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[Photo of the Author]
by Tjabo Kloppenburg (homepage)

About the author:

I've been infected in 1996. Slackware 3.1 :-). I like scripting in languages like Python, Perl, GAWK and so on. And I'm interested in booting devices.

Translated to English by:
Tjabo Kloppenburg (homepage)



8cm-Multiboot-CDROM with modified Knoppix linux



After reading some linuxfocus articles and other web pages I finally found a reliable method to create bootable cdroms, booting clean bootdisks (without viruses), single-disk linux disks, or an adapted knoppix system.
Burned on a 8cm cdrom with 183MB. It fits in every pocket, and can be helpful in many situations.

_________________ _________________ _________________



I assume that you have some basic linux knowledge and you know how to burn CDs. You should have a cdrom burner that can burn CD-RW, too. That's a good thing, because making errors is one of the ways how we learn... You should have a CD-RW disk, some 8cm CD-Rs (or CD-RW), and a running linux system with some hundred MB free.
Later - when integrating knoppix - we should have fast network access, because we need to install packages from the internet. If you know how to setup nfs or samba to provide a local debian mirror, you don't need the fast network access. Finally, you should have some debian knowledge (install and deinstall packages), or a friend / irc channel you can ask. And you should know how to use a loopback device.


The Basics

Booting from cdroms is very simliar to booting from a floppy disk or hard disk. Something from the disk is read into memory by the BIOS and then started. In the early days of cdroms they were not intended to be used for booting, so the hardware developers had to do some magic: after cooking some vendor specific BIOS changes they finally defined the "el torito" standard.

It defines a structure on the cdrom containing a bootdisk image, and some code in the BIOS to load this structure into memory - emulating a floppy disk in memory. After loading the disk into memory it boots like every other boot disk.

With this floppy emulation we could build a bootable cdrom with a single boot disk image, booting a 1.44MB disk, or one with 2.44MB. You've never seen such a floppy, but the BIOS can handle it. When booting from cdrom we do not need a 2.88 MB disk - just a disk image created with the loop device and some tools.

A single disk is not yet a multi boot disk. We need a tool to load and start other boot images from a file system. Boot-Scriptor is our friend. With boot-scriptor we'll boot from cdrom with a loader (without disk emulation. that's possible, too), and then we'll choose a disk image in a menu. Boot-Scriptor will do some magic to load the image into a floppy disk emulation, where the image boots like a floppy disk in the drive.

These bootdisks can be images of disks like windoze bootdisks of different versions, an NT password changer, mini linux distributions, or a knoppix bootdisk to boot a medium size knoppix system.


Enough talk, let's start

We need a directory with enough empty space to build the directory structure of our cdrom. I assume we have plenty of space in "/data". The base directory of our project may be "/data/mboot". Inside I created two directories, "toolcd/" (cdrom content) and "/archive" (orginial versions of the tools I use, like virus scanners).


Boot menu with boot scriptor

Get the archive and the INI files from Boot-Scriptor (bootscriptor.org). There's no documentation in the archive, you'll find it only on the website.

Boot-Scriptor need its own directory "bscript/" on the cdrom, with the loader, an optional graphics file (see docs), and the file called "bscript.ini".
This file defines the boot menu in a language like basic, with commands like "print", "onkey" (branch on key press), and "memdisk" (bootdisk image).

Take a look at this small example, and write your own ini file:

print "\ac\c0e--=> my multi boot cdrom with linux <=--"
print "F1 Bootdisk1"
print " w warm reboot"

onkey f1 goto bootDisk1
onkey w reboot warm
goto MenuLoop

memdisk \images\boot1.img

There is a bunch of other commands. Make a local copy of the boot scriptor documentaion, and place it somewhere in the directory structure of the cdrom. You'll need this in your early steps to understand the basic commands.


How to create bootdisk images?

For a first test cdrom we need just a single bootdisk like a windoze bootdisk. Or a linux bootdisk created with lilo. Or try one of those tiny single-disk linux systems like HAL or TomsRtBt (2.88MB). Ask your favorite search engine on the web.

We use "dd" to create a disk image file from the disk:

  ( insert disk )
  # cd /data/mboot/toolcd
  # mkdir images         (directory for the disk images)
  # dd if=/dev/fd0 of=images/boot1.img


Now let's create the ISO-File, and burn it.

The program "mkisofs" has to be called with the "-b" option, to ensure proper installation of the boot loader. The path of the argument of "-b" is relative to the base directory of the cdrom ("toolcd/"):

# cd /data/mboot
# mkisofs -r -o iso.01 -b bscript/loader.bin \
          -no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 4 toolcd

Now there's one thing left: burn the iso file on a CD-RW. You can burn it on a CD-R, too. But just one or two wrong characters in the file "bscript.ini" can turn your fresh cdrom into something finding its place in the dustbin. So better burn a CD-RW :-).
If you take a used CD-RW, you've got to blank it. "cdrecord" has two modes: "blank=fast" and "blank=all". The fast mode is faster :).

