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How to Easily Make Custom Linux Install ISOs?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the making-your-own-mark-on-Linux dept.

HP 39

Jason Tilke asks: "I recently read an article which discusses HP's LinuxCOE v4. We've been wanting a system to make rolling out custom but standardized systems (in terms of package selection) and LinuxCOE seems to fit the bill. Are there any alternative that'll spit out custom ISOs which our non-technical staff can use to install a complete Linux system? Has anyone had any positive/negative experience with LinuxCOE? Are there any precautions/steps we should take to prevent us from tripping over our new changes?"

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Fedora 7 (5, Informative)

groovebot (999254) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609631)

Check out Fedora 7 which has tool to make easy "respins."

Re:Fedora 7 (4, Informative)

fishybell (516991) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609799)

It's been easy to make a reformed version of Fedora, and the various Redhats, for some time. There hasn't been a GUI tool for it before, and they haven't called it a respin, but they've been there.

See here [] for example. It tells how to generate new ISO images from the original ISOs and updated RPMs. I've personally used the tools to build stripped down versions of Redhat/Fedora that include everything I need, but on a single CD. You can also include a kickstart file on the CD so that you can give a "linux ks=cdrom" at the initial install prompt to run a fully automated install. I don't think Redhat would have ever been as useful to corporations had it not had this option. Why install old RPMs? Install the OS with the latest, greatest everything.

Re:Fedora 7 (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19611107)

Fedora Unity have been doing respins for quite a while. The Revisor [] tool makes it possible to this with hardly any trouble at all.

PCtech [] used revisor to create an 11CD install set because although Fedora 7 could be obtained as an installable LiveCD and then packages added over the network, some people didn't have the bandwidth or a DVD, so needed the CDs.

Re:Fedora 7 (1)

groovebot (999254) | more than 7 years ago | (#19617121)

Sure, it's been easy to swap a few things around in many distributions' installation ISOs for a long time, but it hasn't been very "easy" except for a few distros built specifically for modification by end users. Fedora 7 provides a nice easy GUI for it :)

Not really looking for good advice? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19611255)

You are looking for positive AND negative opinions on the product? This is Slashdot: unless everything you say is literally oozing a fawning and adoring love for Lunix, and a not-so-hetero man-crush on Lunis Torvballs, it's going to get modded down hard.

So are you REALLY expecting both positive and negative information? Seems kind of like the wrong venue for that kind of thing. You may as well go to a Klan rally and curiously wonder why everyone loves GWB so much.

Fedora 7 tool "Revisor" (1)

Chris Tyler (2180) | more than 6 years ago | (#19620355)

I'm seeing some comments saying "this is hard and will always be hard" or suggestions to use this-or-that third party tool. But I'd really, really encourage you to take a look at Revisor from the Fedora Project.

Fedora doesn't really produce a Linux distribution anymore -- they produce a well-integrated Linux repository and the tools to make distribution media "spins" (live disc, installation disc, repository subset) from that repository or to do installations directly from that repository. The Fedora 7 ISO images are really just sample spins.

Revisor is the GUI frontend to the tools for producing spins (which are pungi and livecd-creator). It enables point-and-click selection of the software set for installation with full dependency resolution. A few more clicks and you have your ISO image ready to burn. rchives/70-Fedora-7-Custom-Spins-with-Revisor.html []

Instalinux (1)

norminator (784674) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609721)

Instalinux [] may meet some of your needs. I haven't looked at it in a long time, though, so I'm not sure exactly what sort of customization they're offering these days.

try autoyast (2, Informative)

jcgam69 (994690) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609739)

"AutoYaST [] allows unattended and automated installation. With AutoYaST, administrators can create a consistent baseline configuration for new installations in large or expanding deployments. In addition to AutoYaST, other installation methods include PXE Boot, CD-ROM, NFS, CIFS/SMB, HTTP, FTP, and the Service Location Protocol (SLP), which allows autodetection of install servers."

To do it easily... (1)

seebs (15766) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609743)

Have someone do it for you.

Seriously, package integration (or removal) is NOT easy, in general, and trying to get it foolproofed is a major headache. What do you do if someone wants to "easily" remove some useless stuff he never uses (expat) but not the programs that depend on it?

You will eventually reinvent all the huge and occasionally buggy installers everyone's got, or something equivalent.

It's not going to be easy. It might be worth it, but think about it first; do you really need that level of customization? Why?

