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About

webboot offers tools to let a u-root instance boot signed live distro images over the web.

Concept

The webboot bootloader works as follows:

  1. fetch an OS distro release ISO from the web
  2. save the ISO to a local cache (ex. USB stick)
  3. mount the ISO and copy out the kernel and initrd
  4. load the extracted kernel with the initrd
  5. kexec that kernel with parameters to tell the next distro where to locate its ISO file (ex. iso-scan/filename=)

The current version offers a user interface based on termui to help locate and boot the ISO file.

For reference, webboot developers should familiarize themselves with:

Supported Operating Systems

Requirements

ISOs must have the following to be fully compatible with webboot.

  1. 64-bit kernel
  2. Parsable grub or syslinux config file
  3. Init process than can locate an ISO file (ex. casper's iso-scan)

Additional operating systems can be added by appending an entry to the supportedDistros map in /cmds/webboot/types.go.

If the config file is not compatible with our parser, we can manually specify the configuration by adding a Config object to the distro's entry in supportedDistros. See the entries for Arch and Manjaro as an example.

Currently Supported

Name Required Kernel Parameters Notes
Arch img_dev=/dev/disk/by-uuid/UUID img_loop=PATH_TO_ISO Unable to parse config file. Configuration is specified in a Config object.
CentOS iso-scan/filename=PATH_TO_ISO CentOS 7 supports live mode. CentOS 8 will boot to the graphical installer.
Debian findiso=PATH_TO_ISO
Fedora iso-scan/filename=PATH_TO_ISO
Kali findiso=PATH_TO_ISO
Linux Mint iso-scan/filename=PATH_TO_ISO
Manjaro img_dev=/dev/disk/by-uuid/UUID img_loop=PATH_TO_ISO Unable to parse config file. Configuration is specified in a Config object.
Tinycore iso=UUID/PATH_TO_ISO
Ubuntu iso-scan/filename=PATH_TO_ISO

In Progress

Name Required Kernel Parameters Issue
OpenSUSE root=live:CDLABEL=ISO_LABEL iso-scan/filename=PATH_TO_ISO grub config file is too complicated for our parser. We could specify the configuration manually, but that would involve hardcoding the ISO_LABEL (see Issue 185).

Usage

Build initramfs with added webboot commands

Download u-root with GO111MODULE=off go get github.com/u-root/u-root.

Run GO111MODULE=off go run . in the source directory of webboot to build the initramfs.

This runs u-root under the hood. To pass extra options, such as to include extra files, use the -u switch, e.g., GO111MODULE=off go run buildimage.go -u "-files path/to/bzImage:bzImage" to add a custom kernel which can be used to test whether kexec works in a small setup. That saves a lot of time, because a full webboot flow would always need to download large ISO files, copy them, mount and decompress.

Convenience

For convenience, you can

  • skip the inclusion of Wi-Fi tools by passing -wifi false
  • add a custom kernel for within the initramfs via -bzImage path/to/bzImage
  • add an ISO file to the initramfs via -iso path/to/os-distro.iso
    • boot that ISO via webboot -dhcp4=false -dhcp6-false local later, which requires passing a pmem-enabled kernel via -bzImage as described above

Compression

You can optionally compress the initramfs with lzma or any other compression method you configure your kernel for.

lzma -f /tmp/initramfs.linux_amd64.cpio

Refer to u-root's documentation for more details on compression.

Customization

The buildimage.go utility is really just a helper tool. Instead of using it, you can build a custom u-root image as you like and add the webboot binary to it. Refer to u-root's usage documentation for details.

Building a kernel for webboot

webboot uses a standard Linux kernel which should be fairly portable, based on a Long Term Stable (LTS) release. It has worked on every Chromebook we tried.

This kernel is built using a config originally from NiChromeOS. If we are building a bootable USB stick formatted with vfat, we don't have the space constraints of NiChrome, so we expect this to diverge over time.

Nevertheless, to keep it all simple, we build it as a non-modular kernel with Wi-fi firmware built-in. We no longer build the initramfs into the kernel, as that's not needed.

