

# ... and copy the contents of our bootimagetree over
cp -dpR $TOPDIR/bootimagetree/* /mnt/loop1/

# now we calculate the ramdisk size for the lilo.conf
# Hard code the size we want; also see linuxrc for dd's count=
echo "Ram disk size will be $ISIZE KB"

cat > $TOPDIR/lilo.conf < fstab << EOF
/dev/ram2 / ext2 defaults 0 0
proc /proc proc defaults 0 0
/swapspace swap swap defaults 0 0

You need the script checkcd to replace checkfs and mountfs

cat > $LFS/etc/rc.d/init.d/checkcd << EOF
# Begin /etc/rc.d/init.d/checkcd
# Include the functions declared in the /etc/rc.d/init.d/functions file
source /etc/rc.d/init.d/functions
# Activate all the swap partitions declared in the /etc/fstab file
echo -n "Activating swap..."
/sbin/swapon -a
echo -n "Remounting root file system in read-write mode..."
/bin/mount -n -o remount,rw /

echo "Making /tmp writeable"
chmod 1777 /tmp

umount /initrd/proc
umount /initrd/dev
echo "Goodbye to the RAMDISK"
umount /initrd

Note that the umount of /initrd releases the boot image,
it is no longer needed.

You need the Detect script
cat > $LFS/etc/rc.d/init.d/Detect << EOF
# Begin $rc_base/init.d/

# Based on sysklogd script from LFS-3.1 and earlier.
# Rewritten by Gerard Beekmans -

source /etc/sysconfig/rc
source $rc_functions

case "$1" in
echo "Starting hardare detection"
/sbin/lspci -v >& /tmp/t
if grep OHCI /tmp/t >& /dev/null; then
modprobe -a usb-ohci;
modprobe -a hid;
rm /tmp/t
loadproc /sbin/Opendirs
if [ -c /dev/input/mouse0 ]; then
ln -s /dev/input/mouse0 /dev/mouse;
if [ -c /dev/misc/psaux ]; then
ln -s /dev/misc/psaux /dev/mouse;

echo "Stopping..."

echo "Reloading..."

$0 stop
sleep 1
$0 start


echo "Usage: $0 {start|stop|reload|restart|status}"
exit 1

# End $rc_base/init.d/

And here is the source of the Opendirs program, (please do not laugh)


int main(void)
char CD[12] = "/dev/cdroms";
char IDEHD[12] = "/dev/discs";
char FLOPPY[12] = "/dev/floppy";
char SCSIHD[12] = "/dev/scsi";
char USB[12] = "/dev/usb";


printf("Detecting CDs\n");
D = opendir(CD);
printf("Detecting IDE HDs\n");
D = opendir(IDEHD);
printf("Detecting floppy\n");
D = opendir(FLOPPY);
printf("Detecting SCSI HDs\n");
D = opendir(SCSIHD);
printf("Detecting USB\n");
D = opendir(USB);


We need to disable some of the target system's start up scripts.

cd $LFS/etc/rc.d/rcsysinit.d
mv S10swap ZZZS10swap
mv S20mountproc ZZZS20mountproc
mv S30checkfs ZZZS30checkfs
mv S40mountfs ZZZS40mountfs

Check that your $LFS/etc/inittab will start up at level 3

Inspect your level 3 start up scripts and disable any that you think
are inappropriate. Add the following links:

ln -s ../init.d/checkcd S35checkcd
ln -s ../init.d/Detect S40Detect

You need to tar $LFS/root and $LFS/etc

cd $LFS
tar cf root.tar root
tar cf etc.tar etc

Finally you need to put a marker file LFS-4.1 in the root; so
that the boot mechanism chooses the right CD.

touch $LFS/LFS-4.1

7. Building the image

Return to the build directory and set TOPDIR

cd where_ever_it_is/cd_builder
export TOPDIR=`pwd`

The directory cdtree must have the LFS root directory mounted.
On my system it is /dev/hdb6 so:

mount /dev/hdb6 cdtree

If you have a separate partition for usr then mount this too

mount /dev/hdxx cdtree/usr

If you have a partition containing source you may also mount this.
Mine is /dev/hdb5 so:

mount /dev/hdb5 cdtree/usr/src

You can now build the image:

bash >& Build &

Check the output for any warning or any "file system full".
A warning from lilo about lilo.conf not having the correct permissions is normal; the latest lilo will also warn about lba32 and compact.

If you have both the LFS and the LFS/usr/src mounted the image in bootcd.iso
will be about 300Mb.

Write this to a CD and try the system.

Restoration of the LFS system
There are two changes to be made before the image LFS system will reboot:


The fstab
cd $LFS/etc
cp fstab
cp fstab.bak fstab

The links
cd $LFS/etc/rc.d/rcsysinit.d
mv ZZZS10swap S10swap
mv ZZZS20mountproc S20mountproc
mv ZZZS30checkfs S30checkfs
mv ZZZS40mountfs S40mountfs
cd ../rc3.d
mv S35checkcd ZZZS35checkcd
mv S40Detect ZZZS40Detect

Your LFS system should now boot; enabling you to change and tune it.
Then add more software before building a better CD.

7. Some uses for the boot CD

Broken files

Any partition can be mounted; files edited or replaced by those on the CD.
Mending a broken lilo

Suppose that the machine just does LILILILI on boot up.

Boot from the CD and mount your root partition to /disk;
if your not sure which partition; then test the partitions listed in
/proc/partition until you get the right one.

Once you have the broken root partition mounted do:

chroot /disk
export PATH=/bin:/sbin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin
cd /etc
vi lilo.conf and fix what is wrong
lilo -C lilo.conf

Exit (from the chroot), unmount the disk and reboot.

What I have is an automated build of LFS on my CD. I build LFS
systems onto empty machines.