Re:To do it easily... (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 7 years ago | (#19610453)

Your warnings are based on a misunderstanding of what the OP wants. The OP wasn't looking for a foolproof system to remaster foolproof CDs, but a system to remaster foolproof CDs. Note the extra foolproof in the first case. You also seem to think that there aren't already decent tools for making live/install CDs, when there are several in existence. No reinventing of installers is necessary.

Knoppix. (4, Informative)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609851)

Are there any alternative that'll spit out custom ISOs which our non-technical staff can use to install a complete Linux system?

Take a look at Knoppix Remastering [] .

In a former life, I used to build custom embedded Linux distros as the base platform for other company projects; Knoppix makes it so easy, if I hadn't already moved on from that job, it would have sent me to the unemployment line.

Actually, I exagerate a tad there - Knoppix makes it almost trivial to get a customized Debian-based system down to the 40-50MB range; On my most challenging project, I managed to get a stable system running custom builds of X and Mozilla to fit on a 16MB flash disk. But presuming you don't have quite such minimalistic hardware requirements, Knoppix makes the task a breeze. Just unpack it, chroot into it, "apt-get remove" whatever you don't want and build whatever else you do, and roll it back into a cloop'd iso. C'est fini.

For comparison, I usually prefer to run Slackware as my normal Linux distro, and looked into Slax [] before Knoppix. For some tasks you might find it easier to work with, as it uses a more modular approach, but I found that far more limiting and inconvenient if you want to make fine-grained tweaks or even just alter configuration details without swapping out whole packages.

Re:Knoppix. (1)

mckwant (65143) | more than 7 years ago | (#19612761)

Knoppix is good at this, but I didn't have the same experience as the parent. Either I did something to munge apt, or, well, SOMEthing, but I couldn't get one to boot under 100MB or so. I didn't have a lot of patience with what I removed or included, but once, due to dependencies, it started to remove some really base packages, and I got fed up.

In my experience, if you really need to get small, just use DamnSmallLinux. Tack on the apt and actual gnu utils dsl packages, and you're in business, and there's an "install to HD" option already built in, IIRC. YMMV, obviously.

Re:Knoppix. (2, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#19615173)

I didn't have a lot of patience with what I removed or included, but once, due to dependencies, it started to remove some really base packages, and I got fed up.

I find that, for the most part, apt will warn you if you try to remove something important... But not always. When in doubt about one of the packages it shows, try checking what it does with something like:
dpkg-query -W --showformat='${Installed-Size} ${Package} ${Description} ${Status}' packagenamegoeshere
You should also run deborphan every few removals to see if you can throw away another library or three.

Also, with Knoppix, you'll eventually notice you have three un(easily)removeable sets of rather large files installed on your system - apt-get itself, locales, and kernel modules.

As one of your very last steps, delete your dpkg and apt caches (the size of those will depend on how much you installed, but can really add up if you make a lot of changes), and then just rm -rf your /var/lib/apt/lists for a whopping 85MB or so (this won't even break apt, amazingly enough! You'll just need to do an apt-get update to repair it if you ever need it again).

For the locales, put only the locale(s) you want in "/etc/locales.gen" (probably only "en_US ISO-8859-1" if you live in the US) and running "locale-gen". This will drop your /usr/lib/locale/locale-archive from 15MB to around 1MB, and then you can manually delete all the useless ones from /usr/share/locales to save another 27-29MB.

Do you want to keep 65MB worth of kernel modules around for things like ISDN/ATM/IPX/Appletalk, any FS other than EXT2/Reiser/CIFS, and support for ancient ISA cards? Most likely you plan to target a single system; boot to it and see what modules get loaded. Keep a few extra really common ones if you want, but you can easily throw away 90% of them with zero loss of functionality.

You can also find some significant savings by removing your manpages and documentation; and if you need X, do you really need the latest-and-greatest 3d accelerated drivers just to scroll your MP3 playlist, or would the relatively tiny framebuffer driver suffice? Deleting all your useless timezones helps too, but that will only buy you an extra 5MB (though as you noticed, once you pass the 100MB mark, every byte helps). You should also make friends with "strip", though at that point you really do start saving only a few KB per use. And at the tightest end of the spectrum of space-saving, a statically-linked BusyBox can singlehandledly save you 10-30MB of binaries and assorted libraries.

Finally, keep in mind that the "c" in "cloop" stands for "compressed"... Getting the FS down to around 400MB (pre-compression) means it should fit comfortably on a mini-cdr, and DSL (v3.3) itself weighs in at 124MB uncompressed. This might not so much matter if you want to do a "real" HDD-like install onto a small USB or flash drive, but if you plan to boot from readonly media, even using the "toram" option, only the compressed size matters (with enough RAM, of course).

