After LFS Configuration Issues

The intention of LFS is to provide a basic system which you can build upon. There are several things, about tidying up the system, which many people wonder about once they have done the base install. We hope to cover these issues in this chapter.

Most people coming from a Windows background to Linux find the concept of text-only configuration files slightly strange. In Linux, just about all configuration is done via text files. The majority of these files can be found in the /etc hierarchy. There are often graphical configuration programs available for different subsystems but most are simply pretty front ends to the process of editing the file. The advantage of text-only configuration is that you can edit parameters using your favorite text editor, whether that be vim, emacs or anything else.

The first task is making a recovery diskette because it's the most critical need. Then the system is configured to ease addition of new users, in "Configuring for Adding Users", because this can affect the choices you make in the three subsequent topics - "/etc/inputrc", "The Bash Shell Startup Files" and "/etc/vimrc, ~/.vimrc".

The remaining topics, "/etc/issue (Customizing your logon)", "/etc/shells", "Random number generation", "Man page issues" and "Info page issues" are then addressed, in that order. They don't have much interaction with the other topics in this chapter.

Creating a Custom Boot Disk

Decent Rescue Boot Disk Needs

This section is really about creating a rescue diskette. As the name rescue implies, the host system has a problem, often lost partition information or corrupted file systems, that prevents it from booting and/or operating normally. For this reason, you must not depend on resources from the host being "rescued". To presume that any given partition or hard drive will be available is a risky presumption.

Heeding the warning, the rescue disk created here has no dependency on the host system's resources, other than basic bootability and hardware soundness. At a minimum, the most common sorts of failures requiring a rescue boot disk should be addressed by the contents of the boot disk. This would include the common loss of partitioning (master boot record is lost or corrupted), file system corruption, and the need to allow creation and editing of files that may have been lost or corrupted, possibly as an effect of the other two problems.

Additional utilities should be available to search for text or files, copy, move and remove files, and many other normal operations that might be expected to be needed when reconstructing.

This Minimal Decent Rescue Disk

The intent here is to create a "rescue boot disk" that will support the common operations listed above. These functions are provided by including selected executables from busybox and e2fsprogs. A basic editor and rudimentary disk partitioning utility may also be optionally included.

This, however, is not the limit. A minimal disk is described here, but you can add anything you can fit on the floppy. Furthermore, if one floppy is not enough to meet your needs, you can make a multi-diskette rescue set that means, essentially, the sky is the limit. This is discussed below. The number of other possible variations are just too numerous to mention here.

Build the Rescue Boot Disk


You should have known-good floppy diskettes available. Some people prefer to use the fdformat command to prepare these because it also does a verification. See the man page for more details. Another good idea is to always prepare duplicates of the rescue diskette. Media does deteriorate.

These instructions presume a base LFS install using ext2/ext3 file systems.

You need to have loopback device support enabled in your host's kernel to use this procedure.

You should make a custom kernel that includes only those features needed to rescue your system, so it will have the least size. No sense in building in support for things like XFree86, DRI, etc, as most rescues are performed from the command prompt. Along the same lines, if you have GCC-2.95.3, it is known to produce smaller kernels. So you might want to use that compiler for this kernel. If you do so, don't overlook any loadable modules (which are not addressed here) you might need - they need to be compiled with the same compiler used to make the kernel.

The rescue image must include support for the file system of your choice (we presume ext2/3 here), ramdisk and initial ramdisk (initrd). Disable everything that you can in the kernel configuration. You should keep support for the proc file system and tempfs file system enabled because of their general utility. The proc file system is needed for the mount to report properly.

If you install only the minimal set of components shown in this document, you will need a kernel that is 643 or fewer blocks in size. If you want the optional programs - a very basic editor, like ed, and rudimentary disk partitioning, like sfdisk - the kernel will need to be 595 or fewer blocks in size. This should not be a major problem unless your needs are fairly esoteric. On the system used to develop this version of the procedures, using only ext2 file systems and not using networking or CDs for recovery, the kernel image is only 481 blocks. And there may be more to gain - it has not been closely examined for additional gains.

This kernel image will be called "rescueimage" hereinafter. You can actually name your image anything you like and just use its name instead in any commands that include "rescueimage".

If you can not get your rescueimage down to the size needed to allow all you need on the ramdisk image, don't fret. You can always build a two diskette set, one boot and one root diskette. The kernel will prompt you to insert the root file system diskette. This will allow room for a compressed ramdisk image of 1440 blocks and a rescueimage of the same size.

