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Tux

Example 2: compressed filesystem on cdrom

A compressed ext2-filesystem is stored in a file called chicken on a cdrom. It is not allowed to mount this filesystem read-write, since it is compressed (accessed via the cloop-driver that does not allow modifications). And even if it was not compressed, the filesystem is located in a file on cdrom for which write-access is impossible anyhow (if the higher kernel layers "know" that the lower driver has no "write"-support, as is the case with e.g. an ISO9660 file system, all write requests will be blocked long before they reach the driver (and thus cowloop); more on this in the FAQ).

The following sequence of commands is necessary to mount the compressed filesystem read-write (the cowloop driver is supposed to be loaded already with the modprobe command):

  # mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom           
  # modprobe cloop file=/mnt/cdrom/chicken
  # cowdev -a /dev/cloop /tmp/chicken.cow
  /dev/cow/0    # the command returns this name now
  # mount /dev/cow/0 /cow+chicken

  $ cp /etc/termcap /cow+chicken

  # umount /dev/cow/0
  # cowdev -d /dev/cow/0
  # rmmod cloop
  # umount /dev/cdrom
After the command mount has been issued for cowdevice /dev/cow/0, the situation is as shown in this figure:

cowdemocd schematics

Obviously the contents of the compressed ext2-filesystem on cdrom is unmodified; the modified filesystem-blocks are stored in the /tmp/chicken.cow file. Later on the first four commands can be issued again to continue with this modified filesystem and make additional changes.

Notice that a filesystem-type is preferred that does not use journaling (e.g. ext2 instead of ext3) because the additional write-requests for journaling would unnecessarily populate the cowfile). Also, mount-options such as -o noatime are useful for the same reason.


The described sequence can be used to generate Linux LiveCD's to run Linux stand-alone from a cdrom without modifying the hard disk. In that case the cowfile could be located in memory by allocating it on a RAM-disk or on a USB memory-stick.

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