(This is a new version of a previous post updated to work with Ubuntu 9.10 (karmic).)
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 9.10 (karmic) 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)
tmpfs by default. This is done by the
Add this to
none /tmp tmpfs mode=1777,nodev,exec,nosuid 0 0
none /media tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
none /var/tmp tmpfs mode=1777,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
none /var/crash tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
none /var/spool/cups tmpfs mode=0710,nodev,noexec,nosuid,gid=lp 0
none /var/log tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
none /var/lib/dhcp3 tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
none /var/lib/xkb tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
none /var/lib/gdm tmpfs mode=0775,nodev,noexec,nosuid,gid=gdm 0 0
none /var/lib/nfs tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
And add this to
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 it to
/var/lib/dhcp3/resolv.conf. In order for this to work, you have to patch the DHCP client (dhcp3-client) accodring to this bug report (use the new version of the patch).
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.
It is a bit tricky to get this to work with NFS. You have to set the NFS mount points in
noauto and add these lines to
/etc/init/statd.conf just before
Then mount the NFS shares in
/etc/gdm/PostLogin/Default. For some reason it did not work to do it from
/etc/rc.local, perhaps due to delay in DHCP lookup.
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 or laptop 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 do a distribution upgrade.
Add this to
none /var/cache/apt tmpfs mode=0755,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0
And add this to
mkdir -p /var/cache/apt/archives/partial