The rescueimage size limits given above are likely to vary as local system-specific configurations change. Use them only as a guideline and not as gospel. The size of rescueimage as shown by ls -sk is only an approximation because of some "overhead". On the system used to develop this version of these procedures, that command shows 488 blocks but the actual number of blocks written is only 480 and a fraction, which means that 481 blocks are actually used.

Rescue Disk Build Process

The basic process will be:

  • make a mount point for a file system

  • make an empty file to hold the file system

  • bind the empty file to a loopback device

  • make a 4MB file system

  • mount the file system

  • add components to the file system

  • make the compressed initrd

  • join rescueimage and initrd onto a diskette

The initial ramdisk will be automatically loaded at boot time if setup is done correctly.

Make a mount point and an empty file to hold a file system

mkdir -p /mnt/loop1
dd if=/dev/zero of=/tmp/rfloppy bs=1k count=4096

Command explanations

dd: This is a generalized input-to-output copy utility that also has many transformation capabilities.

if=/dev/zero: This parameter assigns dd's input file to a device that returns an infinite stream of zeroes.

of=/tmp/rfloppy: This parameter directs dd's output to /tmp/rfloppy.

bs=1k count=4096: These parameters tell dd to read and write in "chunks" of 1024 bytes and process 4096 "chunks".

Bind the file to a loopback device, make a file system and mount it.

The reason these commands are used is that they work regardless of the version of mount (older ones don't have the -o loop option) or if /etc/mtab is symlinked to /proc (which causes mount to be unable to properly "unbind" a loop device, due to "lost" information). An alternate set of commands is provided, after these three commands, that you can use if you don't have either of these situations.

losetup /dev/loop1 /tmp/rfloppy
mke2fs -m 0 -N 504 /dev/loop1
mount -t ext2 /dev/loop1 /mnt/loop1

Command explanations

losetup /dev/loop1 /tmp/rfloppy: This command "binds" a loopback device to the empty file.

mke2fs -m 0 -N 504 /dev/loop1: This command makes an ext2 file system on the loopback device (which really means it is created in the file to which the loopback device is bound) and reserves no blocks. The -N 504 parameter causes only 504 inodes to be allocated, leaving more space for other things needed in the file system.

mount -t ext2 /dev/loop1 /mnt/loop1: This mounts the file system just created, just as if it were a real device, like a hard drive or diskette. This allows all the normal system I/O commands to operate as if a real device were present.

If your mount supports the -o loop option and your /etc/mtab is a real file, rather than a symlink to /proc, the three above commands can be replaced by these next two commands.

mke2fs -F -m 0 -N 504 /tmp/rfloppy
mount -o loop /tmp/rfloppy /mnt/loop1

Command explanations

mke2fs -F -m 0 -N 504 /tmp/rfloppy: As before, a file system is made, with only 504 inodes and no reserved blocks, that will be bound to a loopback device. The -F parameter just suppresses an irritating question issued when mke2fs realizes that you are not accessing a device.

mount -o loop /tmp/rfloppy /mnt/loop1: This command tells mount to bind the named file to a loopback device it automatically selects (the first available) and mount the device on /mnt/loop1.

Add components to the file system

A cautionary note: if you are not running in a chroot environment, be sure that you do not accidentally omit the /mnt/loop1 reference in the commands. If you do so, you might replace the equivalent components on your host with the components that are installed by these procedures. Even if you are in a chroot environment, you may need to be careful if the environment is your freshly built LFS system which you intend to use as a host in the future.

First, to have as much free space as possible, remove the lost+found directory, which is not needed because it is only used by fsck. Since fsck will never be run on this file system, it is unneeded.

rmdir /mnt/loop1/lost+found/

Now make a minimal set of directories.

mkdir /mnt/loop1/{dev,proc,etc,sbin,bin,lib,mnt,usr,var}

Add needed device files to the initrd image. If you use devfs, the following command works well, as you only have the devices you use anyway.

cp -dpR /dev/* /mnt/loop1/dev

If you used MAKEDEV to create your devices on your host, you'll want to use something similar to this longer command, to minimize wasting space with unneeded inodes.