Take a look at these two? (1)

shreevatsa (845645) | more than 7 years ago | (#19609859)

The Ubuntu Customization Kit [] (some old version here, with screenshots [] ) looks useful, and Linux Live [] looks even more general.

Re:Take a look at these two? (4, Informative)

cblack (4342) | more than 7 years ago | (#19610087)

Note that the Ubuntu Customization Kit you mentioned is aimed at creating custom ISOs for LIVE CDs, not for actual installation. A good place to get info on creating install cds is zation []

I've used a few approaches, including systemimager (2, Informative)

cblack (4342) | more than 7 years ago | (#19610025)

I've done this a few different ways over the years. At first I used a system called systemimager that allows you to have minimal install media (small iso or floppy) and pull the image from a server during install. This is nice in that it catches EVERYTHING on the filesystem, but can be a pain to admin/update later and doesn't work without a server available. It also doesn't let you drop to the installer's UI for allowing the user to choose options such as partitioning as that needs to be in the script as well. I have since moved to managing machines using custom install processes/ISOs and local package repositories and like it much better.
I've also used SuSE's autoyast which records package selection and config settings that you can then use as input for subsequent installs. This is well documented. I also used RedHat's kickstart awhile ago but didn't do too much with it.
Most recently I've created custom ISOs for Ubuntu using the preseed mechanism. This requires editing a few text files specifying such settings as network config, default desktop, etc. There is a way to put your extra packages right on the CD but I just have a firstboot script that updates from a local repository using a list of package names to install. Metapackages are also useful here as you can make a metapackage that just depends on all the packages you want and update that whenever you wish all the existing or new machines to get new packages.
All of these options are fairly well documented but may take some trial and error work to get things the way you want. It really depends on the distro you are using.

Links to Ubuntu install cd customization docs (1)

cblack (4342) | more than 7 years ago | (#19610129)

It took me a bit to find the docs the first time around, so here are some direct links for anyone interested: zation [] zation/Scripts [] zation/PreseedExamples []


Ubuntu (1)

Ximok (650049) | more than 7 years ago | (#19610121)

I've never used the package you reference. However, I have been fairly successful in rebuilding Ubuntu ISO's with my own package selection. Try this page if you decide to look at Ubuntu for your Custom Installer. zation []

i have not used it, but there is: (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 7 years ago | (#19610123) []

NimbleX is based on Slackware...

How I do "replay" a modified Debian/Ubuntu Install (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19610783)

I've been wondering about this for a bit. I install Debian, Ubuntu (apt based). I then spend a few days, weeks, months over time installing new things (let's say all by apt, to make it simple, so everything was in .debs at one point).

Is there a way, with an installed system, to make a "replay installer". Meaning I can wipe the drive, install a new Debian or Ubuntu, and rather than try and remember "oh yeah, I had to have foo-dev and libzfark or whatever" (none of which I've documented, don't be silly, that would make all this easy). This would be a nice way to rebuild servers and such, which over years I've added stuff too and can never remember every little thing.

This presumes of course, the repository still has those packages (I don't mean the SPECIFIC version deb, but just whatever the current foo-dev is so that things work again).

Does this already exist, and I just don't know it?

Re:How I do "replay" a modified Debian/Ubuntu Inst (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 7 years ago | (#19611215)

Use apt-show-versions to get a list of your installed packages. Then apt-get them.

Re:How I do "replay" a modified Debian/Ubuntu Inst (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#19612421)

After that just make a fake package that depends on all of them and includes the relevant customisation. Not very difficult. It has one disadvantage - it does not make the install fully automatic. You have to answer questions which may lead to inconsistency.

Unfortunately, debian still does not read everything in every package out of the debconf database so even prepopulating it will not always help. So unless you are doing 50+ it is cheaper to make a custom package, but still hire someone to press enter and type in Y/N where necessary.

Re:How I do "replay" a modified Debian/Ubuntu Inst (1)

rbochan (827946) | more than 7 years ago | (#19614481)

Really simple 6 step method:
1) on master machine, 'dpkg --get-selections > packages.txt'
2) do a base install on new machine
3) move packages.txt over to new machine
4) 'dpkg --set-selections < packages.txt' on new machine
6) on new machine, 'dselect install'
7) follow prompts


So sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19610831)

5 years ago, when this was a pro-linux geek site, you would have been blasted as a tard for asking such a basic question.

