NetLinux From Scratch


Build a new distro based on self-extract binaries for deployment.
This is using the "Self-Extracting tar files" as a starting point.

From the outset it will be a live CD deployment starting with the most basic wrappers.
Including an automated remastering system to build a new latest distro immediately from the upstream sources.
This will hopefully remove the need for me to actually maintain the distribution, since it will be done by the user.

Not sure if it is possible to do all this, but I'm willing to try.

This came from problems with previous customers who seem to need a good system to deploy of Linux distributions

Lending heavily from the Linux from scratch project, hopefully with full documentation for the seriously uninitiated

Working almost entirely in VirtualBox for image deployment
To make it accessible to the widest possible user base

I do intend to mirror all the relevant sites so all the downloads will be available from this server.

Building a Live CD

The live CD is the same as a standard bootable ISO, which just runs more of the standard operating system
than the previous "minimal" environment to install.

This will include a compressed filesystem (squashfs), which can be directly mounted read-only
and a stackable filesystem (unionfs or aufs).

The stackable filesystem gives you the ability to write the differences from the read-only compressed system
somewhere else (usually ram) and make the operating system think it's in a standard hard disc installation.

In order to do this you need to set up the root filesystem in a special way to include all this.

You also usually need to slightly modify the way the operating system works to account for it not being on a hard disc.
An example would be that you can't reboot the operating system to make new changes take effect.

We also need the ability to create the ISO and make it bootable.

This is done with mkisofs (Which is part of cdrecord) and syslinux.

Step 1: Preparing

First download and install VirtualBox.

This will be needed to test the ISO, but we start with it here since it may be needed for the build environment too.

Download and install the latest version from the VirtualBox Downloads page.
If you are using Linux then you may be able to use your package manager to do that for you.

NOTE: If you are already using Ubuntu then you can skip over the next bits to "In Ubuntu"

For those of you not using Ubuntu on your PC (or Mac) you will need to download a version of Ubuntu and run it in VirtualBox.
You can use any version, but I would suggest Xubuntu, since it is lightweight on resources

Download the ISO image from a mirror on the Get Xubuntu page
Make sure you get the "desktop" version, not "alternate".

Next create a VirtualBox virtual machine using the instructions from "Creating your first virtual machine"
These are very simple as the wizard guides you through the process.

Make sure you select Operating System = "Linux" and "Version" = Ubuntu and give it a name (e.g. "NLFS testing"):

I would use at least 512Mb RAM for your Xubuntu live enviromnent.

There is no need to create a virtual hard disk as you will be using the host PC for storage.
VirtualBox asks you to verify you don't want one.

Just continue then finish as usual.

You will need to select the downloaded CD by changing the settings of your newly created machine

You will also need 2 CD devices since one will be permanently tied up with the Live CD.
NOTE: Ensure the live disc is the first CD device.

More information on this is in the "Storage settings" page.

Once in the booted live disc you can share a folder (e.g. you desktop folder) into the virtual enviroment.
There are a few steps to get this to work.

These are run in a terminal in the virtual machine which you can get from "Applications" (top left) -> "Accessories" -> "Terminal"
sudo -i
cd /home/ubuntu/Desktop
Firstly you need the virtual machine to connect to the internet.
This should be working already,
but if it is not check out "Ubuntu Networking for Basic and Advanced Users"

Next, since most businesses have some sort of proxy running, you will need to set that up too.
This is simply setting up some environment variables:
export http_proxy=http://<server>:<port>
export ftp_proxy=http://<server>:<port>
export https_proxy=http://<server>:<port>
or if the proxy requires authentication:
export http_proxy=http://<user>:<password>@<server>:<port>
export ftp_proxy=http://<user>:<password>@<server>:<port>
export https_proxy=http://<user>:<password>@<server>:<port>
If you need more help on this there is plenty of information on the internet.

NOTE: you will now need to share a folder using the tool on the machine interface bottom right.
More information is on the "Shared folders" page.

In the example mount below I created a shared folder and called it "Desktop".
This was mounted onto a folder called "nlfs" on the virtual machines desktop.
apt-get update
apt-get install -y virtualbox-ose-guest.*
modprobe vboxsf
mkdir nlfs
mount -t vboxsf Desktop nlfs
This should now give you access to a folder on your PC's desktop from the Ubuntu machine.

