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Automatically Installing Linux from Bootable CD? 85

phorm asks: "While there are newer many distributions of linux that come bootable from CD, I've found that some are a bit difficult to customize and wonder how hard it would be to create my own. Currently we are looking at replacing some of our Windows desktops at work with Linux test-machines - and it would be nice to make the installation process as simple as possible. How hard would it be to create a bootable CD that would automagically install Linux onto the first detected hard-drive? How would you go about 'imaging' an existing machine to use as the base? I suppose that in many cases a tar-gzip of the entire OS would work, provided you could partition the drive correctly, recreate some important handles as in /proc, and run lilo/grub to install a boot loader. Does anyone here have experience with this? I know morphix/knoppix make nice bootable distros but what I really want is a basic Linux bootCD which installs a preconfigured version of the OS of my choice."
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Automatically Installing Linux from Bootable CD?

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  • Knoppix (Score:4, Informative)

    by lortho ( 700090 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:21AM (#7925546)
    The Knoppix [knoppix.org] live CD distro comes with a script for installing to the hard drive that works pretty well, just go to a root console after booting off the cd and type 'knx-hdinstall'. It probably wouldn't be too hard to customize the disk so that it does this automatically.
  • Ghost (Score:3, Informative)

    by Webmoth ( 75878 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:21AM (#7925550) Homepage
    Symantec/Norton Ghost works very well for mirroring drives.

    However, you may have issues when it comes to differing hardare in different machines, and all your boxes will have the same hostname and IP address.
    • I forgot to mention that some versions of Ghost allow you to create a bootable recovery CD of your system at a given state.

      Read the license agreement, you may need to purchase the correct Ghost license for what you aim to do; the off-the-shelf variety typically allows you to only use it on ONE computer system.
    • Re:Ghost (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ottawanker ( 597020 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:24AM (#7925566) Homepage
      ..and all your boxes will have the same hostname and IP address. Or, you could use DHCP.
    • Re:Ghost (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Oriumpor ( 446718 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:52AM (#7925729) Homepage Journal
      On imaged systems, it's a bad idea for them not to access the network on first boot.... that means legwork after the image process. I would recommend configuring a DHCP client (with DHCP assigned hostname.)

      For me, this is all I need, as each machine can be assigned statically via the DHCP server.

      Still, IMO Kickstart is a much better methodology. Still better is PXE controlled kickstart mini-distros.... (Ala Ghost/Image Blaster Image partitions.) But I have yet to see someone do this.
      • You can use PXE and kickstart for the best of both worlds.
      • I would recommend configuring a DHCP client (with DHCP assigned hostname.)

        That's a great idea. Install your machines from a CD automatically, have them boot, connect to the network via DHCP, and get rooted before anyone even logs in.
        • Re:Ghost (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Well I sure hope I keep a clean shop, if the attacker could get through both sets of firewalls and the guy was already in your DHCP server you're in a lot more trouble than just having a few workstations rooted.
    • Re:Ghost (Score:3, Informative)

      by jsse ( 254124 )
      How about a Linux solution? Mondo [mondorescue.org]
    • Re:Ghost (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      remaster a small version of knoppix called damnsmalllinux

      partimage from d*mnsmalllinux with a big partimage master image copied on the cdr/dvdr+-whatever.

      you could tweak a bash script like below to setup your various partitions and restore them. MBR can be set also in partimage. though you need similar hardware

