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3 rc.diskless and Read-Only Filesystems

The post-boot initialization of an embedded FreeBSD system is controlled by /etc/rc.diskless2 (/etc/rc.diskless1 is for BOOTP diskless boot). This initialization script is invoked by placing a line in /etc/rc.conf as follows:


rc.diskless2 mounts /var as a memory filesystem, makes a configurable list of directories in /var with the mkdir(1) command, changes modes on some of those directories, and extracts a list of device entries to copy to a writable (again, a memory filesystem) /dev partition. In the execution of /etc/rc.diskless2, one other rc.conf variable comes into play - varsize. The /etc/rc.diskless2 file creates a /var partition based on the value of this variable in rc.conf:


Remember that this value is in sectors. The creation of the /dev partition by /etc/rc.diskless2, however, is governed by a hard-coded value of 4096 sectors. It is trivial to change this entry in the /etc/rc.diskless2 file itself, although you should not need more space than that for /dev.

It is important to remember that the /etc/rc.diskless2 script assumes that you have already removed your conventional /tmp partition and replaced it with a symbolic link to /var/tmp. Because tmp is one of the directories created in /var by the /etc/rc.diskless2 script, and because /var is a memory filesystem (which is mounted read-write), /tmp will now be a directory that is read-write as well.

The fact that /var and /dev are read-write filesystems is an important distinction, as the / partition (and any other partitions you may have on your flash media) should be mounted read-only. Remember that in Section 1 we detailed the limitations of flash memory - specifically the limited write capability. The importance of not mounting filesystems on flash media read-write, and the importance of not using a swap file cannot be overstated. A swap file on a busy system can burn through a piece of flash media in less than one year. Heavy logging or temporary file creation and destruction can do the same. Therefore, in addition to removing the swap and /proc entries from your /etc/fstab file, you should also change the Options field for each filesystem to ro as follows:

    # Device                Mountpoint      FStype  Options         Dump    Pass#
    /dev/ad0s1a             /               ufs     ro              1       1

A few applications in the average system will immediately begin to fail as a result of this change. For instance, ports will not install from the ports tree because the /var/db/port.mkversion file does not exist. cron will not run properly as a result of missing cron tabs in the /var created by /etc/rc.diskless2, and syslog and dhcp will encounter problems as well as a result of the read-only filesystem and missing items in the /var that /etc/rc.diskless2 has created. These are only temporary problems though, and are addressed, along with solutions to the execution of other common software packages in Section 6.

An important thing to remember is that a filesystem that was mounted read-only with /etc/fstab can be made read-write at any time by issuing the command:

    # /sbin/mount -uw partition

and can be toggled back to read-only with the command:

    # /sbin/mount -ur partition

This, and other documents, can be downloaded from

For questions about FreeBSD, read the documentation before contacting <>.
For questions about this documentation, e-mail <>.

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