8 Tools to Easily Create Your Own Custom Linux Distro

When there are so many Linux distros out there, you are probably wondering why one would want to create his/her own distro instead of getting a ready-made one. While in most cases a ready-made distro is fine, if you want to have a distro that is one-hundred percent tailored to your needs (or your mum or dad’s needs), you might have to create it on your own.

With the right tools, creating your own Linux distro isn’t as hard as it seems, though it takes time for sure. There are lots of tools for the purpose – some of them are universal, and some of them are distro-specific. Here are eight of them.

create-own-linux-distro-01-linux-respin

Linux Respin is a fork of the now discontinued Remastersys. Years ago, Remastersys used to be one of the most popular tools to create your own Linux distro and/or a backup of your OS. Linux Respin doesn’t offer as much as Remastersys used to, but still it does a great job if you are using a distro it’s available for. Linux Respin is available for Debian, Mint and Trisquel only, which kind of limits its popularity. What I don’t like about this tool is its almost nonexistent documentation.

create-own-linux-distro-02-linux-live-kit

Linux Live Kit is another tool you can use to create your own distro or back up your system. It prefers Debian but fortunately can be run on other distros as well, provided it supports aufs and squashfs kernel modules. Linux Live Kit has a very short and sweet wizard on how to build a distro – just follow the steps and you are done.

create-own-linux-distro-03-ubuntu-imager

Ubuntu Imager is a good tool to create your own Ubuntu-based distro. It’s not the only such app for Ubuntu, but since it’s a good one, I chose to mention it on this list. I am not going to review it in detail because we already have a very detailed howto with instructions about installation and operation, so if you want to run it, just check the article in the link.

create-own-linux-distro-04-linux-from-scratch

If you want to have absolute control on what is included in your distro and you have lots of free time, you can have a look at the Linux from Scratch project. LFS has very extensive documentation and is a great learning resource about Linux in general, not just how to create your own distro. Linux from Scratch allows you to build your own customized Linux system entirely from source code. LFS is not exactly a tool, like the rest on this list, but you can still use it for the same purpose – to create your own Linux distro (and to learn a lot about Linux as a whole).

create-own-linux-distro-05-slax

If you are looking for an easy-to-use tool and you like Slax – a lightweight distro based on Slackware, you are lucky because they have an online tool you can use to pick the modules you would like included in your distro. I’ve used this tool in the past numerous times when I wanted to create a lightweight live system for friends of mine, and it works like a charm. Browse through the categories of software and pick the apps you want. Add them to the build. Don’t worry if you miss a thing or two, as you can always add more apps after you build and run it.

create-own-linux-distro-06-live-magic

Live Magic is one more Debian tool for distro creation. It can create CDs, USBs, and netboot images. It’s much simpler to use than some of the other apps on this list, such as Remastersys, but it does not use your running system to build the image. Instead, follow a wizard and choose your configuration options as you go. The program will pull the packages from your repositories and install them into your image.

create-own-linux-distro-07-instalinux

The really interesting thing about Instalinux is that it allows you to create an ISO image online. On the website you can choose which distribution to base it on (e.g. CentOS, Debian, Fedora, Mint, OpenSUSE, Scientific, and Ubuntu), and which version of the selected distro, as well as the packages. Instalinux creates a small bootable ISO (approx. 30mb) which, when booted, will begin the install and fetch the other packages from the Internet. This may be the most versatile tool on the list, and the web interface makes it extremely simple to use. It won’t, however, provide you with a full live desktop environment.

create-own-linux-distro-08-suse-studio

For SUSE users the best choice is SUSE Studio. Somewhat similar to Instalinux, SUSE studio allows you to use a web interface to create a custom distribution or “appliance.” It tops the charts in supported media by including output for CD, DVD, USB stick, hard drive, VMware, VirtualBox, and Xen. In order to use it, you need to open an account – this is simple because it uses Single Sign On, and you can quickly get in with your Google, Facebook, etc. account. You can choose which version of SUSE to use as a basis, if you want the server version or not, and which desktop to include in the build.

I hope these tools for creating your own Linux distro are of help to you. Their level of complexity (and power) varies, but we’ve tried to include both easy-to-use apps and apps that give you more power. In addition to these apps, many of the distros have their own tools that were mentioned here, so if you are using a different distro, it’s best to first check what tools are available for it in particular and then, if you are not happy with what you find, try the universal ones.

This article was first published in Apr 2010 and was updated in Sept 2017.

Image credit: Preparing a packet

12 comments

  1. I was surprised to not see Customizer on the list. It’s not technically a distribution builder but it decomposes an ISO, let you customize it by removing packages, setting up custom desktops etc and then rebuild an ISO from what you built. If it’s a bootable ISO then you can either run it live or install it so it’s kinda a distribution builder.

    If you have problems getting v4.15 to build from git then try 4.14, the stable version.

    • Thanks for the input, Customizer is quite OK but I can’t include everything on the list. If the article were about Ubuntu distro builders, then it would have made it for sure but since there are tools about other distros and the article already got longish, I had to stop somewhere. :)

  2. Tiny Core have its own remaster tool but never used it

    Manjaro have manjaro-tools-iso which is the official program for creating the system iso, it’s easy to reproduce or customize your own, used it extensively.

  3. Puppy Linux and antiX Linux are two Linux distributions that use various forms of “persistence” to save the environment you want to use.

    In the case of antiX Linux they’re stretched the concept pretty far in the most recent implementation and you can remaster your own creation any time or simply use a USB to save the persistent state you are interested in.

  4. Just checked out Instalinux since it looked like precisely what I wanted, but the newest Debian distro it supports is Wheezy. Ouch. :-)

  5. Can I use a Linus ‘distro’ as replacement for my TiVo’s operating system? I don’t want to use TiVo’s services. I just want my TiVo box to record video when I schedule it to.

  6. “What I don’t like about this tool is its almost nonexistent documentation.”

    Ironically, the developer worked as a technical writer for years…
    Thanks for the feedback!
    I suppose the issue I have as a developer is the installation seems so – easy and obvious. I’ll include a man page.

    :D

  7. The 2 best sites, SUSE Studio and Install Linux are now gone.

    Now you pretty much have to install a base OS and fumble around trying to get everything else to work.

    Shame.

  8. Most of these tools aren’t about creating your own Linux distro, they’re about creating your own custom version of an existing distro. All except LFS which isn’t so much a tool as an instruction manual. These just automate what everybody using a distro does anyway by installing their own unique set of programs to use.

  9. Thank you for sharing this!
    I made a customized Linux Mint persistent USB installation disk just yesterday: installed some apps and removed others, have chosen a theme, etc.
    So I wondered if any of these tools would work with the persistent installation USB disks out of the live environment if a distro hasn’t been actually installed on a system SSD or HD?
    Can I run such a persistent live Linux Mint 19 installation USB disk, install one of these tools you have written about on that USB disk and create the customized installation ISO?

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