How to Create a Custom Debian Live CD through the Web

If Debian means one thing, it’s functionality. You typically don’t go to Debian for cutting-edge features or fancy bells and whistles, but if you’re after an extremely versatile, stable, and dependable Linux, it can’t be beat. One of Debian’s newer offerings is the ability to create a custom Live CD directly from their website. You choose your options, they generate the image. Like all things Debian, it’s not flashy, you’ll get no AJAX animations or jQuery effects, just a functional, flexible, and powerful tool, and here’s how to use it.

Basic Settings

Click here to open the Web Image Builder. By default it will only show the basic options for building your CD.

debianlive-basic

binary-images specifies the type of image you wish to generate. Under most circumstances, you’ll want to leave that at the standard ISO CD format.

Under distribution, you choose which release of Debian to use for the install. In short, Debian always has three releases available – stable, testing, and unstable. The current stable release is codenamed Lenny and the current testing is Squeeze. Unstable is always Sid. For maximum dependability choose Lenny (stable), but historically the testing branch functions quite well as a desktop.

The packages-lists option provides a simple way to select from a predefined group of packages. For example, if you want to run a home studio in KDE, there just so happens to be a studio-kde package.

Presumably, the tasks section allows you to specify certain tasks for the build, however this feature seems to be almost entirely undocumented, which is rare with Debian tools.

packages is a list of the packages you wish to include in your CD that are not part of the lists you selected previously. This can include anything in the Debian repositories, from media players like VLC to recovery tools like gparted.

Advanced Bootstrap Options

If all we could set was the basic options, this utility wouldn’t be especially useful. The next section of config, which can be accessed by clicking Advanced Bootstrap Options, gives us a few more important settings.

debianlive-bootstrap

Currently the architecture option only provides 386 style processors. This is a broad architecture, as compared to the likes of SPARC or PowerPC. You’ll set more a specific CPU type (686, 64-bit, etc) in a later section.

bootstrap-flavour is referring to the packages that will be involved in building the base system. Unless you’re trying to make your CD image particularly tiny, you’ll probably want to leave this at standard.

Leave mirror-bootstrap alone, as that will grab packages right from the build server, but you may want to set mirror-binary to your region. Users in the Unites States, for example, may wish to change http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/ to http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/.

mirror-binary-security can be safely left alone, but if you intend to use non-open software (Flash, Skype, etc) you’ll want to change archive-areas to include “contrib” and “non-free”.

Advanced Chroot Options

As promised, this is the section where you can define a more specific CPU architecture, as well as some other handy options.

debianlive-chroot

When chroot-filesystem is set to squashfs, the files on your live CD will be compressed, giving you more space for applications. Generally this is what you want.

linux-flavours is where you can define your CPU architecture in more detail. Listed in the combo box are all supported 386-style CPU types, including images designed for virtual machines.

Strangely, security and symlinks seem to be two more largely undocumented features. Some limited testing indicates security may be related to SELinux configuration.

With sysvinit, you can decide whether or not you want to use the somewhat deprecated SysV Init system. Unless you have a particular reason to use it, and you’d probably know if you did, leave this setting at False.

Advanced Binary Options

As most of the options here are on the more technical side and do not require adjustment under normal circumstances, this section will focus most on the options a user is most likely to wish to change.

debianlive-binary

bootloader will let you choose between syslinux and GRUB. Syslinux is simpler and is the standard bootloader for Live CDs, but GRUB can provide more options. Unless you have a reason to use GRUB, Syslinux is the safest and simplest choice.

The debian-installer option is where you decide whether or not you’d like to support installation from your live media. According to the Debian Live team, this isn’t exactly in the spirit of the system (an official Debian install CD may be a better choice), but is supported nonetheless.

If you want the contents of your CD encrypted, you can simply set the encryption flag to the desired level of encryption.

Advanced Source Options

There are only two options here, source and source-images. The former is the decision on whether or not to include source code in your CD, and the latter is the format in which it will be stored.

Conclusion

When you’ve finished your CD, the server will take a few minutes to build your image and notify you via email when it’s ready for download. As usual, the Debian developers have come up with a useful tool to get the job done. Will it win any Beautiful Web Site awards? Probably not. Will it build a custom Debian live CD to your specifications? Absolutely.