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Maintain a rpm-ostree chroot

Maintain a rpm-ostree chroot

After having used containers for quite some time, I’m getting away from them because they require an infrastructure quite complex to get a system running and up to date. The ideal infrastructure should only depend on a few and controlled upstreams, possibly mirrored on site to get it working offline, and the Docker containers is the absolute opposite of that.

As a consequence, I am looking up at alternatives that uses traditional distributiuon packages to work, and manual sandboxing with systemd directives or small other tools to do the job.

The subject of this article is to learn how to maintain a chroot distribution, and to do that I’ll using rpm-ostree on top of a Fedora Silverblue distribution. I’d gladly use Fedora CoreOS but their twaks in the base system prevent package layerting to work properly (such as using systemd-networkd on a server setup instead of NetworkManager). Also, for now this is still an experiment that I’ll run on my Silverblue laptop, so I can iron out the rough edges without crashing my server.

I’ll expand upon my previous article: systemd-nspawn and OSTree

Create an OS

Just like previously, run rpm-ostree status to get your OSTree base commit and initialize a new OS:

ostree admin os-init guest
ostree admin deploy --retain --not-as-default --os=guest fedora:fedora/32/x86_64/silverblue

(your ostree remote should be named fedora)

You should have an OS deployed in /ostree/deploy/guest/deploy/*/

First method to install layered packages and update the system

Now comes rpm-ostree and to layer new packages on top of this guest OS, run:

rpm-ostree install --os=guest postfix

However, there is a drawback, on next reboot the guest will boot instead of the host. You can workaround this by updating the deployment number (unlikely to work):

rpm-ostree kargs --os=guest --deploy-index=3
rpm-ostree kargs --deploy-index=0

Second method: hack around ostree staged deployments

On OSTree, deployment can happen in two ways: direct deployment or staged deployment. Staged deployment are deployments written to /ostree but not yet written to the boot loader. It can be triggered using ostree admin --staged option, and it is the default with rpm-ostree when running in an OSTree host.

The good news is that we need to avoid writing to the boot loader only if running an OSTree system, so we can rely on the default from rpm-ostree.

The trick is that before updating the guest OSTree and deploying it, we save the pending deployments (if there is any) so the host system will deploy as usual. We perform the rpm-ostree operation. Then we restore the pending deployment from the host and trash the pending deployment from the guest.

The drawback is that the deployment from the guest might be garbage collected. The solution might be to pin the deployment. Except pinning works only for deployments registered in the boot loader.

If there is already a staged deployment:

mv /run/ostree/staged-deployment /run/ostree/staged-deployment.old
rpm-ostree install --os=guest postfix
mv /run/ostree/staged-deployment.old /run/ostree/staged-deployment


rpm-ostree install --os=guest postfix
rm -f /run/ostree/staged-deployment

You could even use ostree admin deploy --stage in the first command above to ensure that there is never any boot loader entry for your host, but you risk getting your deployments pruned.

You can pin your deployment but ostree admin pin does work only for deployment in the boot loader. You can manually add the pin to your deployment by modifying the deployment file:

DEPLOYMENT_NAME=$(tr '\0' '\n' </run/ostree/staged-deployment | sed -e '/./p; d' | sed -ne '/name/,/osname/ p' | sed -ne '2 p')
cat >>/ostree/deploy/guest/deploy/$DEPLOYMENT_NAME.origin <<EOF

Not sure that can work though, as the deployment mignt not be even considered pinned as it is not in the boot loader.

Here is a wrapper that calls rpm-ostree, unstage the resulting deployment, and pin it (it only works if the daemon uses the same mount namespace as the client, you can use --peer for that):


  DEPLOYMENT_NAME=$(tr '\0' '\n' </run/ostree/staged-deployment | sed -e '/./p; d' | sed -ne '/name/,/osname/ p' | sed -ne '2 p')
  cat >>/ostree/deploy/guest/deploy/$DEPLOYMENT_NAME.origin <<EOF


if [[ $0 == wrapped-rpm-ostree ]]; then
  rpm-ostree "$@"
  exit $res

systemd-run -t -p TemporaryFileSystem=/run/ostree "$0" wrapped-rpm-ostree "$@"

Alternate option to update the system: use rpm-ostree compose

This second method is the blessed way to work on OSTree commits without deploying them. It can be used on a server to build a tree for clients to pull. So the compose is done once on a central location.

This is however more complex and you need to write a treefile.