LUKS Deployment

Kevin Kofler edited this page Jan 20, 2017 · 18 revisions


In order for the full disk encryption feature to work, the following is needed on the live system:

  • Calamares 2.3 or later (depending on your initramfs generator, a more recent version may be required, see the instructions below);
  • KPMcore 2.2 or later;
  • cryptsetup 1.7-ish (1.7.2 known to work);
  • GRUB 2 (2.02-beta2 known to work) - see warning below.

Additionally, the following must be present inside the image that ends up as your rootfs:

  • an initramfs management solution, like mkinitcpio (see the instructions below for a list of currently supported ones);
  • in order to support resume from suspend-to-disk with encrypted swap, a custom initramfs hook that will unlock the swap partition early, like mkinitcpio-openswap (unless this is handled directly by your initramfs management solution).

WARNING: while the Calamares bootloader module supports systemd-boot (formerly gummiboot), it does not support systemd-boot with the full disk encryption feature. Unlike GRUB 2, systemd-boot cannot perform boot loader encryption (i.e. early disk unlocking on boot loader startup), making full disk encryption impossible and potentially allowing for an additional attack vector. Some distributions report that LUKS installs work even with systemd-boot, and this is fine, but this approach requires additional deployment effort and may result in a less secure system. For this reason, the Calamares team does not recommend it.

Configuring Calamares for full disk encryption

Check whether you have all the dependencies listed above (as well as all the usual Calamares dependencies), then proceed as described below, depending on your initramfs management system:

mkinitcpio (e.g., Arch Linux)

If your system has mkinitcpio:

  • use Calamares 2.3 or later,
  • deploy the mkinitcpio-openswap package to your rootfs image,
  • uncomment the luksbootkeyfile and luksopenswaphookcfg modules in settings.conf.

update-initramfs from initramfs-tools (Debian and derivatives)

If your system has update-initramfs from the Debian initramfs-tools:

  • use Calamares 2.4.3 or later,
  • uncomment the luksbootkeyfile module in settings.conf,
  • add the initramfscfg module to settings.conf (after mount, but before initramfs),
  • in fstab.conf, change the crypttabOptions line as documented in the comments in the file (the initramfs-tools will otherwise completely ignore the keyfile), i.e., to:
crypttabOptions: luks,keyscript=/bin/cat
  • in Debian-live-based distros, configure the packages module to remove ^live-* packages so that update-initramfs can run properly, otherwise the initramfs hook will never run. The following packages.conf should suffice:
backend: apt

    - remove:
        - '^live-*'
  • unlocking swap on resume is not supported yet.

dracut (e.g., Fedora, OpenSUSE)

If your system has the dracut initramfs management system:

  • use Calamares 2.4.3 or later,
  • uncomment the luksbootkeyfile and dracutlukscfg modules in settings.conf.


  • We were unable to test resuming from encrypted swap because resuming from hibernation did not even work for us in the unencrypted case. There should be no special hook (such as mkinitcpio-openswap) needed with dracut, and we already write the required configuration setting, but it is currently not working for us because resuming was just generally broken in our testing.
  • With older versions of systemd, there may be issues with multiple encrypted partitions (i.e., if you use manual partitioning and create separate partitions, e.g., for / and /home). We know that systemd 226 does the right thing (as do the newer versions that Fedora ships), whereas systemd 216 somehow interprets the rd.luks.uuid parameters (intended only for dracut) for itself (contrary to what the documentation states). We have not tested intermediate versions. The result is that with such old systemd versions, the partitions beyond / (e.g., the /home partition) are not automatically unlocked using the keyfile and you eventually get prompted for a passphrase. This is fixed in more recent versions of systemd (at least 226 or later), so upgrading is strongly recommended.
  • You may also be running into issues (especially, but not necessarily, with multiple encrypted partitions) if you use the hostonly="no" setting. We tried hard to support this mode, and it worked in our tests, but the hostonly="no" mode is not designed by the dracut developers to support system-specific configuration (such as /etc/crypttab), so we are actually working around the intended purpose of that mode. So use it at your own risk.

Other initramfs management systems

Unfortunately, if you are not using one of the above, already supported initramfs management systems, there is some more deployment work to do on your end. You will probably want to read the technical details below, but the basic steps are:

  • Be sure to add the luksbootkeyfile module, which is common to all initramfs management systems, to your main exec phase in settings.conf, after mount but before whatever module you are using to set up your initramfs configuration and build the image.
  • You will need to configure your initramfs generator to include the keyfile /crypto_keyfile.bin (written by the above) in the initramfs. You may also have to explicitly tell it to enable LUKS support and/or to include /etc/crypttab. (See the mkinitcpiocfg, initramfscfg and dracutlukscfg modules for examples of how this is done in different initramfs management systems.)
  • For resuming from an encrypted swap partition to work, you will probably need a hook such as mkinitcpio-openswap and to enable it in the configuration (as the luksopenswaphookcfg module does for mkinitcpio-openswap). This is highly dependent on the individual initramfs management system, so please refer to its documentation.