      # get hard disk size
      hd=`sfdisk -s /dev/hda`
      #need the hd's MB
      mbs=`expr $hd / 1024`
      # remove all partitions
      dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda bs=512 count=1
      # make a label for the disk
      parted -s /de
  • Gentoo can do it (Score:4, Informative)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:25AM (#7925573) Homepage Journal
    The gentoo livecd is high quality. And on any gentoo system you can emerge the tools used to create the livecds. Create your own custom livecd and go at it. Of course knoppix and such can do it, but the knoppix installer is very primitive and set in stone. By making a custom gentoo livecd you can actually make the system the way you want it to be.
    • by nathanm ( 12287 )
      I'm a very happy Gentoo user myself, but I can't imagine an installer much more primitive than Gentoo's. And from the original questions, it sounds like creating the custom livecd would be much more complicated than they're asking for.
  • by MrResistor ( 120588 ) <peterahoff@gYEATSmail.com minus poet> on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:25AM (#7925575) Homepage
    I found this [suse.com] with a simple search of Suse's support database. I just skimmed it, but it seems to lay out the whole procedure. I'm sure your distro of choice has a similar page. While I haven't tried this myself, I know people have been doing it with Red Hat and Mandrake for years.

    • AutoYaST is an excellent installation system. For our compute cluster, I have a CD with roughly 6MB of bootstrap code on it. It's hard-coded to ask our web server for an XML AutoYaST configuration file and install the machines with the packages and configuration files that we want.

      The documentation for AutoYaST is a bit hard to find, but everything works well. You might want to learn a bit about rolling your own RPM packages.

      You will, of course, be stuck with SuSE if you do that. I've been quite pleas
  • Kickstart (Score:5, Informative)

    by baywulf ( 214371 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:26AM (#7925576)
    You can do this with Redhat Linux (or Fedora.) It is basically a utility called kickstart that creates a configuration file that you can place onto the cd or a floppy. Then when the install takes place, it will automatically make choices based on the configuration file.
    • Re:Kickstart (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hdparm ( 575302 )
      This probably isn't much of an issue anymore on FC1 and RH9, as it was with older releases but to achive completely unattended install, good idea would be to trial normal (of the CD) one and get entries for detected hardware and desired packages to be installed. This way file /root/anaconda-ks.cfg (created by installer and available after first reboot) can be almost entirely reused, with only alteration required for the line describing install method (change cdrom to whatever type of network install would h
  • Google (Score:2, Funny)

    by tsa ( 15680 )
    Maybe /. should have an 'Ask Google' next to 'Ask /.'
  • Mepis!!! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:36AM (#7925641)
    You want Mepis [www.mepis.org] It's a knoppix-based Live CD distro that works as both a live CD and an installed distro. It's designed with a few of the Knoppix kinks worked out so that the LiveCD can "help" the installed version out when their's trouble...perfect for corperate environments. Also, it's based on Debian...so you can always get your favorite stuff if you get bored/ need special configs!
    • Re:Mepis!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG ( 50515 )
      I just bought a copy, I'm that impressed. This is truely the way installation should be done. No crappy half working X11 in 16 colours. No half-assed mouse support. And best of all, I can keep using my computer during the installation.
  • Mondo Works for me. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by madstork2000 ( 143169 ) * on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:39AM (#7925652) Homepage
    Try Mondo Rescue / Mindi http://www.microwerks.net/~hugo/ [microwerks.net]

    It can create a bootable CD image. Essentially, it can be used to clone/backup a harddrive. I use it to setup a customized distro. Using the recue CD your "install" image can be put on bare hardware and be up in running in less than 20 minutes. If you are using a distro with KUDZU, after the first boot it will recognize your hardware.

    I have been very pleased thus far, it has allowed me to build "base" configuration of dedicated servers and quickly migrate data and test new hardware.

  • Don't use CDs (Score:5, Informative)

    by hbackert ( 45117 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:45AM (#7925687) Homepage

    If possible, use the network. If those PCs have PXE to boot from, that is by far the easiest and customizeable way to install lots of Linux machines. Using RedHat's kickstart, I can install a basic server in about 5 minutes, plus 5 minutes to configure everything for that machine. It's thus faster than CD and easier and easy to customize. No need to burn a new CD.

    • Mod parent up, doing this with CDs would be painful and time consuming. I used to work at a facility managing firewalls worldwide for a multinational, our requirements for regular machine resets weren't all that dissimilar from a testbed (although on a larger scale) - and this is exactly how it was done.

