LiveOS image

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Fedora has developed Live CD USB DVD images for their GNU/Linux operating system. Since the image file systems are stored in the /LiveOS folder of the image, this is the name we'll use to reference their product.

This page shares some information about the LiveOS design that helps Sugar on a Stick Learners make better use of their disc resources.



When a Live CD or Live DVD (a LiveOS image on read-only disc media) is booted, temporary storage is prepared for the system in RAM on each boot by /sbin/dmsquash-live-root in initrd0, the initial ram disk filesystem. An in-memory, copy-on-write, system overlay is used (see File Systems below).

The Fedora LiveOS system allows for persistent storage in 3 locations:

  1. An all-purpose, persistent overlay - a write-once, fixed-size file space that will save updates and changes to the LiveOS image (Activities, operating system changes, anything written in the LiveOS file space).
  2. Persistent home folder - a re-writable, re-sizable (with difficulty), uncompressed, optionally-encryptable, file space for anything that goes in the Learner's /home/ folder (all the Sugar Activities, logs, and good stuff). A persistent home folder is an option that may be selected at the time of installation of the LiveOS image (although with some effort, one could manually create a home.img filesystem in /LiveOS/ and move the /home/ folder to it). This installation option is only available through the script, 'livecd-iso-to-disk'. The Windows and Fedora 'Live USB Creator' installers do not provide this option as of July 2011.
  3. Host device file space - this is the USB stick or SD card file system that is outside of the LiveOS file tree, but which is accessible through the /mnt/live folder mount point of a booted LiveOS installation. There, one finds the boot configuration files and anything else one had on the device before loading the SoaS image. One may save files here without consuming the other, limited file spaces. (This file space is limited by the device capacity).

The all-purpose, persistent overlay is needed for operating system changes and updates.

The file systems are prepared on each boot by the /etc/rc.d/init.d/livesys script.

Home filesystem

One may find many advantages to installing Sugar on a Stick, or any LiveOS, with a persistent, home folder (using the --home-size-mb NN --delete-home options), which will hold all the Activities one wants to try and, perhaps later, throw away—all without consuming the write-once overlay, which can be consumed very quickly (and overlay file space is not normally reusable).

Device filesystem

Additionally, keeping some storage space on the device disc outside of the LiveOS system will let you copy, carry, and delete large resource files, such as image.iso files, or anything you might want to use or share. (We should adjust the Journal code to show this root mount to facilitate file sharing.)

Installation options

Sugar on a Stick may be installed on a 1-GB USB device using the following options with livecd-iso-to-disk (on a single, Terminal Activity or console command line, even though the wiki may wrap the following text in accord with your browser window size):

./livecd-iso-to-disk --reset-mbr --overlay-size-mb 300 --home-size-mb 200 --delete-home --unencrypted-home /path/to/source/iso/or/device /dev/sd?1
where '?' in the final parameter represents the target bootable device node, such as sdb1 or sdc1, etc.
(You may use '\' line-continuation symbols followed by a newline [enter or return keypress] to break a long line visually on the terminal, but not logically to the script processing software.)

The above configuration would allow space for the home folder, the operating system, and a little on the device root.

But with a larger capacity device, one may allocate the resources to suit the anticipated use, as described above.

File Systems

The Fedora LiveOS uses the Device-mapper service of the Linux kernel to manage the file stores on the device. This is the same service that is used by Logical Volume Manager to provide disc partition services.

One limitation, mentioned above, is that the LiveOS persistent overlay is a write-once file space. This is related to its use of device mapper snapshots to merge a read-only file system image (copied from the compressed SquashFS.img on the read-only LiveCD or installation .iso file) with a Copy-on-write service that tracks only changed blocks of data in the snapshot (overlay) file and then re-referencing file pointers to the updated blocks.[1][2] Any changes to the operating system files are stored as differences from the base. As such, "deletions" of files are saved as additional difference references, and the originals are hidden. With this mechanism, physical storage space is consumed in the write-once file space rather than recovered.

Consumption of the space allocated for persistent storage in the snapshot overlay file may be tracked with the device mapper dmsetup status report. Sugar Cellar is a small, utility script which uses that service to allow for Learner testing and discovery. It will help Learners manage their storage resources and learn ways to economize limited resources.

Several developments in the Sugar on a Stick design may be considered to maximize the endurance of the LiveOS image.