Before burning you need to detect the dev parameter of the burner. Enter "cdrecord -scanbus" to see all devices available. If there's no device, you probably have to load a device driver module like "ide-scsi" with a command like "modprobe ide-scsi".

Now try again. Here's an example about how to find out the device (here: 0,0,0) and burn the iso file on a CD-RW:
# cdrecord -scanbus
Cdrecord 1.10 (i686-pc-linux-gnu) (C) 1995-2001 J. Schilling
Linux sg driver version: 3.1.22
Using libscg version 'schily-0.5'
  0,0,0   0) 'LG   ' 'CD-RW CED-8083B ' '1.05' Removable CD-ROM

# cdrecord -v dev=0,0,0 speed=32 iso.01

Some CD-RWs have slow speeds (e.g.: 4). But that does not matter, "cdrecord" reads media description data from the CD-RW, and automagically uses the highest possible speed of the media below or equal the given value (32).

When the burning process is complete you should give it a try and boot the cdrom.


Using a Makefile

The "mkisofs" call has many characters, making it easy to forget or mistype something. "cdrecord" needs correct parameters, too, so it is a good idea to use a script or Makefile to ensure correct command arguments. We'll use a Makefile for the "make" command. Install it if you don't have it on your system. "make" is one of the commands a programmer should know.

We'll place the Makefile into the cdrom dircetory structure, linking it into the "mboot/" directory. It is a good idea to place all things we need for remastering onto the cdrom. It makes it possible to create a new, better cdrom even if you don't have the files anymore on harddisk, so it's a good backup too... :-).

The Makefile can be simple. Here's an example:

BASE = toolcd
DEV = 0,0,0
ISO = iso.$(BASE).$(VERSION)
OPTIONS= -b bscript/loader.bin -no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 4

    cdrecord -v dev=$(DEV) blank=fast

    cdrecord -v dev=$(DEV) blank=all

    echo "deleting ~ files:"
    @find $(BASE) -name "*~" -exec rm {} \;
    echo "creating iso file:"
    @mkisofs -r -o $(ISO) $(OPTIONS) $(BASE)
    ls -al $(ISO)

    cdrecord -v dev=$(DEV) speed=$(SPEED) $(ISO)

The indent is done with the TAB key. Don't use spaces for this!

Like mentioned before we put the Makefile in a directory inside the cdrom structure. A place like "/data/mboot/toolcd/scripts" is good. We'll softlink it into "/data/mboot/Makefile":
# cd /data/mboot
# ln -s toolcd/scripts/Makefile Makefile

To create a new cdrom after altering some things (bootdisk images, virus scanners) we now just have to enter three simple commands in the "mboot/" directory:
# make blank
# make iso
# make burn

That's easier, isn't it?


More bootdisks

You'll find more bootdisks in your disk boxes, and in the world wide web. But remember that you never really know what's on a disk image downloaded from internet. I think it's always a good idea to ask a search engine like google, whether someone encountered problems using a bootdisk from a site. And run a virus scanner over the disks.

I've taken some bootdisks from www.bootdisk.com. The disks are english versions, most of them with cdrom support. You can access a virus scanner on the cdrom, or to run a bios update from another cdrom. I really like the "drdflash" bootdisk image, providing a minimal bootdisk with enough space for a BIOS flasher. Just use "rawrite" (dos) or "dd" (linux) to write the image on a disk, and you have a bootable disk for the flasher in a minute. I've been on a LAN party and saw how long a group of linux gurus needed to find a bootable floppy disk for a BIOS update... :-)

Note: You can find "rawrite.exe" on most of the common linux distribution cdroms.


More content

With your tiny and handy 8cm cdrom you've got a tool to boot a clean disk everywhere. Why not putting a virus scanner onto the cdrom? I've taken "F-Prot" from F-Secure. They have a linux and a dos version for free to download.

The only problem is the question about how to update the virus definitions on the cdrom. I've heard of 8cm CD-RWs, but I've never seen one in a shop. Too bad. Another solution would be to boot a minimal linux system from our 8cm cdrom, to download new definition files from internet.

Two of the problems I faced with f-prot where:

My quick solution was to copy the binary to the name 'fprot', and to forget the script :).

The next part of this article is about how to integrate a linux distribution in our cdrom, giving us a mighty tool for almost every panic situation.


Integrating knoppix

If you don't know Knoppix by now, have a look at it! It is a complete bootable linux system with 2-3 GB software on a single 650MB live cdrom. With hardware detection and other useful features. But it doesn't fit on our mini cdrom.
Don't cry, because it is possible to remaster the knoppix cdrom (or a clone project). You just need some basic debian knowledge, and some more space on your hard disk.

