ELBE Quickstart

You have probably received a root-filesystem, which has been built with ELBE. Additionally you should have an XML file describing the root-filesystem.

This quickstart guide describes the steps necessary to rebuild the root-filesystem from the XML file and to simple modifications.

Steps necessary

  1. install Debian 10 (Buster) on your Host
  2. install ELBE on Host Linux
  3. generate the initvm running the buildenvironment
  4. build the root-filesystem inside the initvm

Steps 1,2 and 3 need only be performed once.


When Debian is running inside a VM (vmware etc), you need to make sure, that nested KVM is working.

Customisation of the build

The ELBE XML can contain an archive, which can contain configuration files, and additional software. This archive is extracted onto the target-image during the buildprocess. It allows you to override any file, which needs to be different from the default Debian Install.

This guide also explains how the archive can be extracted from the XML file, and vice versa.

ELBE allows to manipulate the generated root-filesystem through a set of <finetuning> rules. We also describe, how these can be used to add a user, change directory permissions, and remove files from the root-filesystem.

Installing ELBE

There are several possibilities to install ELBE. The simplest method is by installing prebuilt binary packages via Linutronix package repository on a Debian 10 (Buster) system.

But ELBE can also be installed from git.

Binary Debian packages

The latest packages for elbe reside in the following repository


Create the file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/elbe.list with the following contents:

deb http://debian.linutronix.de/elbe buster main
deb http://debian.linutronix.de/elbe-common buster main

Add a repository key to the list of trusted keys (as root):

$ wget -q -O - http://debian.linutronix.de/elbe-common/elbe-repo.pub | apt-key add -

Then run (as root):

$ apt-get update
$ apt-get install elbe

Create initvm and submit XML files

The first thing you need to do is set up a virtual-machine for generating root-filesystems.

This virtual-machine is referred to as initvm. You will want your initvm to be the same architecture as your workstation. This allows using hardware accelerated virtualization implemented by kvm.

In order to be able to work with virtual machines as a regular user, that user needs to be added to libvirt groups:

For Debian 9 (Stretch) or newer, run (as root):

$ adduser <youruser> libvirt
$ adduser <youruser> libvirt-qemu

Now create an initvm subdirectory and builds the initvm inside this directory.

$ elbe initvm create
Import debian-archive-buster-automatic.gpg:
gpg: key DC30D7C23CBBABEE: 4 Beglaubigungen wegen fehlender Schlüssel nicht geprüft
gpg: Schlüssel DC30D7C23CBBABEE: Öffentlicher Schlüssel "Debian Archive Automatic Signing Key (10/buster) <ftpmaster@debian.org>" importiert
gpg: Anzahl insgesamt bearbeiteter Schlüssel: 1
gpg:                              importiert: 1

Installing the base system  ... 17%... 20%... 30%... 40%... 50%... 60%... 70%... 83%... 91%
           ... 100%
Configuring apt  ... 14%... 21%... 35%... 40%... 50%... 64%... 71%... 85%... 92%... 100%
Select and install software
                             ... 10%... 20%... 30%... 40%... 50%... 61%... 71%... 81%... 78%... 80%... 90%
                          ... 100%
Installing GRUB boot loader  ... 16%... 33%... 50%... 66%... 83%... 100%
The system is going down NOW!.. 12%... 20%... 33%... 41%... 50%... 62%... 70%... 83%... 91%
Sent SIGKILL to all processes
Requesting system reboot
[  656.391904] reboot: Restarting system
mkdir -p .stamps
touch .stamps/stamp-install-initial-image

Submitting an XML file

Submitting an XML file triggers an image build inside the initvm. Once the initvm has been created and is running, you can submit XML files using