Avoid persistent overlay consumption

  • Use a persistent /home folder (discussed above).
    This is a very effective method to avoid consumption and will also make the Journal files more available for sharing and backup purposes.
  • Move the root user's home to /home/root in a persistent home.img
    This would avoid some consumption, but would compromise the root user account if there was a boot problem and the /home folder was not mounted.
  • Mount more folders onto temporary, in-memory filesystems (like /var/cache/yum, /var/tmp, & /tmp are now).
    • /var/lib/NetworkManager (holds a timestamps file that is deleted and refreshed quite often, every 5 minutes)
    • /var/log/audit (holds the SELinux audit.log that records a great many file accesses.)
    • /var/spool/abrt (holds often large, error reports and core dumps). Learners could be advised to act on any abrt reports in the current session or copy the reports to other permanent storage, such as in /home/ or external storage.
    • there may be other good candidates...

Provide image recompression and overlay refreshment

Sugar on a Stick/Sugar Clone provides a method to build a customized LiveOS image installation file through the SoaS-remix bundle. The SoaS-remix.iso installation file can be used to redistribute the customized image. A new installation from this .iso will have the old image recompressed and a fresh overlay. With the current version, the home.img file must be manually copied to a new installation. One's aging SoaS image can be refreshed by an over-installation (see the instructions on the referenced page).

Development is proceeding on a new version of Sugar Clone, which uses the Device-mapper mirror facility to copy and merge the root filesystem and overlay, and then replaces the compressed SquashFS images on the USB or SD card with fresh, recompressed versions along with a refreshed overlay. This procedure does not require re-running the livecd-iso-to-disk script to effect the refreshment. An updated version of livecd-iso-to-disk will provide --copy-home, --reset-overlay, & --include <path s> options to support installation of the new, remixed builds.

The remix building of a LiveOS image is also a good way to maintain and distribute system updates. Many software security, enhancement, and bug fixes are distributed through PackageKit (Software Update) or Yum update, which are turned off by default on LiveOS installations like SoaS. After manually running an update, the image can be remixed to incorporate the changes into a new Updated-SoaS.iso file. This process could be migrated to the Sugar BuildBot service to provide the Community with an up-to-date Sugar on a Stick image.

Overlay recovery

Test and practice the following
This procedure is not thoroughly validated, and may destroy your data.

If one 'exhausts' the limited storage capacity of a LiveOS overlay, Device-mapper will mark the filesystem as 'Invalid', as shown by the dmsetup status command executed in Terminal or a console (if you haven't crashed):

# dmsetup status
live-osimg-min: 0 8388608 snapshot 2464/2464 24
live-rw: 0 8388608 snapshot Invalid

The invalid bit is 00 at byte 5 of the overlay. You might try to recover the overlay by switching it to 01 with the following command line:

# echo $'\x01' | dd of=/path/to/overlay-file bs=1 count=1 seek=4 conv=notrunc

where /path/to/overlay may be /mnt/live/LiveOS/overlay-devicename-discUUID or
/media/devicename/LiveOS/overlay-devicename-discUUID for an attached device.

Follow this by registering the LiveOS image with Device-mapper:

# mount /media/devicename/LiveOS/squashfs.img /mnt/some_mountpoint
# losetup /dev/loop1 /mnt/some_mountpoint/LiveOS/ext3fs.img -r
# losetup /dev/loop2 /media/devicename/LiveOS/overlay-devicename-discUUID
# dmsetup create devicename --table "0 8388608 snapshot 7:1 7:2 P 8"
  • devicename in the last line may be any string.
  • loop1 and loop2 (and the corresponding 7:1 7:2) may be any free loop devices; just substitute the appropriate numbers.
  • 8388608 is the size of the ext3fs.img file in 512 byte units. This can be read by the following command:
# blockdev -q --getsz /dev/loop1


# dmsetup status

to check the the virtual filesystem has been configured.

Then try to repair any damage with the following command:

# e2fsck -f -y /dev/mapper/devicename

where devicename is the string you used in the dmsetup create command.

Run a second check,

# e2fsck -p /dev/mapper/devicename

to verify if the filesystem could be repaired. At this point you will want to enlarge the overlay, or backup or rebuild the image.

Remove the virtual filesystem registration,

# dmsetup remove devicename

Determine the size of the overlay file:

# blockdev -q --getsz /dev/loop2
# losetup -d /dev/loop2
# losetup -d /dev/loop1
# dd if=/dev/zero of=/path/to/overlay-file seek=overlay_size count=size_increase

where overlay_size and size_increase are now 512 byte units.


See this dm-devel thread.