Debian Live Handbuch


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 patches
1.4.2 Translation

2. Über das Debian Live Projekt

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, official packages
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 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 First steps: building an ISO image
4.2.1 Testing an ISO image with Qemu
4.2.2 Testing an ISO image with virtualbox-ose
4.2.3 Burning an ISO image to a physical medium
4.3 Building a USB/HDD image
4.3.1 Copying USB/HDD image to a USB stick
4.3.2 Testing a USB/HDD image with Qemu
4.3.3 Using the space left on a USB stick
4.4 Building a netboot image
4.4.1 DHCP server
4.4.2 TFTP server
4.4.3 NFS server
4.4.4 Netboot testing HowTo
4.4.5 Qemu
4.4.6 VMWare Player

5. Overview of tools

5.1 live-build
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 Use auto to manage configuration changes
6.2 Example auto scripts

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 Choosing a few packages
8.2.2 Package lists
8.2.3 Predefined package lists
8.2.4 Local package lists
8.2.5 Local binary package lists
8.2.6 Extending a provided package list using includes
8.2.7 Using conditionals inside package lists
8.2.8 Tasks
8.2.9 Desktop and language tasks
8.3 Installing modified or third-party packages
8.3.1 Using chroot_local-packages 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
9.1.3 Binary 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 Full persistence
10.3.2 Home automounting
10.3.3 Snapshots
10.3.4 Persistent SubText
10.3.5 Partial remastering

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. Reporting bugs

13.1 Known issues
13.2 Rebuild from scratch
13.3 Use up-to-date packages
13.4 Collect information
13.5 Isolate the failing case if possible
13.6 Use the correct package to report the bug against
13.6.1 At build time whilst bootstrapping
13.6.2 At build time whilst installing packages
13.6.3 At boot time
13.6.4 At run time
13.7 Do the research
13.8 Where to report bugs

14. Coding Style

14.1 Compatibility
14.2 Indenting
14.3 Wrapping
14.4 Variables
14.5 Miscellaneous

15. Procedures

15.1 Udeb Uploads
15.2 Major Releases
15.3 Point Releases
15.3.1 Point release announcement template


16. Examples

16.1 Using the examples
16.2 Tutorial 1: A standard image
16.3 Tutorial 2: A web browser utility
16.4 Tutorial 3: A personalized image
16.4.1 First revision
16.4.2 Second revision
16.5 A VNC Kiosk Client
16.6 A base image for a 128M USB key
16.7 A localized KDE desktop and installer

Debian Live Handbuch


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 as far as things are live specific.

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 have provided three tutorials in the Examples section designed to teach you image building and customization basics. Read Using the examples first, followed by Tutorial 1: A standard 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.
  • Debian Live: The Debian sub-project which maintains the live-boot, live-build, live-config, 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-boot was formerly a part of live-initramfs.
  • live-build: A collection of scripts used to build customized Debian Live systems. live-build was formerly known as live-helper, and even earlier known as live-package.
  • live-config: A collection of scripts used to configure a live system during the boot process. live-config was formerly a part of live-initramfs.
  • 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.
  • Squeeze/Wheezy/Sid (stable/testing/unstable): Debian codenames for releases. At the time of writing, Squeeze is the current stable release and Wheezy is the current testing release. Sid will always be a synonym for the unstable release. Throughout the manual, we tend to use codenames for the releases, as that is what is supported by the tools themselves.
  • 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.

    1.3 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
  • 1.4 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 the section 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 check out the latest copy by executing:

      $ git clone 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 make po4a sisu-complete libnokogiri-ruby

    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

    1.4.1 Applying patches

    Anyone can directly commit to the repository. However, we ask you to send bigger changes to the mailing list to discuss them first. To push to the repository, you must follow this procedure:

  • Fetch the public commit key:
  •    $ mkdir -p ~/.ssh/identity.d
       $ wget \
           -O ~/.ssh/identity.d/
       $ wget \
           -O ~/.ssh/identity.d/
       $ chmod 0600 ~/.ssh/identity.d/*

  • Add the following section to your openssh-client config:
  •    $ cat >> ~/.ssh/config << EOF
           User gitosis
           IdentityFile ~/.ssh/identity.d/

  • Check out a clone of the manual through ssh:
  •    $ git clone

  • After editing the files in manual/en/, please call the 'commit' target in the top level directory to sanitize the files and update the translation files:
  •    $ make commit

  • After sanitizing, commit the changes. Write commit messages that consist of full, useful 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', e.g.
  •    $ git commit -a -m "Adding a section on applying patches."

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

    1.4.2 Translation

    To submit a translation for a new language, follow these three steps:

  • Translate the about_manual.ssi.pot, about_project.ssi.pot and files to your language with your favourite editor (such as poedit). Send translated files to the mailing list. Once we have reviewed your submission, we will add the new language to the manual (providing the po files) and will enable it in the autobuild.
  • Once the new language is added, you can randomly start translating all po files in manual/po/.
  • Don't forget you need make commit to ensure the translated manuals are updated from the po files, before git commit -a and git push.