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Hybrid Live Systems

August 5th, 2009 by

When talking about live systems on USB sticks people reported many problems with bootloaders like grub to boot the stick. Even though this is most often a problem with the stick hardware or the PC BIOS it’s an annoying situation which should have a better solution. There are also many people who wants to use the stick as a data container in combination with a live system to work with

With the ISO hybrid technology and the integration into kiwi there is a way to create such a stick very easily. A hybrid ISO is an iso filesystem which contains a MBR and thus it’s seen as a disk to the PC BIOS. As it’s an ISO the isolinux bootloader is used instead of grub which works better on many systems. Additionally the hybrid ISO can be used as a live system on CD/DVD as well as on a USB stick

What’s required to use this

  • kiwi v3.68 or later
  • syslinux-3.82-2.1 or later

How do I setup a hybrid ISO in kiwi

In order to activate the creation of a hybrid iso in kiwi you only have to add the hybrid=”true” attribute as part of your iso image type in config.xml:

<type boot="isoboot/suse-11.2" flags="clic" hybrid="true">iso

You can use the suse-11.2-JeOS from the kiwi-templates package as example image description for your hybrid testing. The generated .iso file can be dumped via a simple dd call onto the USB stick. The same file also can be used to be burned on a CD/DVD

dd if=LimeJeOS-openSUSE-11.2.i686-1.11.2.iso of=/dev/... bs=32k

After that the stick can be tested. By default all attempts to write data will go into the RAM of the system. As a stick allows storing data persistently you can create a write partition on the stick using fdisk:

fdisk /dev/...

kiwi will prevent using a vfat partition for the operating system. So make sure you create a 0x83 (linux) type partition and not a vfat partition for the write support. If you additionally create a vfat partition you can use it as a container for any kind of data independently from the live system. We choose vfat here to stay compatible with Windows systems.

Known bugs

  • when using the clicfs filesystem (flags=”clic”) the persistently write feature into a single partition will fail because clicfs currently can’t deal with raw block specials as cow device. Will be fixed as soon as possible

Have fun 🙂

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6 Responses to “Hybrid Live Systems”

  1. Gabriel

    Is it possible to do it with susestudio?


  2. Marcus Schaefer

    no because latest syslinux and kiwi is required. Studio runs with the sle11 kiwi

  3. Cool stuff, this seems like a great idea to combine the two.

  4. Matthew Ehle

    Test Comment

  5. could you please make this a more accessible howto (i.e. for people who don’t know what kiwi is)? Thanks very much, it looks like it could be fantastic when it works — the old grub system was quite cumbersome.

  6. Sascha

    Just take a look at how fedora is doing the usb live creation with live-usb-creator.
    Nothing that is more complicated than this windows tool will have any success with unexperienced users.