Customizing the Boot Process

Most Linux systems use a special boot image to control the system boot process after the system firmware, BIOS or UEFI, hands control of the hardware to the operating system. This boot image is called the initrd. The Linux kernel loads the initrd, a compressed cpio initial RAM disk, into the RAM and executes init or, if present, linuxrc.

Depending on the image type, KIWI NG creates the boot image automatically during the create step. It uses a tool called dracut to create this initrd. Dracut generated initrd archives can be extended by custom modules to add functionality which is not natively provided by dracut itself. In the scope of KIWI NG the following dracut modules are used:


Serves as an image installer. It provides the required implementation to install a KIWI NG image on a selectable target. This module is required if one of the attributes installiso, installstick or installpxe is set to true in the image type definition


Serves to boot the system into the installed image after installation is completed.


Boots up a KIWI NG live image. This module is required if the iso image type is selected


Allows to boot disk images configured with the attribute overlayroot set to true. Such a disk has its root partition compressed and readonly and boots up using overlayfs for the root filesystem using an extra partition on the same disk for persistent data.


Resizes an OEM disk image after installation onto the target disk to meet the size constraints configured in the oemconfig section of the image description. The module takes over the tasks to repartition the disk, resizing of RAID, LVM, LUKS and other layers and resizing of the system filesystems.


Provides functions of general use and serves as a library usable by other dracut modules. As the name implies, its main purpose is to function as library for the above mentioned kiwi dracut modules.


Using Custom Boot Image Support

Apart from the standard dracut based creation of the boot image, KIWI NG supports the use of custom boot images for the image types oem and pxe. The use of a custom boot image is activated by setting the following attribute in the image description:

<type ... initrd_system="kiwi"/>

Along with this setting it is now mandatory to provide a reference to a boot image description in the boot attribute like in the following example:

<type ... boot="netboot/suse-tumbleweed"/>

Such boot descriptions for the OEM and PXE types are currently still provided by the KIWI NG packages but will be moved into its own repository and package soon.

The custom boot image descriptions allows a user to completely customize what and how the initrd behaves by its own implementation. This concept is mostly used in PXE environments which are usually highly customized and requires a specific boot and deployment workflow.

Boot Image Hook-Scripts

The dracut initrd system uses systemd to implement a predefined workflow of services which are documented in the bootup man page at:

To hook in a custom boot script into this workflow it’s required to provide a dracut module which is picked up by dracut at the time KIWI NG calls it. The module files can be either provided as a package or as part of the overlay directory in your image description

The following example demonstrates how to include a custom hook script right before the system rootfs gets mounted.

  1. Create a subdirectory for the dracut module:

    $ mkdir -p root/usr/lib/dracut/modules.d/90my-module
  2. Register the dracut module in a configuration file:

    $ vi root/etc/dracut.conf.d/90-my-module.conf
    add_dracutmodules+=" my-module "
  3. Create the hook script:

    $ touch root/usr/lib/dracut/modules.d/90my-module/
  4. Create a module setup file in root/usr/lib/dracut/modules.d/90my-module/ with the following content:

    # called by dracut
    check() {
        # check module integrity
    # called by dracut
    depends() {
        # return list of modules depending on this one
    # called by dracut
    installkernel() {
        # load required kernel modules when needed
        instmods _kernel_module_list_
    # called by dracut
    install() {
        declare moddir=${moddir}
        inst_multiple _tools_my_module_script_needs_
        inst_hook pre-mount 30 "${moddir}/"


Declaring Extra Tools for Hook Scripts

The install() function called by dracut can define extra tools needed by a defined hook script. The “inst_multiple” command and its parameters inform dracut to include these extra tools/items in the initrd.

The tools/items defined here can be any file, but are usually executables and libraries needed by the hook script.

  • Each file MUST be included in the Kiwi description either in a package, archive, or in the “root” tree in the image description directory.

  • The parameters of the inst_multiple command are space separated.

  • Each parameter can be a single executable name if it exists in /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, or /usr/sbin directories.

  • Otherwise, a full pathname to the file is required. This is usually true for libraries and other special files.

That’s it! At the time KIWI NG calls dracut the 90my-module will be taken into account and is installed into the generated initrd. At boot time systemd calls the scripts as part of the dracut-pre-mount.service.

The dracut system offers a lot more possibilities to customize the initrd than shown in the example above. For more information, visit the dracut project page.

Boot Image Parameters

A dracut generated initrd in a KIWI NG image build process includes one or more of the KIWI NG provided dracut modules. The following list documents the available kernel boot parameters for this modules:

Exports the TERM variable into the initrd environment. In case the default value for the terminal emulation is not appropriate can be used to overwrite the default. The environment is also passed to the systemd unit which calls dialog based programs in KIWI NG dracut code, such that the TERM setting will be effective there too.

Activates the debug log file for the KIWI NG part of the boot process at /run/initramfs/log/

Tells an OEM installation image to lookup the system image on a remote location specified in

Specifies the remote location of the system image in a PXE based OEM installation

Tells an OEM installation image to pass an additional boot parameters to the kernel used to boot the installed image. This can be used e.g. to pass on first boot configuration for a PXE image. Note, that options starting with are not passed on to avoid side effects.[KMGT]

Configures the maximum disk size an unattended OEM installation should consider for image deployment. Unattended OEM deployments default to deploying on /dev/sda (more exactly, the first device not filtered out by oem-device-filter). With RAID controllers, it can happen that your buch of big JBOD disks is for example /dev/sda to /dev/sdi and the 480G RAID1 configured for OS deployment is /dev/sdj. With the deployment will land on that RAID disk.

Configures the disk device that should be used in an OEM installation. This overwrites/resets any other oem device specific settings, e.g oem-device-filter, oem-unattended-id or from the cmdline and just continues the installation on the given device. However, the device must exist and must be a block special.


Non interactive mode activated by

When setting explicitly on the kernel commandline, KIWI NG will not ask for confirmation of the device and just use it !

Tells a live ISO image the size for the tmpfs filesystem that is used for the overlayfs mount process. If the write area of the overlayfs mount uses this tmpfs, any new data written during the runtime of the system will fillup this space. The default value used is set to 50% which means one half of the available RAM space can be used for writing new data.

Tells a live ISO image to prepare a persistent write partition.

Tells a live ISO image which filesystem should be used to store data on the persistent write partition.

Tells a live ISO image the size of the COW file in MB. When using tools like live-grub-stick the live ISO will be copied as a file on the target device and a GRUB loopback setup is created there to boot the live system from file. In such a case the persistent write setup, which usually creates an extra write partition on the target, will fail in almost all cases because the target has no free and unpartitioned space available. Because of that a cow file(live_system.cow) instead of a partition is created. The cow file will be created in the same directory the live iso image file was read from by grub and takes the configured size or the default size of 500MB.

Tells a live ISO image the directory which contains the live OS root directory. Defaults to LiveOS.

Tells a live ISO image the name of the squashfs image file which holds the OS root. Defaults to squashfs.img.

Boot Debugging

If the boot process encounters a fatal error, the default behavior is to stop the boot process without any possibility to interact with the system. Prevent this behavior by activating dracut’s builtin debug mode in combination with the kiwi debug mode as follows:


This should be set at the Kernel command line. With those parameters activated, the system will enter a limited shell environment in case of a fatal error during boot. The shell contains a basic set of commands and allows for a closer look to:

less /run/initramfs/log/