You must modify this to suit your rescueimage configuration and other needs. For example, you may need SCSI devices and may not need frame buffer devices or the pseudo-terminal directory. Also, the number of hard drives and partitions that you include should be the minimal that you need. Extensive analysis has not been done on the list below, so there are more inodes and space to be gained by "fine tuning" this set.

mkdir /mnt/loop1/dev/pts
cp -a \ 
    /dev/null /dev/console \
    /dev/fb[0-7] /dev/fd /dev/fd0 /dev/fd0h1440 /dev/full \
    /dev/hda* /dev/hdb* /dev/hdc* /dev/hdd* /dev/initctl /dev/kmem \
    /dev/loop[0-3] /dev/lp0 /dev/mem /dev/port \
    /dev/psaux /dev/ram \
    /dev/ram0 /dev/ram1 /dev/ram2 /dev/ram3 /dev/random /dev/rtc \
    /dev/shm /dev/stderr /dev/stdin /dev/stdout /dev/tty \
    /dev/tty[0-9] /dev/ttyS0 /dev/ttyS1 /dev/urandom /dev/zero \

What is needed in the /etc directory

If you choose, you can copy all or selected parts of your /etc/passwd and /etc/group files. But even if each is less than 1024 bytes, you will lose two inodes and two blocks of space on the initial ramdisk. This only really matters because of trying to squeeze everything onto a 1.44MB diskette. Every little bit helps. The strategy taken here is to create these two files as part of the rescue boot and initialization process. The commands that make the two files will be embedded inside the rcS script that linuxrc (really busybox ) invokes after the initrd is loaded. This way no more inodes or blocks are used on the diskette to carry these files.

Some might like to copy their /etc/rc* directory into the ramdisk image, but this may have no value, other than archival use, in a worst-case recovery scenario. If you want automatic initialization of the system after repair, they may have some value. But few people need or want this to happen. If the file system on the hard drives are corrupted, what good will mount scripts do? Some scripts may be useful, like access to a network to copy over backup data when the hard drive's file systems are usable again. The point is that you should copy only the parts that you can use because space is at a premium on the diskette.

Here, only the fstab will be included. This is handy because it eases mounting of partitions that may be useful and also can be examined and used as a guide as to what is available and what may need reconstruction. Because it may be larger than needed, you should edit it to remove any useless entries and minimize commentary. No other editing is needed because the boot scripts are not included and no automatic mounting will be done using the fstab. If you decide to include some boot scripts that might try to mount things, change the fstab's entries to noauto in the options field so they don't cause an attempt to mount a potentially corrupt partition. Copy it to /tmp, edit it as desired and then:

cp -a /tmp/fstab /mnt/loop1/etc

Now the initialization script will be added. As mentioned above, linuxrc is symlinked to busybox . After the kernel and initial ramdisk have been loaded, the kernel gives control to linuxrc ( busybox ). It wants to run an /etc/init.d/rcS script to do any initial setup.

If you use devfsd, you will need to set up the rcS script to handle the devfsd startup. Put the following commands in /mnt/loop1/etc/init.d/rcS. You may also want to add some of the processes shown in the non-devfs version that follows.

mount -t devfs devfs /dev
/sbin/devfsd /dev

If you don't use devfsd, but created a static /dev directory using MAKEDEV, or any similar process, the rcS script will do slightly different things. Also, don't forget that it is creating the /etc/passwd and /etc/group files, thus saving space on the diskette.

The script made next will mount /proc, turn on swap (no harm is done if it fails), make the /etc/passwd and /etc/group files, create a log directory and turn on swapping. Create the script with:

mkdir -p /mnt/loop1/etc/init.d
cat >/mnt/loop1/etc/init.d/rcS << EOD
mount -t proc proc /proc
swapon -a

echo "root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash" > /etc/passwd

cat > /etc/group <<EOF
chmod 644 /etc/passwd /etc/group

mkdir /var/log

chmod u+x /mnt/loop1/etc/init.d/rcS

Unless you add a lot to this script, which is encouraged, the above should be reasonably close to what you need.

Install packages

There are two packages that must be installed. The busybox package incorporates the core functions that provide a shell and many basic utilities. A file system package, like e2fsprogs, or a package for the file system you are using, will provide a minimal set of utilities for file system checking and reconstruction. The whole package will not be installed, but only certain needed components.

If you use devfsd, you will also need to install that software.

Install busybox into the initial ramdisk image. Busybox incorporates many Unix utility program functions into a single small executable file.

make &&
make PREFIX=/mnt/loop1 install &&
> /mnt/loop1/var/utmp

A var/utmp is made because busybox needs it for the reboot command to work properly. If this file doesn't exist when busybox is started, the reboot command will not work. This would be a bad thing for people that have no reset button available to them.

