Sakaki's EFI Install Guide/Booting Legacy Images on EFI using kexec

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September 2018: this is a draft article, currently under review / testing, and is subject to change. Please be cautious if using it!

Some modern PC systems — particularly tablets and ultra-compacts — support only UEFI booting, and have no 'legacy'/'CSM' boot option available in their BIOS GUIs.[1] As such, bootable images without EFI support (for example, Gentoo minimal install images issued prior to August 2018[2]) cannot be used in native form with such machines.

Fortunately, we can easily surmount this problem, without using a third-party bootloader, by appending an EFI system partition to the target image, within which is placed both an EFI stub kernel (containing a simple busybox-based init script in its integral initramfs), and an appropriate startup script fragment (/kexec.sourceme, which the init script invokes).

This done, it becomes possible to select the kernel as a boot target on a UEFI-only PC (since it is an EFI executable, placed at the 'magic' /EFI/Boot/bootx64.efi path within an EFI system partition). Booting it causes (in due course) the script fragment /kexec.sourceme to be run, which then:

  • locates and mounts the 'real' (i.e., legacy image's original) boot partition's filesystem read-only;
  • loads the kernel, command line and initramfs (if any) from this filesystem; then
  • invokes them, using kexec (a kernel facility which, together with some paired userland tools, allows a system running one Linux kernel to boot another, analogous to the manner in exec allows one userland process to replace its current process image).

From this point, the target system runs exactly as if started via a legacy boot.[3] Furthermore, images modified in this way are still bootable in legacy mode on compatible systems, so no functionality is lost.

So in effect, in this mini-guide we're going to be building our own bootloader from scratch, using kexec. For avoidance of doubt, there is no requirement for the version, or configuration, of the kernel used as a 'kexec-bootloader' in this fashion, to match those of any kernel it launches from a legacy image.

The contents of the appended EFI system partition's filesystem may be packaged as a tarball for future reuse (and indeed an exemplar tarball is provided, for convenience, for the specific case of EFI booting pre-August 2018 Gentoo minimal install system images). Once such a tarball has been created, it may be easily adapted for use with other target legacy images, simply by editing the ./kexec.sourceme script fragment within it as required (i.e., no 'bootloader kernel' recompilation is required).

Accordingly, in this mini-guide, we will run through the following steps:

  1. We'll begin by ensuring your existing ('helper') Gentoo PC has the necessary packages, and kernel configuration, to allow efficient manipulation of disk image files via loop mounting. (The existence of a Gentoo-based helper is assumed for simplicity; the procedure in this guide can of course be carried out on other distros, with a little translation.)
  2. Next, we'll build (on the helper machine) statically-linked versions of sys-apps/kexec-tools (which provides userland utilities to interface with the kernel's kexec functionality), and sys-apps/busybox (a portmanteau application that provides a baseline set of Linux applications (cat, mount etc.) packaged as a single executable for convenience). We'll install these to a dummy root directory (/root/bbroot-staging), to avoid polluting your helper.
  3. We'll then create a skeleton initramfs file tree (at a marshalling location, /root/initramfs-staging) on the helper, and copy these two statically-linked applications to appropriate locations within it.
  4. Then, we'll add a baseline /bin/init script into this tree, the sole function of which is, when executed, to locate and mount the EFI system partition's filesystem read-only, and then invoke the /kexec.sourceme script fragment from within it.
  5. We'll next download a current Gentoo minimal install image, and loop-mount it read-only. We'll use this to provide a sane baseline kernel configuration for our 'bootloader' kernel in the next step — it isn't to be confused with the target image we want to adapt!
  6. Then, we'll install a kernel source tree (to the dummy root) via the sys-kernel/gentoo-sources package, enter the resulting /root/bbroot-staging/usr/source/linux directory, and then create a .config based upon the above minimal-install image kernel's configuration, but with EFI stub booting, kexec and an integral initramfs enabled (the latter pointed at the marshalling initramfs file tree created in step 3).
  7. We'll next build the kernel modules and install them into the staging initramfs filesystem tree, then build the kernel itself as a bzImage (which will thereby incorporate the initramfs, including the full module set).
  8. Next, we'll create a marshalling EFI filesystem tree on the helper, and copy the bootloader kernel's bzImage to the 'magic' path /EFI/Boot/bootx64.efi within it.
  9. We'll then install an (exemplar) /kexec.sourceme ash shell fragment into the EFI tree. This script, which you can customize as required, when executed will locate and mount the legacy image boot partition's filesystem, load the kernel, command line, and initramfs from it, and then boot this kernel using kexec.
    We'll also create a tarball of the (at this point, completed) EFI filesystem tree, for re-use in the future.
  10. At your option, we'll then clean up the various staging file trees, to prevent clutter on the helper.
  11. We'll then be ready to update a target legacy image! In this tutorial, I'll demonstrate adapting a pre-August 2018 Gentoo minimal install image. To do so, we'll first download it, and then append an additional block (here, 100MiB) of zeroed data, for subsequent use as an EFI system partition. Next, we'll use fdisk to add that partition to the image(of type ef, as it is MBR; instructions will also be given for dealing with GPT images), format it FAT32, and loop mount it. We'll then untar the step 9 tarball into this filesystem, and then dismount.
  12. Finally, we will write the modified image to a USB stick, and check that it can indeed be booted in UEFI mode on a target PC (with secure boot off).