Knoppix uses some special magic to put 2-3 GB of software on a 650MB cdrom: the filesystem has been compressed into the file "/KNOPPIX/KNOPPIX", and is mounted by the initial init process of a booting floppy disk (*) by using a special "cloop" driver module. (* In fact it is the content of a bootdisk image file used when calling "mkisofs" with the "-b" switch.)

The bootdisk image that has been used to create the knoppix cdrom can be found in the "/KNOPPIX" directory of every knoppix cdrom: "boot.img". There's again the idea to have all genes for the next evolutionary step "on board"...

I suggest mounting the knoppix bootdisk image with the loop device to try to understand how the boot process of knoppix (or linux) works. Search the web for the "bootdisk howto" to find more information. One of the files you find on the disk image is a ".gz" compressed file with a filesystem image inside. It is the initial ramdisk with the ramdisk filesystem used at the early moments of boot time.

So when booting knoppix this happens: The "boot.img" file written into the iso file loads the linux kernel from the emulated floppy disk, loading the initial ramdisk. The linuxrc process loads the "cloop.o" driver module, and searches for a file "/KNOPPIX/KNOPPIX" on all attached devices with a known filesystem. Yes, it should be possible to boot the compressed knoppix even from a hard disk. But I've never tested that.
After finding a device with the compressed filesystem, it becomes mounted, and hardware detection and all the other things start.

The floppy disk "boot.img" does not care about from where it boots (drive, emulated), so it's rather simple to integrate it into our multi boot cdrom: copy "boot.img" in the "images/" directory, and add a hotkey in "bscript.ini".


Adapt knoppix

An original knoppix cdrom is much too big for our handy 8cm cdrom. Remember: we have 183 MB on a mini cdrom. We need to delete lots of stuff, but that's too much work. Why not benefit from the project of someone else? The website Knoppix Customizations lists a couple of modified knoppix versions, some of them minimalized to a compressed size around 50-60 MB. I decided to use "Model_k". It is small, but there's no GUI, and support for non-english keyboards is missing. Perhaps "Damn Small Linux" is better...

I took the instructions you find below from a document by Sunil Thomas Thonikuzhiyil, who describes the process of remastering very detailed. Read it if you want to know how to change the boot kernel or the initial ramdisk of the bootdisk. But normally we do not need all that stuff when remastering "Model_k" or a similiar system for our mini cdrom...

The basic idea about remastering knoppix lies in the fact that knoppix is a full working debian system - when there's a writable fileystem [a cdrom is read-only :)]. The main part of remastering is the installation and deinstallation of packages. Not much magic.

To alter a knoppix we have to boot it first. After that the following steps are necessary:

The new compressed filesystem has to be copied to "/KNOPPIX/KNOPPIX" in our cdrom directory structure where the knoppix boot process will find it.

Now boot Knoppix and...:

Mount a data space and copy files:
# mkdir /1
# mount -t ext2 /dev/hda<n> /1
# cp -Rp /KNOPPIX /1

Change into the uncompressed, writable environment:
# chroot /1/KNOPPIX
# mount -t proc /proc proc

Configure the network:
# (use ifconfig, when there's no DHCP server in your network.)
# (change nameserver setup when there's no DHCP. Delete the link
  "/etc/resolv.conf" and create your own file.)

Install / deinstall packages:
# apt-get install joe   (Model_k 1.2 comes without editor :) )
# ...

When ready, leave the system:
# (if you changed /etc/resolv.conf, delete it and add the link.)
# umount /proc
# exit

Now we have to compress the umounted filesystem. The boot process mounts "/KNOPPIX/KNOPPIX" with "cloop". We already know "loop" - we use it to mount a filesystem file. "cloop" is a "loop" with (de)compression, so we have to create a filesystem with "mkisofs", and compress it with a special program from knoppix: "create_compressed_fs":

# mkisofs -R /1/KNOPPIX | create_compressed_fs - 65536 > /1/KNOPPIX.2
As you see we pipe the output of "mkisofs" directly into the compression tool. Make a copy of your original KNOPPIX file, and copy the result file "KNOPPIX.2" over "KNOPPIX/KNOPPIX" of your cdrom directory structure. Now make and burn another cdrom, and try out your "new" knoppix variant.



We've seen it's not that difficult to create a handy multi boot cdrom, with useful tools on it helping us in different situations. We did not invent every wheel, but used wheels invented by others, with some extra magic added.

We've put all we needed on that cdrom, so we have a backup at hand - and it is possible to remaster the cdrom with just the data from the cdrom.

I hope you enjoyed my small article.



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