(copy your install cd to a folder, tweak the scripts - or try

Now, look at the meager responses. Most of whom have no fucking idea what you're talking about.

Yet all 100 iPhone commercials today have garnered hundereds of posts each.

Are there any other good tech discussion sites, "arse technicals" has dumbed down as well.

Re:So sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19616117)

Although I somewhat agree, you should submit better articles yourself.
Slashdot is a community site, so participate or stop your bitching.

Two questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19610981)

I see from some of the replies that there's Fedora and Ubuntu and some others, but now I ask:

1. Do they require that you have the base installed (e.g. Fedora for a fedora respin)? Is there a way to simply 'put together the ingredients' then burn that iso to CD or DVD?

2. If the answer to 1 is yes, won't the resulting ISO be tied to the underlying Hardware where the base was installed?

thanks for any input

Gentoo Catalyst (1)

nonsequitor (893813) | more than 7 years ago | (#19611573)

You may want to check out Gentoo Catalyst. Before I get flamed about having to watch code compile etc... Let me just say that this tool allows you to completely customize your install stages, and you can make a stage 3 installer which only uses binary packages.

For a large scale roll out this tool is ideal. It is not easy or idiot proof on the admin side, but once you make your custom ISOs, it will be painless on the user side.

From their site: []

The goal of the catalyst project is to provide a single multi-faceted tool that can reliably build all aspects of a Gentoo Linux release: stage tarballs, GRP package sets, and install CDs.

Our specific development goals for catalyst include the following: ensuring it provides high-quality builds of Gentoo Linux, and for the tool to be easy to use, customize, extend and maintain. The catalyst tool is intended to be used by those who wish to create their own customized versions of Gentoo Linux, or their own customized LiveCDs. Our goal is to make catalyst a powerful tool that's a pleasure to use, and to ensure that the code we write is maintainable and of high-quality.

rBuilder Online makes it easy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19612855)

Check out rBuilder Online [] . It makes building installable ISO images as easy as a few mouse clicks.

Educational - LFS (1)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 7 years ago | (#19613911)

Linux From Scratch [] guides you through making your own 'distro' from sources.

Its very interesting since it shows how different things work in Linux. However it can be practical for making a minimal system...

For your purpose, Knoppix seems very practical (based on Debian with the easy package management). "Knoppix Hacks" from O'Reilly contains a chapter on remastering the ISO

Reconstructor Ubuntu? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19614847)

For Ubuntu, I've found app called Reconstructor ( [] ). Haven't tried it though...

Ubuntu Reconstructor (1) (1118999) | more than 7 years ago | (#19615581)

You can get a program for Ubuntu called "Reconstructor", which makes it literally drag-and-drop to make ISOs of custom Ubuntu systems. You just optionally specify a desktop theme and startup picture, make a list of packages you want it to come with, and it gives you a nice ISO. The alternate install CD of Ubuntu is supposed to make it easier to rollout systems but I'm not sure how.

rPath/Conary (1)

wolftone (609476) | more than 7 years ago | (#19615997)

I haven't used rPath or any of the other Conary-based systems, but I think this is what they're designed for... basically creating custom distributions with a web-based package management system.

Tried COE not ready for prime time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19616279)

I tried it... all the distros I tried to build a CD from resulted in very disappointing results. It's a great technology, but it needs to be populated with good images and options. Definitely has promise, though. -R

Shell script for building bootable Linux ISO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19616487)

Cluster Live [] is an intuitive open source Live CD project for customizing and building Linux system on a bootable ISO image. It is equipped with pre-built Linux ISO image and shell scripting for customization.

Why choosing something like that for your needs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19618643)

Are there any alternative that'll spit out custom ISOs which our non-technical staff can use to install a complete Linux system?

I think you really should consider why you want to use a tools like that...
Honestly I would prefer to:
Choose a hardware platform that is guaranteed by the manufacturer to stay unchanged for a long time. All the big players are offering these.
Even so, if the hardware changes within reason (another video card, another ide chipset whatever) the image will work too. Of course test first or make an updated version.
Make a custom built on a computer the way you want it and make an image out of it. Put this image an a network server.
Deploy this image to your computers using G4U, MIDS or another commercial tool.... This can be done by non-technical people with a minimum of interaction.
I'm using this kind of setup for a mid-size company (+500 desktops) and we deploy an OS (linux or xp) in 20 minutes without interaction.

I don't think your goals justifies the use of something like linuxcoe or your explanation wasn't thorough enough.

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