      Another alternative to consider, which especially considering your mixed environment, might be better for you, is virtualization - e.g. using VMWare as described here [vmware.com]. This avoids the need to image the mach
      • I run RH9 in a VMware guest machine (VMware Workstation 4) - I love it.

        Notes :
        I got the GL drivers in RH8 working fine under VMware but when I installed RH9 something ended up broken and they don't work. I assume responsibility for it not working, as I probably screwed something up.
        VMware runs better on machines with LOTS of RAM. If you are going to use Gnome in RH9, count on giving the VM 256M plus 256M for your host OS - 512M is a bare minimum for reasonable performance. I recommend at least a Gig, pr
    • Re:Don't use CDs (Score:3, Interesting)

      by larien ( 5608 ) *
      Yup, one of the best things about Suns systems is that once you have a jumpstart server set up, installation on a client is simply stop-A, boot net - install. You then walk away, come back later (anything between 30 minutes and a few hours, depending on hardware config and number of patches) and you've got a fully configured server.

      The main advantage of a network install of anything is that a config change to the installation image is as simple as modifying a file (or files) on a network server; with a C

      • You may or may not know this, but a little timesaver. You don't even need to go to the console and Stop-A the box.

        root@clientbox# reboot -- "net - install"

        and it'll reboot with those options, starting the jumpstart automatically.
  • Mepis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cipster ( 623378 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:47AM (#7925701)
    MEPIS [mepis.org] would be a great choice.
    Debian based, runs off the CD and the install consists of double clicking on a shortcut on the desktop, answering 2 or 3 questions and waiting for everything to be installed.
  • by dougmc ( 70836 ) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:53AM (#7925733) Homepage
    Install a system, configure it the way you want it. Don't install too much stuff, because it needs to fit on a CD.

    Once done, boot into single user mode.

    tar everything up to *another* disk (mounted here under /mnt) --

    cd /
    tar --one-file-system --sparse -zcvvvf /mnt/disk.tar.gz /

    If that file doesn't fit on a CD with at least 10 MB to spare, remove some stuff and try again. export GZIP=9 might help a bit too.

    Get a bootable linux floppy disk image. It doesn't really matter which one, but it does need to have a real filesystem on it (not just a kernel.) Your typical rescue disk will probably work well.

    Make a script to install. It'll be something like this --

    #!/bin/sh -e
    # zero the partition table
    dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda bs=1024 count=10
    sleep 3
    # create a 1024mb / partition
    printf "n\np\n1\n+1024m\nw\n" | fdisk /dev/hda
    # create the filesystem
    mke2fs -j /dev/hda1
    # mount it
    mkdir /m /n
    mount /dev/scd0 /cd
    mount /dev/hda /m
    # dump your tar.gz file to the new fs
    cd /m
    tar --totals --preserve --sparse -zxvf /cd/disk.tar.gz
    cd /
    # (re)install the bootloader
    echo "/sbin/grub-install /dev/hda" | chroot /m /bin/sh
    # clean up
    umount /m
    umount /cd
    echo "Ok. Time to reboot!"
    and then this script will replace /sbin/init on your boot floppy. Of course, if your floppy starts something other than /sbin/init, you'll need to replace that.

    Then you'll burn a cd that contains that floppy image as the el Torito boot image, and has that file.tar.gz in the root of the file system.

    This is really rough, and will only work properly with rather specific hardware, but it may get you started. Making a proper distribution is a lot more work than this -- I only spent a few minutes typing this out.

    I have not tested any of this. In particular, the command to do the fdisking probably has issues -- for example, most boot floppies don't have printf by default (you'll need to add it, or a script to just print all the fdisk commands), and I probably got the order of some stuff in the printf statement wrong (it's a string of commands for fdisk.) And of course it'll happily trash whatever is on your disk with no warning. (Installing lilo rather than grub can be done with a similar procedure if needed.)