$ elbe initvm submit examples/x86_64-pc-rescue-busybox-dyn-cpio.xml
Build started, waiting till it finishes
[INFO] Build started
[INFO] ELBE Report for Project x86_64-rescue-image
Report timestamp: 20191001-135512
[CMD] reprepro --basedir "/var/cache/elbe/63e09968-c9e7-45d8-8dd2-82c1a8f54f8d/repo" export stretch
[CMD] mkdir -p "/var/cache/elbe/63e09968-c9e7-45d8-8dd2-82c1a8f54f8d/chroot"
[INFO] Debootstrap log
[CMD] dpkg --print-architecture
[CMD] debootstrap  --include="gnupg" --arch=amd64 "stretch" "/var/cache/elbe/63e09968-c9e7-45d8-8dd2-82c1a8f54f8d/chroot" "http://ftp.de.debian.org//debian"
I: Retrieving InRelease
I: Retrieving Release
I: Retrieving Release.gpg
I: Checking Release signature
I: Valid Release signature (key id 067E3C456BAE240ACEE88F6FEF0F382A1A7B6500)
I: Retrieving Packages
I: Validating Packages
I: Resolving dependencies of required packages...
I: Resolving dependencies of base packages...
I: Checking component main on http://ftp.de.debian.org//debian...
I: Retrieving libacl1 2.2.52-3+b1
I: Validating libacl1 2.2.52-3+b1


[INFO] Build finished successfully

Build finished !

ELBE Package validation

Package List validation

No Errors found

Getting generated Files

Saving generated Files to elbe-build-20191001-164821
source.xml      (Current source.xml of the project)
rescue.cpio     (Image)
licence.txt     (License file)
licence.xml     (xml License file)
validation.txt  (Package list validation result)
elbe-report.txt         (Report)
log.txt         (Log file)

The result of the build is stored in elbe-build-<TIMESTAMP> below your current working directory.

Ports opened by initvm

The initvm will open port 7587 on localhost. This is used by the elbe tools on your host to communicate with the initvm.

Advanced usage

ELBE Archive

The ELBE XML file can contain an archivedir which is copied into the root-filesystem during the image generation phase.

It is done with the following XML node:



The new XML element ‘archivedir’ points to a local directory and adds the content into a newly created archive. ‘archivedir’ can be specified more then once. The content of the directories is copied in order of appearance. Existing files are overwritten by the later ones.

Example snippet to use ‘archivedir’:

<archivedir variant="production">bar</archivedir>

Adding packages to the “list of packages to install”

The XML file contains a list of packages to install <pkg-list> in the <target> XML node. Inserting a line containing


will add the util-linux package to the target-rfs.

Using the finetuning rules

An ELBE XML file can contain a set of finetuning rules. Finetuning is used to customize the target-rfs, e.g. remove man-pages. Here is an example finetuning from /usr/share/doc/elbe-doc/examples/elbe-desktop.xml:

        <adduser passwd="elbe" shell="/bin/bash">elbe</adduser>


The <rm> node removes files from the target-rfs.


The adduser node allows to create a user. The following example creates the user elbe with the password foo.

It is also possible to specify groups the new user should be part of:

<adduser passwd="foo" shell="/bin/bash" groups="audio,video,dialout">elbe</adduser>

Changing ownership of directories or files

There is currently no special finetuning node for chmod and chown. These commands needs to be specified via the command tag, which allows running any command that is available in the target-rfs.

<command>chown elbe:elbe /mnt</command>
<command>chmod 777 /mnt</command>

Further Example

A more complete example can be found in the ELBE overview document that is installed at /usr/share/doc/elbe-doc/elbeoverview-en.html

Using the Elbe Pbuilder Feature

Since Version 1.9.2, elbe is able to create a pbuilder Environment. You can create a pbuilder for a specific xml File inside the initvm.

The repositories and architecture specified in the xml File will be used to satisfy build dependencies. It is possible to crosscompile packages for a foreign architecture. To do so use the elbe pbuilder create command with the –cross option. This will setup the right environment for crosscompiling. To use this environment you have to use the –cross option with the build command. (If the environment was created with the –cross option, the build command must be used with –cross too. Otherwise it will throw an error.) By creating an environment the compiler cache ccache gets installed by default to speed up recompilations. It is possible to change the size or to deactivate it if it is not needed. Pbuilder will only build debianised Software.

A pbuilder instance is always associated with a project inside the initvm. The pbuilder create command will write the project uuid to a file, if instructed to do so.

pbuilder build works like pdebuild, in that it uploads the current working directory into the initvm pbuilder project, and then builds it using the pbuilder instance created earlier.

