How to Prepare and Boot a USB Installer on Libreboot Systems

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This guide explains how to prepare a bootable USB for Libreboot systems that can be used to install several GNU+Linux distributions. For this guide, you will only need a USB flash drive and the dd utility (it’s installed into all GNU+Linux distributions, by default).

For information on actually installing specific GNU+Linux distributions, refer to this page.

Prepare the USB Drive in GNU+Linux

If you downloaded your ISO while on an existing GNU+Linux system, here is how to create the bootable GNU+Linux USB drive:

Connect the USB drive. Check lsblk, to confirm its device name (e.g., /dev/sdX):

     $ lsblk

For this example, let’s assume that our drive’s name is sdb. Make sure that it’s not mounted:

    $ sudo umount /dev/sdb

Overwrite the drive, writing your distro ISO to it with dd. For example, if we are installing Trisquel 7.0 64-bit, and it’s located in our Downloads folder, this is the command we would run:

    $ sudo dd if=~/Downloads/trisquel_7.0_amd64.iso of=/dev/sdb bs=8M; sync

That’s it! You should now be able to boot the installer from your USB drive (the instructions for doing so will be given later).

Prepare the USB drive in NetBSD

This page on the NetBSD website shows how to create a NetBSD bootable USB drive, from within NetBSD itself. You should the dd method documented there. This will work with any GNU+Linux ISO image.

Prepare the USB drive in FreeBSD

This page on the FreeBSD website shows how to create a bootable USB drive for installing FreeBSD. Use the dd method documented. This will work with any GNU+Linux ISO image.

Prepare the USB drive in LibertyBSD or OpenBSD

If you downloaded your ISO on a LibertyBSD or OpenBSD system, here is how to create the bootable GNU+Linux USB drive:

Connect the USB drive. Run lsblk to determine which drive it is:

    $ lsblk

To confirm that you have the correct drive, use disklabel. For example, if you thought the correct drive were sd3, run this command:

    $ disklabel sd3

Make sure that the device isn’t mounted, with doas; if it is, this command will unmount it:

    $ doas umount /dev/sd3i

lsblk told you what device it is. Overwrite the drive, writing the OpenBSD installer to it with dd. Here’s an example:

    $ doas dd if=gnulinux.iso of=/dev/rsdXc bs=1M; sync

That’s it! You should now be able to boot the installer from your USB drive (the instructions for doing so will be given later).

Debian or Devuan net install

  1. Download the Debian or Devuan net installer. You can download the Debian ISO from the Debian homepage, or the Devuan ISO from the Devuan homepage.

  2. Create a bootable USB, using the commands in Prepare the USB Drive in GNU+Linux, above.

  3. Boot the USB, and enter these commands in the GRUB terminal (for 64-bit Intel or AMD):

    grub> set root='usb0'
    grub> linux /install.amd/vmlinuz
    grub> initrd /install.amd/initrd.gz
    grub> boot
  4. If you are on a 32-bit system (e.g. some Thinkpad X60’s), you will need to use these commands:

    grub> set root='usb0'
    grub> linux /install.386/vmlinuz
    grub> initrd /install.386/initrd.gz
    grub> boot

Booting ISOLINUX Images (Automatic Method)

Boot it in GRUB using the Parse ISOLINUX config (USB) option. A new menu should appear in GRUB, showing the boot options for that distro; this is a GRUB menu, converted from the usual ISOLINUX menu provided by that distro.

Booting ISOLINUX Images (Manual Method)

These are generic instructions. They may or may not be correct for your distribution. You must adapt them appropriately, for whatever GNU+Linux distribution it is that you are trying to install.

If the ISOLINUX parser or Search for GRUB configuration options won’t work, then press C in GRUB to access the command line, then run the ls command:

    grub> ls

Get the device name from the above output (e.g., usb0). Here’s an example:

    grub> cat (usb0)/isolinux/isolinux.cfg

Either the output of this command will be the ISOLINUX menuentries for that ISO, or link to other .cfg files (e.g, /isolinux/foo.cfg). For example, if the file found were foo.cfg, you would use this command:

    grub> cat (usb0)/isolinux/foo.cfg

And so on, until you find the correct menuentries for ISOLINUX.

For Debian-based distros (e.g., Trisquel, Devuan), there are typically menuentries listed in /isolinux/txt.cfg or /isolinux/gtk.cfg. For dual-architecture ISO images (i686 and x86_64), there may be separate files directories for each architecture. Just keep searching through the image, until you find the correct ISOLINUX configuration file.

NOTE: Debian 8.6 ISO only lists 32-bit boot options in txt.cfg. This is important, if you want 64-bit booting on your system. Devuan versions based on Debian 8.x may also have the same issue.

Now, look at the ISOLINUX menuentry; it’ll look like this:

    kernel /path/to/kernel append PARAMETERS initrd=/path/to/initrd ...

GRUB works similarly; here are some example GRUB commands:

    grub> set root='usb0'
    grub> linux /path/to/kernel PARAMETERS MAYBE\_MORE\_PARAMETERS
    grub> initrd /path/to/initrd
    grub> boot

Note: usb0 may be incorrect. Check the output of the ls command (in GRUB), to see a list of USB devices/partitions. Of course, this will vary from distro to distro. If you did all of that correctly, then it should now be booting your USB drive in the way that you specified.

Troubleshooting

Most of these issues occur when using Libreboot with Coreboot’s text-mode, instead of the Coreboot framebuffer. This mode is useful for booting payloads, like MemTest86+, which expect text-mode, but for GNU+Linux distributions, it can be problematic when they are trying to switch to a framebuffer, because it doesn’t exist.

In most cases, you should use the vesafb ROM images. An example filename would be libreboot_ukdvorak_vesafb.rom.

Parabola Won’t Boot in Text-Mode

Use one of the ROM images with vesafb in the filename (uses Coreboot framebuffer, instead of text-mode).

debian-installer Graphical Corruption in Text-Mode (Debian and Devuan)

When using the ROM images that use Coreboot’s text mode, instead of the Coreboot framebuffer, booting the Debian or Devuan net installer results in graphical corruption, because it is trying to switch to a framebuffer, which doesn’t exist. Use that kernel parameter on the linux line, when booting it:

    vga=normal fb=false

This forces debian-installer to start in text-mode, instead of trying to switch to a framebuffer.

If selecting text-mode from a GRUB menu created using the ISOLINUX parser, you can press E on the menu entry to add this. Or, if you are booting manually (from GRUB terminal), then just add the parameters.

This workaround was found on the Debian site. It should also work for Devuan, and any other apt-get distro that provides the debian-installer (i.e., text-mode) net install method.

Copyright © 2014, 2015, 2016 Leah Rowe info@minifree.org

Copyright © 2016 Scott Bonds scott@ggr.com

Copyright © 2017 Elijah Smith esmith1412@posteo.net

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation with no Invariant Sections, no Front Cover Texts, and no Back Cover Texts. A copy of this license is found in ../fdl-1.3.html

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