    But if you're looking for a really quick and dirty way to install lots of identical machines, this may get you started. This is NOT a procedure for anybody who doesn't really understand what all this stuff does and the possible problems -- I just provided it as a first stab at a possible solution under some limited conditions. Note that the general idea can apply to other OSs as well -- I even remember once making a setup that installed OS/2 (off a network share) just like this -- long before Ghost was a gleam in Norton's (or whomever's) eye.

    In any event, I'd suggest seeing what Knoppix has to offer -- if, like another poster suggested, they have a script to just install to a disk, that would probably be far better than this hack.

    • Already, one typo --

      mount /dev/hda /m

      That would need to mount /dev/hda1 /m, of course. There's probably more typos.

      No, I don't really expect anybody to actually do this -- there's already much better stuff out there. But several years ago, before all those smart people solved the problem elegantly for you, this was one way that people would solve problems like this -- with a nasty `one off'.

    • Cool hack :) (Score:3, Informative)

      by korpiq ( 8532 )
      You really make it sound simple. Sure there'll be problems like really getting the image to boot, but a few trials-and-errors should get those right. And a plain approach such as this spells out total control, a pair of words every root should love.

      As for the partitioning (printf) problem, I'd save a partition table with sfdisk -d /dev/hda >partitions.txt, and restore it with sfdisk /dev/hda <partitions.txt. If you have clients with different-sized disks, leave a partition (say, /home or /scratch) ou
  • Try systemimager (Score:4, Informative)

    by chriskenrick ( 89693 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:59AM (#7925770)
    If you're looking for a "Ghost" like solution, try SystemImager [systemimager.org]. Should work well if your hardware is fairly standardised.
  • Use Kickstart. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thalin ( 130318 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:59AM (#7925773) Homepage
    As a couple other people have said, Kickstart is probably your best option. I work at NCSU and we have a bunch of linux machines. When we need to upgrade or reinstall, we just take a boot cd, pop it in, and let it go. It grabs all the configuration and install files off our kickstart server and goes to town. When it's done, the system reboots and sits at a login screen, no other config required. It's a beautiful thing.

  • I've done this... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by .@. ( 21735 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:13AM (#7925830) Homepage
    I've done something like this for work. Created a custom bootable Linux CD (SuSE 8.2-based), with all the necessary drivers for the hardware it'd run on.

    Then, I have an image server elsewhere on the network, full of dd images of various installs. So, when I build a new machine, I simply boot from the CD, and then pipe dd through ssh ("ssh remotehost 'dd if=foo.dd' |dd of=/dev/sda"), and within an hour (they're 18GB images), the new system is built.

    I can use the same process in reverse for imaging an existing system (or simply use the ssh-piped dd on a live system), to create the stored images.

    I spent so much time rewriting bits of systemimager that I got frustrated. Finally, I ran into hardware systemimager wouldn't support out-of-the-box (devices that only had drivers in 2.4, and SI's 2.2-based), and figured since I was going to have to build a new bootable ROMfs anyway, I may as well make a bootable CD and ditch SystemImager altogether.
  • Catalyst (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shwag ( 20142 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:19AM (#7925856)
    The new gentoo image creation program, called catalyst [gentoo.org], does exactly what you are looking for.
  • Slackware's simple package and configuration setup made this fairly painless.

    What I did was modify the initrd ram disk to change the custom setup files. I created my own which partitioned the drive, formatted, and started installing packages.

    I modified a couple packages to use defaults the way I liked them, reburned the CD and voila. Perfectly installed systems every time.

    Slackware uses shell scripts exclusively so it's quite easy to figure out what happens when.
  • by ComputerSlicer23 ( 516509 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @03:36AM (#7925929)
    I've built a RedHat kickstart CD that loads the kickstart file via HTTP of a web server. You can write a pre-install script to massage the disks (using either python or shell, probably anything you want, but python and shell are the only to utilities I know are there, in shell you are limited to mostly busy box utilities).

    You can use the redhat-config-kickstart to help you build a default install package set (and to build the kickstart file).