Here is an example:

$ elbe pbuilder create --xmlfile examples/x86_64-pc-rescue-busybox-dyn-cpio.xml --writeproject ../pbuilder.prj
$ git clone https://github.com/Linutronix/libgpio.git
$ cd  libgpio/
$ elbe pbuilder build --project `cat ~/repos/elbe/pbuilder.prj` --out ../out/

With these steps, elbe builds the libgpio project inside the initvm and stores the built packages in an internal repository. Every package, built in this manner, will also be stored in that repository. This repository can be used for later RFS builds.

List contents of the repository with the following command:

$ elbe prjrepo list_packages `cat ~/repos/elbe/pbuilder.prj`

To use this repository for further RFS builds download the repo with:

$ elbe prjrepo download `cat ~/repos/elbe/pbuilder.prj`

The repository is download as elbe-projectrepo-20191002-114244.tar.gz. This should be unpacked in the DocumentRoot of your webserver and customized with your key as explained in the next chapter.

Here is an example for crosscompiling a linux kernel with debian profiles:

$ elbe pbuilder --cross create --xmlfile examples/armhf-ti-beaglebone-black.xml --writeproject pbuilder.prj
$ apt source linux
$ cd linux*/
$ ../elbe pbuilder --cross --origfile ../linux*.orig.tar.xz --profile nodoc,nopython build --project `cat ../pbuilder.prj`

Custom Repository

You might have your own packages which should be installed into your image. This can be done with a custom repository. You can use reprepro to create your own repository or the above mentioned pbuilder feature.

Repository Key

Because the repository needs to be signed using gpg, a key needs to be generated.

-> gpg --default-new-key-algo rsa4096 --gen-key
gpg (GnuPG) 2.1.18; Copyright (C) 2017 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.

Note: Use "gpg --full-generate-key" for a full featured key generation dialog.

GnuPG needs to construct a user ID to identify your key.

Real name: Torben Hohn
Email address: torben.hohn@linutronix.de
You selected this USER-ID:
    "Torben Hohn <torben.hohn@linutronix.de>"

Change (N)ame, (E)mail, or (O)kay/(Q)uit? O
We need to generate a lot of random bytes. It is a good idea to perform
some other action (type on the keyboard, move the mouse, utilize the
disks) during the prime generation; this gives the random number
generator a better chance to gain enough entropy.
gpg: key 68E68615BB6CB47C marked as ultimately trusted
gpg: directory '/home/torbenh/.gnupg/openpgp-revocs.d' created
gpg: revocation certificate stored as '/home/torbenh/.gnupg/openpgp-revocs.d/CF837F1AAAC35E084062AE4468E68615BB6CB47C.rev'
public and secret key created and signed.

Note that this key cannot be used for encryption.  You may want to use
the command "--edit-key" to generate a subkey for this purpose.
pub   rsa4096 2018-10-08 [SC] [expires: 2020-10-07]
uid                      Torben Hohn <torben.hohn@linutronix.de>

Please note the keyname (here CF837F1AAAC35E084062AE4468E68615BB6CB47C). This keyname can then be used to export the public key into a repo.pub file.

gpg --export --armor CF837F1AAAC35E084062AE4468E68615BB6CB47C > repo.pub

reprepro configuration

To create your own repository with reprepro or the elbe pbuilder feature you need only the distributions configuration file. For an amd64 and source repository for Debian stretch it might look as follows:

Origin: mylocal
Label: mylocal
Suite: stable
Codename: stretch
Architectures: amd64 source
Components: main
Description: my local repo
SignWith: CF837F1AAAC35E084062AE4468E68615BB6CB47C


the SignWith: field needs to be the key of the previously generated key.

Now place the distributions file in a conf named directory. also put repo.pub into your repo directory.

├── conf
│   └── distributions
└── repo.pub

insert pkgs into repo

To include packages in your repository you might use the following command from inside the repo directory:

$ reprepro include stretch ../path/to/your/*.changes

To use this repository from ELBE you need a webserver. Simply place the repository inside the document root of your webserver.

If the webserver is running on the same machine as the initvm you can use the following to access the repository:

                <binary>http://LOCALMACHINE/repo/ buster main</binary>
                <source>http://LOCALMACHINE/repo/ buster main</source>

ELBE replaces the string LOCALMACHINE with the ip address of your machine. If you use an external machine as webserver you need to replace LOCALMACHINE with the name or the ip of it.

Now you can install packages from your custom repository the same way you can install from any other repository.