Make sure the kernel configuration includes the firmware for your network device. For instance, the Thinkpad x240 with Intel Corporation Wireless 7260 uses iwlwifi-7260-17.ucode. If you look at the kernel config file, this firmware name is included under CONFIG_EXTRA_FIRMWARE=.

To build, first be sure you're in a directory you want to be in! You can actually do the work in the webboot root directory because the .gitignore file ignores the two directories you create when following the instructions here.

Prerequisites

You need to have the following packages installed if on Ubuntu:

sudo apt install libssl-dev build-essential wireless-tools kexec-tools libelf-dev libnl-3-dev libnl-genl-3-dev

Fetching, configuring and compiling the kernel

git clone --depth 1 -b v5.6.14 \
  git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux.git linux
git clone \
  git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/iwlwifi/linux-firmware.git
cp config-5.6.14 linux/.config
(cd linux && make bzImage)
GO111MODULE=off go run .

Testing in QEMU

Install QEMU with

sudo apt-get install qemu-system-x86

Run the following, and a QEMU window should pop up:

Tip: Don't use the -nographic option for u-root in QEMU as you want to boot into a graphical interface.

Acceleration

If you have KVM in your host system, you can add -enable-kvm for speedup.

qemu-system-x86_64 \
  -enable-kvm \
  -m 2G \
  -kernel linux/arch/x86/boot/bzImage \
  -append 'console=ttyS0 console=tty1 memmap=1G!1G' \
  -initrd /tmp/initramfs.linux_amd64.cpio \
  -device virtio-rng-pci \
  -netdev user,id=network0 \
  -device rtl8139,netdev=network0

Tip: Don't use the -nographic option for u-root in QEMU as you want to boot into a graphical interface.

In the QEMU terminal, run

dhclient -ipv6=f

and then run

webboot

Refer to u-root's documentation for more details on virtualization.

Testing with a USB stick

You can try out webboot from a USB stick. That means that you could run it when starting a machine by choosing to boot from USB, which requires a bootloader. Although any bootloader would do, we will focus on one here named syslinux. Furthermore, we will focus on specific preconditions, although there are many different ways to create a bootable USB stick.

In the root directory of this repository, there is an example configuration file named syslinux.cfg.example. If you look at it, you will see that it resembles webboot very much: It lists a kernel, an initrd, and extra arguments to append.

Before you continue, please make sure to meet the following conditions:

  • your system can boot from MBR (possibly through UEFI CSM)
  • You have a directory /mnt/usb to mount the partition to

To install syslinux as a bootloader and configure it, four steps are necessary:

  1. Write a Volume Boot Record (VBR) to the stick
  2. Write a Master Boot Record (MBR) to it
  3. Mark the first partition as bootable
  4. Copy the config file, Linux kernel, and initcpio

The following instructions will walk you through these four steps. Tip: You may need to replace sdb1 with the name of your partition.

Install syslinux with

sudo apt-get install syslinux

To prepare your USB stick, run sudo fdisk /dev/sdb and use the fdisk instructions to complete the following:

  1. Delete all existing partitions (d)
  2. Add one new partition (n, p, 1)
  3. Change partition type (t) to EFI (ef)
  4. Make partition 1 bootable (a)
  5. Save (w)

Here is a sample fdisk output:

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdb

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.36.1).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.


Command (m for help): d
Selected partition 1
Partition 1 has been deleted.

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
   p   primary (0 primary, 0 extended, 4 free)
   e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): p
Partition number (1-4, default 1): 1
First sector (2048-121061375, default 2048):
Last sector, +/-sectors or +/-size{K,M,G,T,P} (2048-121061375, default 121061375):

Created a new partition 1 of type 'Linux' and of size 57.7 GiB.