    Then you can run a post install script (also specified in the kickstart script). Generally, I always make my pre/post scripts wget the script I really want them to run. This gives me a bit more flexibility. (Actually I've never written a pre-install script, only posts).

    In the post install scripts, I've used wget to download the set of scripts/config files I wanted to replace (I recommend using a tarfile that you unpack from the filesystem, use diff to apply patches to all of the config files, or use sed to edit the config files).

    From there, it's relatively simple matter of deciding what you want changed and how you want it to work. I generally make sure to install AutoRPM, and the autorpm config files that point to my local package repository. Thus anything I can make into an RPM, I can get deployed onto remote machines in mass. I create one extra AutoRPM package pool for each class of machine, so I can put custom packages by machine type onto each machine.

    Either use PXE boot, or boot from CD. The CD image to do a kickstart style install is on the first RedHat CD. Look for the isolinux directory and create your own ISO (if you edit the files to put ks=http://kickstart.server.com/kickstart/file, then it's completely unattended). Or you can use the prebuilt images in /images, but then you have to fiddle with the command line a bit from CD. I've never done a PXE boot for installation of a machine (used it for building X-terminals, but not for this).


  • Morphix = modular (Score:2, Informative)

    Knoppix and Mepis are both good, but Morphix seems like it's best suited to this sort of thing. It is designed to be modular, meaning you can *very* easily build an iso to custom requirements. It has solid hardware detection, and has the built-in capacity to execute a script once it's finished booting, so you could write an installer script to install, configure and reboot the box without intervention. Hell, you could even have it apt-get update && apt-get -y upgrade if you wanted.


  • We use kickstart to image machines all the time.....many, many machines.....and it works great. Once you get an installation you like, you can just use it as a base for everything.
  • I'm working on it, but it isn't top priority. For auto-installing any livecd, you also need to have a tool that automatically partitions your harddisk.

    I'm currently pretty busy on a GTK2 partitioner called PartitionMorpher, and it's nearing completion for manual partitioning. the debian-installer guys have been working a lot recently on autopartkit (from SkoleLinux), and it looks like it would be a useful addition to our installer too.

    Bottom line: You'll see it sooner rather than later. But I've said tha

  • by korpiq ( 8532 ) <-.NO@SPAMkorpiq.iki.fi> on Friday January 09, 2004 @06:51AM (#7926581) Homepage
    FAI (http://www.informatik.uni-koeln.de/fai/ [uni-koeln.de]) is a system that can be used to automatically install Debian on any kinds of different machinery (you define the differentiating classes yourself). Documentation on its site states that "Booting and installing from CD-ROM is in progress" [uni-koeln.de].

    If you happen to need that level of complexity, maybe you can lend in a helping hand for them to finish that CD-ROM version.

    Just thought FAI would deserve to be mentioned here along with all the others. It might very well be overly complex for your purposes.
  • There are many already available solutions from established distro's out there. Use one of them, like the previous posters suggested. Making a custom boot CD to be used for rescue/backup is not exactly easy for a Linux newbie, since it requires a fair understanding of the operating system's inner workings. Sure, there are tutorials and examples out there, that's how I've learned too, but my guess is that in a corporate environment you can't afford to lose time in this manner.
  • Kick Start (Score:3, Informative)

    by floydman ( 179924 ) <floydman@gmail.com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @08:43AM (#7926945)
    At work we have something around 500 Linux desktops, and almost 1K cluster nodes, all of them are installed using Kisck start(well almost all of them). Very neat and good effort, should try it out.

  • by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Friday January 09, 2004 @11:44AM (#7928357) Journal

    The important thing is how you lable the CD once you've made it. I would recommend something like:

    Hands-off raw load

    For mature audiences ONLY
    Then you won't have to worry (if you leave it laying around) that someone might stick it in their system not knowing what it was.

    -- MarkusQ

    P.S. If you include X you may want to note that as well.