If you use devfs to create devices on the fly and free up precious inodes on the floppy, you'll also install devfsd to facilitate the devices that busybox expects to find. Use the following commands to do the install.

mv GNUmakefile Makefile &&
make &&
make PREFIX=/mnt/loop1 install

Install part of e2fsprogs

If you use the ext2 or ext3 (journaling) file system, you can use the commands below to install the minimal functionality that should allow you to get your hard drives usable again. If you use ext3, keep in mind that it is a part of the e2fsprogs package and you can get the components, which are mostly hard links, from the same places shown below. If you use some other file system, such as reiserfs, you should apply the principals you see here to install parts of that package instead.

mkdir build &&
cd build &&
../configure --prefix=/mnt/loop1/usr --with-root-prefix="" \
    --disable-swapfs --disable-debugfs \
    --enable-dynamic-e2fsck --disable-nls --disable-evms \
    --disable-rpath &&
strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/sbin/mke2fs misc/mke2fs &&
strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/sbin/e2fsck e2fsck/e2fsck &&
chmod 555 /mnt/loop1/sbin/{mke2fs,e2fsck}

Two useful utilities

There are two very useful utilities that any rescue disk should have, to help in faster and more accurate recovery. The first is a partitioning utility. The sfdisk program is used here because of its small size and great power. Be warned though - it is not what is considered to be "user friendly". But the fdisk and cfdisk programs are substantially larger or require more shared objects, like ncurses .

The second utility is an editor. Most graphical editors are inherently too large and also require additional shared objects. For this reason, ed is used here. It is small, requires no additional shared objects and is a regex-based editor that is the ancestor to almost all subsequent editors that support regex-based editing, whether graphical or not. It is a "context editor" and offers powerful, but non-graphical, editing features. There are many other editors that may be suitable - feel free to use one of them instead.

Read the busybox INSTALL and README files to see how to include a vi editor. It has not been investigated here yet, so it may or may not easily fit onto a single diskette image such as is made here.

You can install these or not, but it is important for you to have some capability such as these offer. Exactly how you would install the utilities you choose will have to be determined by you.

Sfdisk and ed are installed by, essentially, copying them from your host. Strip is used, just to assure that they carry no "excess baggage", even though the base LFS install should have stripped them already. Use the following commands:

strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/sbin/sfdisk /sbin/sfdisk
strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/bin/ed /bin/ed
chmod 555 /mnt/loop1/sbin/sfdisk /mnt/loop1/bin/ed

Also, keeping in mind your space limitations, copy any other binaries and libraries you need to the image. Use the ldd command to see which libraries you will need to copy over for any executables. Don't forget to also strip them before copying them to the ramdisk image or use the strip, as above, to "copy" them.

Set up the lib directory

Once you have installed all the utilities from above and any additional ones you want, use the ldd command, as mentioned above, on those that were not listed in this document. If any additional libraries are needed, add them into the setup commands shown next.

If you installed only those things shown above, the shared objects needed will be minimal. You can add them to the ramdisk image with:

strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/lib/ /lib/ &&
strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/lib/ /lib/ &&
strip -p --strip-unneeded --remove-section=.comment \
    -o /mnt/loop1/lib/ /lib/ &&
chmod 555 /mnt/loop1/lib/{,,}

Note that the above commands change the names of the libraries, eliminating the need for the usual symlinks. If you add any additional shared objects, be alert for similar opportunities and also the pitfalls that may be present.

Make the compressed initrd

Unmount the loopback file. If you used mount's -o loop option, the "bond" between the loop device and the file will be removed when the unmount is done. Just omit the losetup -d /dev/loop1 from the following sequence. The -9 parameter is used with gzip to make the smallest possible compressed image. To make sure it will fit on the diskette, list the file's size.

umount /mnt/loop1 &&
losetup -d /dev/loop1 &&  # Omit if mount's -o loop was used
gzip -9 < /tmp/rfloppy > /tmp/rootfs.gz
ls -l /tmp/rootfs.gz

Join rescueimage and initrd onto a diskette

Now the rescueimage and initial ramdisk image will be written to the boot diskette. Before doing this, calculate the number of blocks needed for rescueimage and for /tmp/rootfs.gz (the initial ramdisk), individually, by dividing each size by 1024 and adding one if there is any remainder. Add these two results together. They must total 1,440 or fewer blocks. If they total more than this, don't worry too much. Changes to make a two-diskette set are presented later. Of course, you could reexamine your choices and try to shrink either the rescueimage or the initial ramdisk image.