Command (m for help): t
Selected partition 1
Hex code or alias (type L to list all): L

00 Empty            24 NEC DOS          81 Minix / old Lin  bf Solaris
01 FAT12            27 Hidden NTFS Win  82 Linux swap / So  c1 DRDOS/sec (FAT-
02 XENIX root       39 Plan 9           83 Linux            c4 DRDOS/sec (FAT-
03 XENIX usr        3c PartitionMagic   84 OS/2 hidden or   c6 DRDOS/sec (FAT-
04 FAT16 <32M       40 Venix 80286      85 Linux extended   c7 Syrinx
05 Extended         41 PPC PReP Boot    86 NTFS volume set  da Non-FS data
06 FAT16            42 SFS              87 NTFS volume set  db CP/M / CTOS / .
07 HPFS/NTFS/exFAT  4d QNX4.x           88 Linux plaintext  de Dell Utility
08 AIX              4e QNX4.x 2nd part  8e Linux LVM        df BootIt
09 AIX bootable     4f QNX4.x 3rd part  93 Amoeba           e1 DOS access
0a OS/2 Boot Manag  50 OnTrack DM       94 Amoeba BBT       e3 DOS R/O
0b W95 FAT32        51 OnTrack DM6 Aux  9f BSD/OS           e4 SpeedStor
0c W95 FAT32 (LBA)  52 CP/M             a0 IBM Thinkpad hi  ea Linux extended
0e W95 FAT16 (LBA)  53 OnTrack DM6 Aux  a5 FreeBSD          eb BeOS fs
0f W95 Ext'd (LBA)  54 OnTrackDM6       a6 OpenBSD          ee GPT
10 OPUS             55 EZ-Drive         a7 NeXTSTEP         ef EFI (FAT-12/16/
11 Hidden FAT12     56 Golden Bow       a8 Darwin UFS       f0 Linux/PA-RISC b
12 Compaq diagnost  5c Priam Edisk      a9 NetBSD           f1 SpeedStor
14 Hidden FAT16 <3  61 SpeedStor        ab Darwin boot      f4 SpeedStor
16 Hidden FAT16     63 GNU HURD or Sys  af HFS / HFS+       f2 DOS secondary
17 Hidden HPFS/NTF  64 Novell Netware   b7 BSDI fs          fb VMware VMFS
18 AST SmartSleep   65 Novell Netware   b8 BSDI swap        fc VMware VMKCORE
1b Hidden W95 FAT3  70 DiskSecure Mult  bb Boot Wizard hid  fd Linux raid auto
1c Hidden W95 FAT3  75 PC/IX            bc Acronis FAT32 L  fe LANstep
1e Hidden W95 FAT1  80 Old Minix        be Solaris boot     ff BBT

Aliases:
   linux          - 83
   swap           - 82
   extended       - 05
   uefi           - EF
   raid           - FD
   lvm            - 8E
   linuxex        - 85
Hex code or alias (type L to list all): EF
Changed type of partition 'Linux' to 'EFI (FAT-12/16/32)'.

Command (m for help): a
Selected partition 1
The bootable flag on partition 1 is enabled now.

Command (m for help): w
The partition table has been altered.
Calling ioctl() to re-read partition table.
Syncing disks.

Generate the partition header

mkfs -t vfat /dev/sdb1

Mount the USB and copy the config file, Linux kernel, and initcpio

sudo mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/usb
cp config-5.6.14 /mnt/usb/
cp arch/x86/boot/bzImage /mnt/usb
cp /tmp/initramfs.linux_amd64.cpio /mnt/usb
umount /mnt/usb

Zip initramfs

gzip /tmp/initramfs.linux_amd64.cpio

Now the following commands would need to be run as root:

syslinux -i /dev/sdb1
dd bs=440 count=1 conv=notrunc if=/usr/lib/syslinux/mbr/mbr.bin of=/dev/sdb
parted /dev/sdb set 1 boot on
# mount the stick and copy the files
mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/usb
cp syslinux.cfg.example /mnt/usb/syslinux.cfg
mkdir /mnt/usb/boot
cp linux/arch/x86/boot/bzImage /mnt/usb/boot/webboot
cp /tmp/initramfs.linux_amd64.cpio.gz /mnt/usb/boot/webboot.cpio.gz

Finally, we need to create a /Images directory at the root of the usb stick. Note that the "I" in "Images" needs to be capitalized.

mkdir /mnt/usb/Images

You should be able to boot from the USB stick now. Depending on your firmware setup, it might be necessary to get into a boot menu or make changes in the settings.

To rebuild the USB stick, you can run

sh makeusb.sh sdb1

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