Diskless network boot NBD root

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Boot from a NBD root device

This article will explain how to boot an ArchLinux Installation from a Network Block Device (NBD).

Much of the work to be done is based on the article Diskless network boot NFS root, so this will be referenced several times within the article.

Advantages over NFS

The main advantages are that NBD is faster and that you can boot from an encrypted or LVM-based NBD root device. One disadvantage is that you cannot update your kernel from within the running diskless client, although this may be worked around by mounting /boot via NFS.

Server-Side Setup

Create a directory that will hold the boot directory and the NBD file.

mkdir -p /nbd/boot/

Next, create the actual file that will be shared via NBD. Of course you can also use an actual block device (a hard drive) instead of creating a file on your filesystem. Just replace /nbd/root with the block device. In this example we are going to create a file with a size of 5GiB.

dd if=/dev/zero of=/nbd/root bs=1M count=5000

Now you can create a filesystem on the file.

mkfs.ext4 /nbd/root

mkfs will show you warning about the fact that the file is no actual block device. You can ignore this and simply press y to continue.

Alternatively, if you want to create an encrypted NBD device:

cryptsetup luksFormat -s 256 /nbd/root
cryptsetup luksOpen /nbd/root nbdcrypt
mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/nbdcrypt
Note: Be aware that the rest of the article will use /nbd/root. If your NBD file is encrypted, replace it with /dev/mapper/nbdcrypt.

Now we can mount the filesystem:

mount /nbd/root /mnt