  • Try systemrescuecd (Score:2, Informative)

    by anomaly ( 15035 )
    I've been working on this for work, and have been pleased with the systemrescue cd [systemrescuecd.org]

    I've got a primary system from which to create my "gold disk." I have installed/configured the OS and third-party applications in a meaningful way.

    The process that I've followed is to create an image of the pristine system using partimage (on the rescue CD) and a copy of the boot sector using sfdisk (on the rescue CD) then create installation scripts that rewrite the partition table and dump the image to the hard disk. F
  • Sisuite (Score:2, Informative)

    by prefect42 ( 141309 )
    Sisuite [sisuite.org] Nuff said. It'll do network or CD based installs.
  • by hubertf ( 124995 )
    Check out g4u at www.feyrer.de/g4u/ which we use for deploying pre-configured linux harddisk images to various machines (also works fine for windows, solaris, netbsd, ...)

    - Hubert
  • Read this.
  • I have not used it but I have seen a little bit about Debian's FAI [uni-koeln.de]
    It looks like it combines a lot of the good ideas from the other suggestions (no CD's required and Kickstart type of install) And, if you combined it with a cache of the packages for apt-get or used the mkdebmirror script, you would also lessen the network load.

    -I learned in health class that sig's will stunt yoru growth
  • A lot of interesting suggestions that I'll be checking out, but I thought I'd add some more info to my question.

    a) The distro I'm installing is debian. Therefore it would be nice if I could create the bootCD using debian, and having custom bootmenus or at least my own script

    b) The CD's will be available for computers that don't have an internet connection. This includes both desktops and/or servers which, while they might be connected to a network, don't always have access to a central server or the int
    • I just mentioned it above but, now that I know you are using Debian, it is especially APT (get it? Ha ha ha). Check out FAI . As I said before, I have never used it but it looks like it may be just the thing.

      My favorite sig? A sig-sauer.
  • I've always thought it would be cool if there were a linux distro called viral linux or something similar, that could house a minimal linux system on a floppy, maybe without even a gui, but it did have the ability to install itself onto a random computer when you inserted it and rebooted -- with zero user interaction. Then once booted, every floppy inserted would become a copy of the installer floppy. Whatever would fit on the floppy could also be there to make the system a usable linux box when installed.
    • In a perfect world one could duplicate every detail of windows but the crashes. The installer would preserve all the user's data and simulate whichever version of windows was installed.

      The only thing the user would notice after you put in your Linux disk is the extra stability.

      Alas, this world is far from perfect.
  • You mentioned Debian, so how about:

    1. Spend 15 minutes learning how to remaster Knoppix.
    2. Grab one of the Knoppix installer scripts.
    3. Write a post install script if you want to do more.
    4. Combine #1 and #2, add #3 to taste.
    5. Make lots of copies of the resultant CD.
    6. Run around putting it in drives and rebooting.

    Alternately, put enough of a thing on bootable media to run netcat and a small copy script, and place an image on a central machine, dd it on to the drive, and then do post-install stuff.

  • Make your own debian package that contains as dependancies everything you want installed, then do a minimal install from a netinstall cd or a cd that has the bootfloppies stuff on it and then apt-get install your custom package.
  • Does anyone know of a live CD based on Debian that is oriented towards scientists and mathematicians? For example something that has Octave, Yacas, Maxima, gnuplot, R, LaTeX, Emacs with calc, etc?

    I am considering doing this myself from a morphix lite-gui CD but I don't know enough about how to do it yet. The Morphix docs were not exactly straightforward either.

    I think making morphix auto install by wiping the first hard drive would be easy though (per the original question)

  • It sounds like you want to do something almost identical to what we've done at my work. We build out servers on a regular basis, and need to be able to get a full OS installed as quickly as possible. We have the total install time, from the time we turn the machine on with blank hard drives, to when it's finished rebooting with a working operating system, down to 5 minutes. I'm happy with our time, so we aren't pushing to get it any faster.

    Here's what we do.

    I use Slackware, but this will apply to any O

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"