Technical details about full disk encryption support in Calamares

The following modules are used for LUKS full disk encryption support:


  • Used with: all initramfs generators

This module creates a LUKS keyfile in the rootfs and registers it with all LUKS devices that were set up in the current Calamares session. The keyfile is then integrated into the initramfs by the initcpio (or equivalent) module, and is then used by GRUB to unlock the root and swap partitions.

Please note that this approach is secure and comfortable as long as the initramfs image lives on an encrypted partition, and it is made possible by the GRUB 2 boot loader encryption feature - GRUB 2 prompts for the passphrase once and never again, because further unlocking is done with the keyfile.

If you use the initcpiocfg and initcpio modules, or the initramfscfg and initramfs modules, or the dracutlukscfg and dracut modules, shipped with Calamares, no further action is needed to set up the keyfile. If you use a custom module instead of initcpiocfg/initcpio, make sure that your solution copies the file /crypto_keyfile.bin (previously created by luksbootkeyfile) into your initramfs.


  • Used with: mkinitcpio

Calamares ships the luksopenswaphookcfg module, whose goal is to write the configuration file for the openswap hook for mkinitcpio. Unfortunately, this bit is distribution-specific, and it will only work on systems that use mkinitcpio (mostly Arch Linux related systems).

If you have such a system, simply add the luksopenswaphookcfg module to your main exec phase in settings.conf, after mount but before initcpiocfg/initcpio. In this case, no further action is needed (besides making sure that mkinitcpio-openswap is in fact available on your target rootfs image).

If your system does not use mkinitcpio, you will need to roll out a custom solution. In this case, the Calamares team would be happy to assist and accept pull requests to merge such a solution upsteam (feel free to reach out to us in #calamares on Generally, what you need to provide is:

  1. a hook or script for your initramfs builder mechanism, with the goal of LUKS-unlocking inside the initramfs not just the root partition but also the swap partition, using the keyfile that luksbootkeyfile generated and that you had previously told your initramfs builder to bake into the initramfs (this component is mkinitcpio-openswap in the mkinitcpio world);

  2. a Calamares module, likely written in Python, or possibly even just a patch for the existing luksopenswaphookcfg module, that will write the relevant configuration file which tells your (1) initramfs hook or script where to find the swap partition, how to call it once it's unlocked, and how to unlock it.

See Swap encryption on Arch Wiki for more information on early swap partition unlocking techniques.


  • Used with: Debian initramfs-tools

This module handles the pre-configuration of the update-initramfs tool (which is then actually run in the initramfs module). When LUKS full disk encryption is enabled, this module will install an initramfs-tools hook that copies the keyfile from the luksbootkeyfile module and the /etc/crypttab file into the initramfs that will be generated by update-initramfs.

The caveat to using this module successfully in Debian-live-based distros is that the packages module must be configured to removed ^live-* packages so that update-initramfs can run properly, otherwise the initramfs hook will never run. (See the configuration instructions above.)

Note that this module does not currently handle swap unlocking on resume. It could either be added to this module or implemented as a separate module like luksopenswaphookcfg above for mkinitcpio-openswap.


  • Used with: dracut

This module handles the pre-configuration of the dracut tool (which is then actually run in the dracut module) for LUKS full disk encryption. When LUKS full disk encryption is enabled, this module will install a /etc/dracut.conf.d/calamares-luks.conf file with the following configuration settings:

  • install_items+=" /etc/crypttab /crypto_keyfile.bin "
    • forces including /etc/crypttab in the initramfs even if hostonly="no". If hostonly="yes" (the default), dracut automatically installs a filtered version of /etc/crypttab with exactly the devices it needs, and ignores the install_items entry for it. But if hostonly="no", dracut does not install any host-specific configuration that was not explicitly requested to be included. (In that case, the entire file is included, but it should not hurt.)
    • includes the keyfile /crypto_keyfile.bin that was written by the luksbootkeyfile module in the initramfs.
  • add_device+=" /dev/disk/by-uuid/%1 " (where %1 is the UUID of the encrypted swap partition)
    • unlocks the swap device in the initramfs so that resuming from it should theoretically work. Unfortunately, we were unable to test this because resuming did not work for us, even in the unencrypted case.