I have been trying to create a bootable debian (jessie/8.4) image for the past 2 days, and as far as I can tell I have the procedure right, but I can not get the filesystem right. I am relatively sure that I am doing something wrong here, missing something with mounting or /etc/fstab (there isn't one in my image). I was hoping someone with some experience would be able to help me out/show me what I am missing.

Here are the errors I see as I'm booting into qemu-system-x86:

As text and then as the actual screenshots:


fsck: error 2 (No such file or directory) while executing fsck.ext2 for /dev/sda1
fsck exited with status code 8
[FAILED] Failed to start Load/Save Random Seed
See `systemctl status systemd-random-seed.service` for details.
[FAILED] Failed to start Various fixups to make systemd work better on Debian.
See `systemctl status debian-fixup.service` for details.
[FAILED] Failed to start Update UTMP about System Boot/Shutdown.
See `systemctl status systemd-update-utmp.service` for details.
[DEPEND] Dependency failed for Update UTMP about System Runlevel Changes.

enter image description here enter image description here

Here are the instructions I've written up for myself / steps I've taken:

cd ~
mkdir debootstrap
cd debootstrap/
# get newest
wget http://ftp.debian.org/debian/pool/main/d/debootstrap/debootstrap_1.0.80_all.deb
ar -x debootstrap_1.0.80_all.deb
zcat /root/debootstrap/data.tar.gz | tar xv

apt-get install parted

# 1.5Gbytes
dd if=/dev/zero of=1445.img bs=1024 count=1 seek=1536k

parted -s 1445.img -- mklabel msdos mkpart primary 1m 1.5g toggle 1 boot
losetup --show -f 1445.img
# prints out `/dev/loopX`, enter this on the next lin
partprobe /dev/loop0
# only have to make the filesytem once --> if you are troubleshooting steps, do not redo this line
mkfs -t ext2 /dev/loop0p1
mount /dev/loop0p1 /mnt

debootstrap --verbose --components=main,contrib,non-free \
--include=firmware-realtek,linux-image-amd64,grub-pc,ssh,vim \
--exclude=nano \
--arch amd64 jessie /mnt http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian

source for information on using --components

  • Ensure that the kernel is installed, it should appear in /boot within the chroot, that is /mnt/boot with the following files:

    • initrd.img-3.16.0-4-amd64
    • vmlinuz-3.16.0-4-amd64
    • config-3.16.0-4-amd64
    • System.map-3.16.0-4-amd64
  • install grub

    grub-install --boot-directory=/mnt/boot --modules=part_msdos /dev/loop0
  • Set up APT

    • copy over the apt sources

      cp /etc/apt/sources.list /mnt/etc/apt/sources.list
    • ensure the cdrom source is commented out

    • add the line:

      deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian stable-backports main contrib non-free

Setup a chroot

mount --bind /dev/pts /mnt/dev/pts
mount --bind /proc /mnt/proc
mount --bind /sys /mnt/sys
mount --bind /dev /mnt/dev

# if you want your pushprofilesettings
cp ~/.bashrc /mnt/root/
cp ~/.vimrc /mnt/root/

# chroot -- enter the system as if it were thy own
chroot /mnt /bin/bash
export HOME=/root
export LC_ALL=C
export LANG=C.UTF-8
export TERM=xterm-256color

mount from man mount:
--bind Remount a subtree somewhere else (its contents are available in both places).
-t <type> Mount of filesystem type, with this, mount will attempt to auto determine

setup serial/console access

edit /etc/default/grub:

  1. Set GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="" to:

    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="console=tty0 console=ttyS0,115200n8"
  2. Uncomment GRUB_TERMINAL=console

  3. Beneath, add the line:

    GRUB_SERIAL_COMMAND="serial --speed=115200 --unit=0 --word=8 --parity=no --stop=1"

Make the grub config - This MUST be done in a non-systemd-nspawn shell (that means chroot)

grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Exit chroot


Clean up for chroot'ed

umount /mnt/sys
umount /mnt/dev
umount /mnt/dev/pts
umount /mnt/proc

Can check for additional mounts with: mount | grep /mnt and then unmount them with umount

Enter systemd-nspawn

systemd-nspawn -D /mnt
# not you are in a special container

Set the password for root with passwd

In /etc/ssh/sshd_config comment out PermitRootLogin without-password to read #PermitRootLogin without-password and insert PermitRootLogin yes beneath it

Now enable ssh on startup

systemctl enable ssh

clean up

# this is needed to clean up both chroot and systemd-nspawn -D /mnt
# once this is run you can not do systemd-nspawn either so wait until you are entirely done
umount /mnt
losetup -d /dev/loop0

Check for additional mounts with: mount | grep /mnt If ANYTHING is returned, unmount them with umount

Recover (only necessary in ERROR)

If you broke something, or need to retry, RE-MOUNT / SETUP CHROOT on existing .img:

losetup --show -f 1445.img
# prints out `/dev/loopX`, enter this on the next lin
partprobe /dev/loop0
mount /dev/loop0p1 /mnt

testing img

qemu-system-x86_64 -hda 1445.img -m 1024 -vnc :0
  • Now probably deleted answer-comment of @505e06b2 : Your "guide" worked wonders for making a Minimal Ubuntu 16 thumbdrive. The only things I changed were the debootstrap and I had to manually get networking working (networkd). My debootstrap line was: sudo debootstrap --components=main,contrib,nonfree --variant=minbase --include=linux-generic,grub-pc --arch=i386 xenial /mnt. – peterh Feb 17 '18 at 20:06

Can't comment, but your "guide" worked wonders for making a Minimal Ubuntu 16 thumbdrive. The only things I changed were the debootstrap and I had to manually get networking working (networkd).

