1.1. About this manual

The main goal of this manual is to serve as a single access point to all documentation related to the Debian Live project. It does not include end-user documentation for using a Debian Live system.

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.

1.1.1. 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 or DVDs, some may also boot with USB sticks or over the network (via netboot images).

Debian Live

The Debian sub-project which maintains the live-helper and live-initramfs utilities.

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)

Build system / host system

The environment used to create the live system.


A collection of scripts used to build customised Debian Live systems.


A collection of scripts used to boot live systems. live-initramfs is a fork of casper by Canonical, Ltd.


The former name of live-helper.

Debian Installer / (d-i)

The official installation system for the Debian distribution.

Cheat codes



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

On a live system, binary image refers to the binary filesystem and the respective extension, 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 Build System.

lenny/squeeze/sid 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.

At the time of writing, lenny is the current "stable" release and squeeze is the current "testing" release. sid will always be a synonym for the "unstable" release.

1.1.2. Authors

A list of authors (in alphabetical order):

  • Ben Armstrong

  • Brendan Sleight

  • Chris Lamb

  • Daniel Baumann

  • Franklin Piat

  • Jonas Stein

  • Kai Hendry

  • Marco Amadori

  • Mathieu Geli

  • Matthias Kirschner

  • Richard Nelson

  • Trent W. Buck

1.1.3. Contributing to this document

This manual is intended as a community project and all proposals for improvements and contributions are extremely welcome. The preferred way to submit a contribution is to send it to the mailing list. Please see Section 1.2.3, “Contact” for more information.

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 document, namely GPL version 3 or later.

The sources for this manual are maintained using the Git version control system. You can checkout the latest copy by executing:

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

Prior to submission of your contribution, please preview your work. To preview the live-manual, ensure the packages needed for building are installed by executing:

# apt-get install dblatex docbook-xml docbook-xsl make po4a

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

$ make build Applying patches

Directly commiting to the repository is possible by anyone. However, we ask you to send bigger changes to the mailinglist to discuss them first. In order to push to the repository, the following steps are required.

  • Fetch the public commit key:

    $ mkdir -p ~/.ssh/identity.d
    $ wget http://live.debian.net/other/openssh/repository-public-commit-key-current/live-manual@debian-live -O ~/.ssh/identity.d/live-manual@debian-live
    $ wget http://live.debian.net/other/openssh/repository-public-commit-key-current/live-manual@debian-live.pub -O ~/.ssh/identity.d/live-manual@debian-live.pub
    $ chmod 0600 ~/.ssh/identity.d/live-manual@debian-live*

  • Add the following section to your openssh-client config:

     $ cat >> ~/.ssh/config << EOF
    Host live.debian.net
    	Hostname live.debian.net
    	User gitosis
    	IdentityFile ~/.ssh/identity.d/live-manual@debian-live

  • Checkout a clone of the manual through ssh:

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

  • Commit the file after editing. Write commit messages, that consist of full useful sentences, starting with a capital letter and ending with a full stop. Usually starting with the form 'Fixing/Adding/Removing/Correcting/':

    $ git commit -a

  • Push the commit to the server:

    $ git push