(This post has been edited since it was first published.)
I wondered why you usually mount / (the root file system) read-write in Linux and decided to do some experiments to find out if it is possible to have it mounted read-only.
So why do you want to do that? Perhaps you have the root file system on a read-only media, such as CD-ROM. Or on a writable media which can only handle a limited number of writes, such as a CD-RW or flash disk. It would also increase security since it will be more difficult (though not impossible) for some malware to infect your system.
I found out that it is possible to mount / read-only, but only after some tweaking. Here is how I did it in Ubuntu 8.04 (hardy) desktop.
The first obvious step is to change the mount options to “ro” for / in
/etc/fstab and reboot. But the tweaking has to be done first, so don’t reboot yet!
There are some locations in the file system which has to be writeable, the solution is to mount them as
tmpfs. After some experiments, I found out that I had to mount the following locations as
tmpfs (assuming that
/dev is already mounted in an appropriate way):
/var/lib/dhcp3(only if you use DHCP client)
/var/lib/nfs(only if you use NFS client)
tmpfs by default, and this is done in
Add this to
/etc/init.d/mountkernfs.sh after the mounting of
domount tmpfs "" /var/tmp -omode=1777,nodev,noexec,nosuid domount tmpfs "" /var/crash -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domount tmpfs "" /var/spool/cups -omode=0710,nodev,noexec,nosuid chgrp lp /var/spool/cups mkdir /var/spool/cups/tmp chmod 1770 /var/spool/cups/tmp chgrp lp /var/spool/cups/tmp domount tmpfs "" /var/log -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid mkdir /var/log/apparmor mkdir /var/log/apt mkdir /var/log/cups mkdir /var/log/dist-upgrade mkdir /var/log/fsck mkdir /var/log/gdm mkdir /var/log/news mkdir /var/log/samba mkdir /var/log/unattended-upgrades domount tmpfs "" /var/lib/dhcp3 -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domount tmpfs "" /var/lib/xkb -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domount tmpfs "" /var/lib/gdm -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid mkdir /var/lib/gdm/.fontconfig domount tmpfs "" /var/lib/nfs -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid mkdir /var/lib/nfs/sm mkdir /var/lib/nfs/sm.bak mkdir /var/lib/nfs/rpc_pipefs domount tmpfs "" /tmp -omode=1777,nodev,exec,nosuid touch /tmp/resolv.conf touch /tmp/adjtime # this is necessary to avoid that the above files are removed later in the boot process touch /tmp/.clean domount tmpfs "" /media -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid # The following lines are not necessary in 9.04, perhaps not in 8.10 either mkdir /media/cdrom0 ln -s /media/cdrom0 /media/cdrom mkdir /media/floppy0 ln -s /media/floppy0 /media/floppy mkdir /media/usbdisk
And add this to
/etc/init.d/mtab.sh after the handling of
domtab tmpfs /var/log "varlog" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/tmp "vartmp" -omode=1777,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/crash "varcrash" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/spool/cups "varspoolcups" -omode=0710,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/lib/dhcp3 "varlibdhcp3" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/lib/xkb "varlibxkb" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/lib/gdm "varlibgdm" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /var/lib/nfs "varlibnfs" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /tmp "tmp" -omode=1777,nodev,exec,nosuid domtab tmpfs /media "media" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid
(I am not really sure what the actual purpose of
/etc/init.d/mtab.sh is, perhaps it’s not necessary to modify it.)
There are some files in
/etc which have to be writeable:
/etc/resolv.conf(only if you use DHCP client and let it set DNS configuration)
/etc/mtab by symlink it to
/proc/mounts, that has some minor side-effects but I can live with it. I handle
/etc/resolv.conf by symlinking them to
/tmp. In order for this to work, you have to patch the DHCP client (dhcp3-client) accodring to this bug report.
You also have to mount
/home read-write somewhere, and I would not recommend using
tmpfs. You can use a separate hard disk partition or NFS.
Finally it might be a good idea to set a password for the root account, this enables you to switch to a virtual console (
F1) and login as root if something goes wrong.
If you then do want to change anything, such as edit a file in
/etc or install or upgrade a package, you can just remount / as read-write temporary (assuming that the media actually is writeable):
sudo mount -o rw,noatime,remount /
and revert to read-only when finished:
sudo mount -o ro,noatime,remount /
Note that this setup is for a desktop system, it’s probably not appropriate for a server.
If you have plenty of RAM (such as at least 1 GB), then you can also mount
tmpfs. That helps if you have limited free space on
/ and want to to a distribution upgrade.
Add this to
domount tmpfs "" /var/cache/apt -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid,size=1g mkdir -p /var/cache/apt/archives/partial
And add this to
domtab tmpfs /var/cache/apt "varcacheapt" -omode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid,size=1g