To make a single-floppy rescue, using devfs, use the following commands. If you use the static /dev setup, use /dev/fd0 instead of the /dev/floppy/0.

dd if=rescueimage of=/dev/floppy/0 bs=1k
rdev /dev/floppy/0 0,0
rdev -R /dev/floppy/0 0

Command explanations

rdev /dev/floppy/0 0,0: sets the root file system the kernel will use when it boots. Because it loads an initrd, it will automatically set that as the root device, initially. So, the 0,0 gives it "no value", telling the kernel to not mount any other device. Some folks give /dev/fd0 or something similar. But this has effect only when linuxrc (really busybox ) exits and the normal init processes get invoked. Since this is not being done here, and the floppy is not a valid file system, it would be useless here. A hard drive would be a better choice if you are looking to automatically bring the system up after repair. Since busybox provides the reboot command, automatic initialization is not needed.

The rdev -R /dev/floppy/0 0 will set the "root flags" to zero. They have no use in this application.

The dd from above showed some results, like

        480+1 records in
        480+1 records out

In this example the rescueimage (kernel) was 480+1 blocks in size. Make sure that this number, which may be different for you, matches your calculations from above. You need to calculate a "magic number" now that will be inserted into rescueimage. The value consists of three significant parts. Two are discussed here. The third is touched upon later.

Bits 0 - 10 will contain the size of rescueimage, in blocks, that you calculated above, and which should match the results from the dd above. Bit 14 (the 15th bit, which is 2 to the 14th power, or 16,384) is a flag that, when set to 1, tells the kernel an initial ramdisk is to be loaded. So for the single-floppy rescue diskette, the two numbers 16,384 and 481 (or whatever number is right for your rescueimage size) are added together to produce a decimal value, like 16865. This value is inserted into the proper place in rescueimage by the rdev command done next.

Insert the "magic number" into rescueimage and then write the root file system right after rescueimage on the floppy by executing the following commands, with the proper numbers inserted. Notice that the seek parameter's number must be the size, in blocks, of your rescueimage. If you use the static /dev setup, use /dev/fd0 in the commands below, instead of /dev/floppy/0.

rdev -r /dev/floppy/0 16865
dd if=/tmp/rootfs.gz of=/dev/floppy/0 bs=1k seek=481

In this command, seek was used to position to the block following the end of the rescueimage (480+1) and begin writing the root file system to the floppy.

A Two-diskette Rescue Setup

If you just can't live with a single-diskette rescue system, here is what to do to make a simple two-diskette system. Note that the endless possibilities presented by the availability of linuxrc and other components are not addressed here. Here you will just use the kernel's ability to prompt for a second diskette that contains the initrd image and load it.

Modify the above instructions as follows. First a different magic number is needed. The 15th bit (bit 14) still needs to be set, but the size of the rescueimage, in blocks, is replaced with a zero. The third component, which was not discussed above, is now used. This is the 16th bit (bit 15) of the "magic number". When set, it tells the kernel to ask the user to insert the "root" floppy. It then loads the initrd image from that diskette. Because the size of the rescueimage was replaced by zero, the kernel starts loading from the "zero'th" block (the first one) on the second diskette.

The 16th bit (bit 15) represents 2 raised to the 15th power, or 32,768. So the new magic number is 32,768 + 16384, which is 49,152. This value tells the kernel to prompt for, and then load, an initial ramdisk image from the first block on the inserted floppy. So your first modification is to the command to write the "magic number" to the rescueimage image on the diskette.

rdev -r /dev/floppy/0 49152

Note that the initrd image is not copied to the diskette yet. Remove the boot diskette and insert another diskette that will hold your root file system. Run this modified command (don't forget to use /dev/fd0 if you don't use devfs). Note that no seek parameter is used.

dd if=/tmp/rootfs.gz of=/dev/floppy/0 bs=1k

That's all there is to it. The possibilities from here are limited only by your imagination and tenacity in pursuing enhancements. And your willingness to research available documentation. A good starting point is the "Documentation" directory in your kernel source tree. More help may be gained at LFS Hints (please use a mirror site that is suitable) and TLDP.