My debootstrap line was:

#> sudo debootstrap --components=main,contrib,nonfree  --variant=minbase \
                    --include=linux-generic,grub-pc --arch=i386 xenial /mnt
  • 1
    If you can validate this guide, then write 4-5 answers ASAP, get your around 50 rep, and then you will be able to comment it. I don't flag your post for deletion, because it is too worthy, but I should, because it is really not an answer. Thus, others will likely do. But you can get that 50 rep very soon. Answer 3-4 trivial questions and tomorrow you will have... – peterh Feb 17 '18 at 20:04
  • We have a lot of beginner Linuxers here, helping them is an easy way to a rocket-like rep boost. Other SE sites aren't so easy. – peterh Feb 17 '18 at 20:09

Kept at it and figured it out, relatively straight forward from here, but not just a matter of setting up /etc/fstab, here is the rest:

not necessary but a good idea to clean things up

apt-get autoclean

set up /etc/fstab - check with mount to ensure you are on the right filesystem type

echo "/dev/sda1 / ext4 defaults,errors=remount-ro 0 1" > /etc/fstab

this will rebuild the initramfs and allow it to boot clean

update-initramfs -u -k all

Do that and the machine boots clean, tested in QEMU and then I am running it right now on hardware.


Automated Debian 9 setup without any systemd errors

This setup does not have any systemd errors or warnings, and I get the Internet connection and a shell at the end.

This setup is just not perfect as I'm not using the Debian kernel, errors when I tried explained in a later section. I then just tried a kernel I had lying around, with config based on Buildroot and it worked. The config is provided in this setup. Therefore, it is possible that some packages that rely on missing kernel configs will fail, although I haven't observed any errors so far.

An analogous setup worked perfectly with the Ubuntu kernel however: https://askubuntu.com/questions/281763/is-there-any-prebuilt-qemu-ubuntu-image32bit-online/1081171#1081171 The Ubuntu kernel must have the missing configs compared to the Debian one. The Debian kernel failures can likely be fixed by compiling the Debian kernel with extra options like CONFIG_VIRTIO_BLK=y as I've done for Ubuntu.

#!/usr/bin/env bash

set -eux


sudo apt-get install \
  debootstrap \
  libguestfs-tools \
  qemu-system-x86 \

if [ ! -d "$debootstrap_dir" ]; then
  # Create debootstrap directory.
  # - linux-image-amd64: downloads the kernel image
  sudo debootstrap \
    --include linux-image-amd64 \
    stretch \
    "$debootstrap_dir" \
    http://deb.debian.org/debian/ \
  sudo rm -f "$root_filesystem"

if [ ! -f "$root_filesystem" ]; then
  # Set root password.
  echo 'root:root' | sudo chroot "$debootstrap_dir" chpasswd

  # Remount root filesystem as rw.
  # Otherwise, systemd shows:
  #     [FAILED] Failed to start Create Volatile Files and Directories.
  # and then this leads to further failures in the network setup.
  cat << EOF | sudo tee "${debootstrap_dir}/etc/fstab"
/dev/sda / ext4 errors=remount-ro,acl 0 1

  # Network.
  # We use enp0s3 because the kernel boot prints:
  #     8139cp 0000:00:03.0 enp0s3: renamed from eth0
  # This can also be observed with:
  #     ip link show
  # Without this, systemd shows many network errors, the first of which is:
  #     [FAILED] Failed to start Network Time Synchronization.
  cat << EOF | sudo tee "${debootstrap_dir}/etc/network/interfaces.d/00mytest"
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback
auto enp0s3
iface enp0s3 inet dhcp

  # Generate image file from debootstrap directory.
  # Leave 1Gb extra empty space in the image.
  sudo virt-make-fs \
    --format qcow2 \
    --size +1G \
    --type ext2 \
    "$debootstrap_dir" \
    "$root_filesystem" \
  sudo chmod 666 "$root_filesystem"

# linux_image="$(printf "${debootstrap_dir}/boot/vmlinuz-"*)"

if [ ! -f "$linux_img" ]; then
  # Build the Linux kernel.
  git clone --depth 1 --branch v4.18 git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux.git
  cd linux
  wget https://gist.githubusercontent.com/cirosantilli/6e2f4975c1929162a86be09f839874ca/raw/6d151d231a233408a6e1b541bf4a92fd55bf5338/.config
  make olddefconfig
  make -j`nproc`
  cd -

qemu-system-x86_64 \
  -append 'console=ttyS0 root=/dev/sda' \
  -drive "file=${root_filesystem},format=qcow2" \
  -enable-kvm \
  -serial mon:stdio \
  -m 2G \
  -kernel "$linux_img" \
  -device rtl8139,netdev=net0 \
  -netdev user,id=net0 \

GitHub upstream.

Now from the terminal, login with root / root, and then check that the Internet works with the following commands:

printf 'GET / HTTP/1.1\r\nHost: example.com\r\n\r\n' | nc example.com 80
apt-get update
apt-get install hello

We used nc as explained at https://stackoverflow.com/questions/32341518/how-to-make-an-http-get-request-manually-with-netcat/52662497#52662497 because:

Tested on an Ubuntu 18.04 host.

What happens if I try to use the Debian kernel

TODO understand and fix. If I replace the Linux kernel compilation above with the Debian packaged Linux kernel:


then boot fails with:

Kernel panic - not syncing: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on unknown-block(0,0)

and an empty list for:

List of all partitions:

so the disk is not being recognized at all. I've also tried to use the exact same kernel that the Debian ISO installer installs as done here but for Debian, and it fails in the same way, even though the Debian ISO install worked fine with the same QEMU options (it generates GRUB install in a disk with multiple partitions, the root one being ext4).

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