Thursday, October 23, 2008

Building Ubuntu LiveCDs with Reconstructor

As I mentioned previously, I'm currently working on the Security Onion LiveCD. I started building custom LiveCDs years ago by going through the painstakingly manual process of remastering Knoppix. Last year, I began using the Fedora Revisor tool which didn't require as much manual work, but it is limited in that it seems to require that software is installed using RPMs and configuration is done via kickstart file as the ISO is being generated. Earlier this year, I produced a custom BackTrack CD for the Greater Augusta ISSA using Gene Bransfield Jr.'s guide and the Linux Live scripts. For the Security Onion LiveCD, I decided to try a new approach. This is my first time using Reconstructor and it provides a good balance of automation while still allowing you to easily customize at any time.

The process hasn't been totally painless, however (I should mention that I'm using Reconstructor 2.8.1.):
  • I ran into a squashfs bug, which required updating squashfs-tools to a newer version than is currently available in Ubuntu's repositories.
  • In the main Customization interface, there is an Apply button above the Next button. When I first starting using Reconstructor, I assumed that when you click Next, your settings are automatically applied, but that is not the case. You must click Apply or else your settings will be lost.
  • If you select a custom Gnome background color, Reconstructor seems to increment it each time it is launched. For example, I configured my background color to be #486ac1. The next time I opened Reconstructor, it showed the value as #486ac2. The next time I opened Reconstructor, it was #486ac3, and so on.
  • As with any LiveCD, there is always the issue of space--one has to balance having every remotely-useful tool available with the size limitation of a 700MB CD. Reconstructor helps somewhat in that it estimates the ISO size before generation, but this estimation isn't always accurate. You still may have to fully generate the ISO before you know for sure that it is under 700MB.

Overall, Reconstructor is a very good tool. If you can work through the minor issues detailed above, it is the easiest way to build a fully customized LiveCD. I look forward to the upcoming Reconstructor 3.

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