23 March, 2010

Using Grub2 and LUA installed on USB booting ISO images

I got 16 GB USB flash from my brother, because he can't see me still using my old 64 MB. He decided to buy Imation Nano-Flash-Drive.

Because of many of my friends and colleagues are using Win, I use NTFS on it. Old FAT is not "usable" in these days, because it can't handle bigger files.

From the first time I use USB disks I always want to have bootable disk/flash with live CDs - so here are few notes how to create USB flash drive able to boot stored live CDs:

Fist you need to compile grub2 yourselves, because default grub2 installations in distributions does not have LUA support:
aptitude install autogen automake bison flex gettext gcc autoconf ruby bzr libfreetype6-dev

Debian way compilation and installation:
aptitude install dpkg-dev fakeroot
apt-get source grub2
apt-get build-dep grub2
dpkg-source -x grub2_1.98-1.dsc

bzr branch http://bzr.savannah.gnu.org/r/grub-extras/lua ./grub2-1.98/debian/grub-extras/lua

cd grub2-1.98
dpkg-buildpackage -rfakeroot -b

cd ..
dpkg -r grub-pc grub-common
dpkg -i ./grub-common_1.98-1_amd64.deb ./grub-pc_1.98-1_amd64.deb

Compilation and installation from source code (not necessary if you follow "Debian steps" above):
bzr branch http://bzr.savannah.gnu.org/r/grub/trunk/grub
mkdir ./grub/grub-extras
bzr branch http://bzr.savannah.gnu.org/r/grub-extras/lua ./grub/grub-extras/lua

cd grub
export GRUB_CONTRIB=./grub-extras/
./configure --prefix=/tmp/grub
make install

Mount USB to some directory (in my case /mnt/sdb1) and install grub with Lua support on it:
mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/sdb1
grub-install --root-directory=/mnt/sdb1 /dev/sdb

To make grub nicer, I add wallper and fonts to it:
wget --directory-prefix=/tmp/ http://unifoundry.com/unifont-5.1.20080820.pcf.gz 
grub-mkfont --output=/mnt/sdb1/boot/grub/unifont.pf2 --range=0x0000-0x0241,0x2190-0x21FF,0x2500-0x259f /tmp/unifont-5.1.20080820.pcf.gz -v -b
wget http://ubuntulife.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/linux.jpg /mnt/sdb1/boot/grub/

Last step is creating right configuration and downloading live iso images of various Linux distributions.

Let's download the ISOs first. It's better to use most actual ones. These are working fine for me:
mkdir -v /mnt/sdb1/isos
wget -c --directory-prefix=/mnt/sdb1/isos \
http://ftp.heanet.ie/pub/linuxmint.com/testing/LinuxMint-8-x64-RC1.iso \
http://gd.tuwien.ac.at/opsys/linux/grml/grml64_2009.10.iso \
http://ftp.cc.uoc.gr/mirrors/linux/slax/SLAX-6.x/slax-6.1.2.iso \
http://downloads.sourceforge.net/project/systemrescuecd/sysresccd-x86/1.5.0/systemrescuecd-x86-1.5.0.iso \
http://releases.ubuntu.com/karmic/ubuntu-9.10-desktop-amd64.iso \

The following code is taken from this web page http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1288604 wgere I added more live cds. I also change the main grup.cfg little bit and use 64 live CDs (amd64).