Your contents will obviously be different, but you can see the shared access with the host desktop PC.

As a minor point, to save you having to repeat these steps everytime you start your PC,
you can save the virtual machine state before shutting down your PC.
When you next boot up you simply restore the machine and you should be back to where you left off.

So, you now have a working ubuntu environment in which to proceed with the build.
What now follows is pretty much the same whether you are running Ubuntu in a virtual machine,
or have a native installation.

In ubuntu

The next thing we need is a filesystem from which to create the disc ISO image.

As with all Linux installations, this will require a kernel, ramdisc and bootloader.
We can get the kernel and ramdisc from (Click "Latest Stable Kernel").

Create a folder in which to work ("nlfs" in the example) and download this to it.

If you are working in a VM you can download it from your PC browser to your VM shared folder
or your Desktop if that is what is shared.

Now in Ubuntu open a terminal, create the folder if you haven't done that already
and change to that folder, e.g.:
ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ mkdir -vp ~/Desktop/nlfs
mkdir: created directory '/home/ubuntu/Desktop/nlfs'
ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ cd ~/Desktop/nlfs
ubuntu@ubuntu:~/Desktop/nlfs$ tar -xJf linux*
ubuntu@ubuntu:~/Desktop/nlfs$ make distclean defconfig vmlinux modules bzImage
 . . .
  CC      arch/x86/boot/video-vga.o
  CC      arch/x86/boot/video-vesa.o
  CC      arch/x86/boot/video-bios.o
  LD      arch/x86/boot/setup.elf
  OBJCOPY arch/x86/boot/setup.bin
  OBJCOPY arch/x86/boot/vmlinux.bin
  HOSTCC  arch/x86/boot/tools/build
  BUILD   arch/x86/boot/bzImage
Root device is (8, 5)
Setup is 13436 bytes (padded to 13824 bytes).
System is 3957 kB
CRC 70ddbaae
Kernel: arch/x86/boot/bzImage is ready  (#2)
This may take a while, especially if working in a VM.

Last update 1-Jan-2015: for kernel 3.18.1


graham@graham-workstation:~/Desktop/sda7/nlfs$ rm -vfr busybox* && wget && tar -xjf busybox* && pushd busybox* && make clean defconfig busybox; popd; ./busybox-1.17.4/busybox hostname
## -- dynamic linking: use wget
## -- Added to arch/x86/boot/Makefile :
isoimage: $(obj)/bzImage
	-rm -rf $(obj)/isoimage
	mkdir $(obj)/isoimage
	cp -v /home/graham/Desktop/Archive/nlfs/busybox-i686 $(obj)/isoimage/busybox
	ln -s busybox $(obj)/isoimage/sh
	for i in lib lib64 share end ; do
## -- Then ran
make isoimage FDARGS="root=/dev/sr0 init=/sh debug"

Release 150523121751.iso 23-May-2015 12:17 9.0M
Updating with 4.0 kernel, latest BusyBox but no rsync.
BUG: may only work on some CPUs, notably has a problem with Celeron

Release 151106084831.iso 06-Nov-2015 08:54 9.0M
Updating again with 4.3 kernel, latest BusyBox 1.24.1 not fully set up.
BUG: may only work on some CPUs, notably has a problem with Celeron

Release 151109134927.iso 09-Nov-2015 13:49 11.0M
Updating again with 4.3 kernel, latest BusyBox 1.24.1 not fully set up. Added more CPU support.

Release 151111194243.iso 11-Nov-2015 19:42 17.0M
Added rsync and tools/drivers for HDD partitioning.
This version is purely statically linked and can be used for CD based deployment.
This image can be loop mounted on a PXE boot server to be booted via network too.

/tftpboot/151111194243.iso on /tftpboot/nlfs type iso9660 (ro,relatime)

/tftpboot/nlfs *(ro,async,no_subtree_check,no_root_squash,insecure)

SAY n - NLFS 151111194243 
KERNEL /nlfs/linux
APPEND init=/ debug root=/dev/nfs nfsroot= ip=dhcp
Initially heading towards something similar to Tiny Core Linux.
Also check Create a Custom Live Linux CD - Leveraging BusyBox and OpenSSH