Save following text as 3 files:
  • /mnt/sdb1/boot/grub/grub.cfg
  • insmod vbeinfo
    insmod font
    if loadfont /boot/grub/unifont.pf2 ; then
      set gfxmode="1024x768x32,800x600x32,640x480x32,1024x768,800x600,640x480"
    #  set gfxpayload=keep
      insmod gfxterm
    #  insmod vbe
      if terminal_output gfxterm; then true ; else
         terminal gfxterm
    insmod jpeg
    if background_image /boot/grub/linux.jpg ; then
      set menu_color_normal=black/black
      set color_highlight=red/blue
      set menu_color_normal=cyan/blue
      set menu_color_highlight=white/blue
    set default=0
    set timeout=10
    # Uncomment for a different ISO files search path
    #set isofolder="/boot/isos"
    #export isofolder
    # Uncomment for a different live system language
    #set isolangcode="us"
    #export isolangcode
    source /boot/grub/listisos.lua
  • /mnt/sdb1/boot/grub/bootiso.lua
  • #!lua
    -- Detects the live system type and boots it
    function boot_iso (isofile, langcode)
      -- grml
      if (dir_exist ("(loop)/boot/grml64")) then
        boot_linux (
          "findiso=" .. isofile .. " apm=power-off quiet boot=live nomce"
      -- Parted Magic
      elseif (dir_exist ("(loop)/pmagic")) then
        boot_linux (
          "iso_filename=" .. isofile ..
            " edd=off noapic load_ramdisk=1 prompt_ramdisk=0 rw" ..
            " sleep=10 loglevel=0 keymap=" .. langcode
      -- Sidux
      elseif (dir_exist ("(loop)/sidux")) then
        boot_linux (
          find_file ("(loop)/boot", "vmlinuz%-.*%-sidux%-.*"),
          find_file ("(loop)/boot", "initrd%.img%-.*%-sidux%-.*"),
          "fromiso=" .. isofile .. " boot=fll quiet"
      -- Slax
      elseif (dir_exist ("(loop)/slax")) then
        boot_linux (
          "from=" .. isofile .. " ramdisk_size=6666 root=/dev/ram0 rw"
      -- SystemRescueCd
      elseif (grub.file_exist ("(loop)/isolinux/rescue64")) then
        boot_linux (
          "isoloop=" .. isofile .. " docache rootpass=xxxx setkmap=" .. langcode
      -- Tinycore
      elseif (grub.file_exist ("(loop)/boot/tinycore.gz")) then
        boot_linux (
      -- Ubuntu and Casper based Distros
      elseif (dir_exist ("(loop)/casper")) then
        boot_linux (
          find_file ("(loop)/casper", "initrd%..z"),
          "boot=casper iso-scan/filename=" .. isofile ..
            " quiet splash noprompt" ..
            " keyb=" .. langcode ..
            " debian-installer/language=" .. langcode ..
            " console-setup/layoutcode?=" .. langcode ..
            " --"
      -- Xpud
      elseif (grub.file_exist ("(loop)/boot/xpud")) then
        boot_linux (
        print_error ("Unsupported ISO type")
    -- Help function to show an error
    function print_error (msg)
      print ("Error: " .. msg)
      grub.run ("read")
    -- Help function to search for a file
    function find_file (folder, match)
      local filename
      local function enum_file (name)
        if (filename == nil) then
          filename = string.match (name, match)
      grub.enum_file (enum_file, folder)
      if (filename) then
        return folder .. "/" .. filename
        return nil
    -- Help function to check if a directory exist
    function dir_exist (dir)
      return (grub.run("test -d '" .. dir .. "'") == 0)
    -- Boots a Linux live system
    function boot_linux (linux, initrd, params)
      if (linux and grub.file_exist (linux)) then
        if (initrd and grub.file_exist (initrd)) then
          if (params) then
            grub.run ("linux " .. linux .. " " .. params)
            grub.run ("linux " .. linux)
          grub.run ("initrd " .. initrd)
          print_error ("Booting Linux failed: cannot find initrd file '" .. initrd .. "'")
        print_error ("Booting Linux failed: cannot find linux file '" .. initrd .. "'")
    -- Mounts the iso file
    function mount_iso (isofile)
      local result = false
      if (isofile == nil) then
        print_error ("variable 'isofile' is undefined")
      elseif (not grub.file_exist (isofile)) then
        print_error ("Cannot find isofile '" .. isofile .. "'")
        local err_no, err_msg = grub.run ("loopback loop " .. isofile)
        if (err_no ~= 0) then
          print_error ("Cannot load ISO: " .. err_msg)
          result = true
      return result
    -- Getting the environment parameters
    isofile = grub.getenv ("isofile")
    langcode = grub.getenv ("isolangcode")
    if (langcode == nil) then
      langcode = "us"
    -- Mounting and booting the live system
    if (mount_iso (isofile)) then
      boot_iso (isofile, langcode)

In the new grub versions I had to modify following lines (from "source" -> "lua" and one module name "vbeinfo" -> "vbe") otherwise it was not running correctly. Please look at these lines and change it in the scripts above:
insmod vbe

lua /boot/grub/listisos.lua

      "\nlua /boot/grub/bootiso.lua"

After unmounting your USB flash should be bootable and you should get menu similar to this one:

Splash screen from Grub
Splash screen from Grub

Enjoy :-)


  1. hi, i tried to follow the steps given but keep encountering errors at the make, i'v tried searching the net for like 2 days but dont even come close to find a solution let alone a similar problem. please see below and provide some help if possible.

    /bin/bash: line 9: -I: command not found
    make[2]: *** [grub.info] Error 127
    make[2]: Leaving directory `/home/windsor/grub/docs'
    make[1]: *** [all-recursive] Error 1
    make[1]: Leaving directory `/home/windsor/grub'
    make: *** [all] Error 2

  2. Hello.

    I tried the steps above with grub version 1.98+20100804-2 from debian testing and it's working fine form me. I was able to compile it using the "debian way" mentioned above.
    In the worst case you can install debian testing into virtual machine and follow the steps above.

    Good luck


  3. Tom Nussbaumer11/9/10 08:07


    Install package texinfo (and maybe texi2html?) and it should compile.

  4. Tom Nussbaumer11/9/10 08:10


    Install package texinfo (and maybe texi2html?) and it should compile.

    @Petr: Thanx! Your guide saved me quite some time :)

  5. I cannot get this command to work:
    bzr branch http://bzr.savannah.gnu.org/r/grub-extras/lua ./grub2-1.98/debian/grub-extras/lua
    (previous commands are working on a ububtu-9.10 on a VM)

    I understand that this repository has been erased... :(
    Do you have the files from this download? could you post that somewhere?

    I am trying very hard to make a pendrive where I can just drop the isos and select them at boot time and grub+lua is the only real answer

    thanks very much...