Once you've run through this process the first time, you can then just skip directly to step 11 to convert other (legacy boot) Gentoo minimal install images in future. Furthermore, even if you subsequently want to adapt a completely different legacy image for EFI boot, you will generally only need to modify the ./kexec.sourceme shell script fragment within the untarred filesystem — no recompilation will be required.

If you have a legacy image you need to convert for EFI booting ASAP, and you already have an appropriately configured helper PC available, you can skip directly to step 11, and just use my pre-created tarball (download link provided in the text). To do so, click here.

Now, if you are ready to build your own kexec-based bootloader from scratch, let's go!


For simplicity, this tutorial assumes you have access to a 'helper' PC that is already running Gentoo Linux, together with a second, 'target' machine (the UEFI-only one) on which you wish to boot a legacy image. As outlined above, the 'helper' PC will be used to create the 'kexec-bootloader' kernel itself, to download and modify the desired legacy image (a pre-EFI Gentoo minimal install image is used in the text, for concreteness), and to write this modified image to a USB stick, for booting on the target.

The same steps can of course be carried out using a 'helper' machine running another Linux distribution, with a little translation of package names etc. However doing so is beyond the scope of this guide.

For avoidance of doubt, if you have installed a GNOME-based Gentoo system using the other instructions included in this EFI Install Guide — whether under systemd or OpenRC — your system is suitable for use as a 'helper' (subject to the setup steps below).

If you don't want to use loop-mounting (kpartx etc.), it is perfectly possible to write the target image to a USB stick, and then perform all modification steps (adding an EFI system partition etc.) directly on that device — we only use loop mounting in this tutorial for efficiency (and because it is a useful technique to be aware of).

Setting Up the Helper PC

We'll begin by ensuring that your 'helper' Gentoo PC has the necessary kernel configuration — and installed userland packages — to allow the direct (aka 'loop mounted') manipulation of disk image files called for in this tutorial.


In what follows, I am assuming that you know how to use the make menuconfig kernel configuration tool (which buildkernel invokes). You can find a short overview of make menuconfig in an earlier section of this tutorial (systemd, OpenRC); if you skipped over it before, you may wish to review it now (or at least, read the sub-section regarding "implementing a shorthand configuration fragment in make menuconfig" (systemd, OpenRC)), before proceeding. You may also find the material in the "Final Configuration Steps" chapter useful to review (systemd, OpenRC). Greg Kroah-Hartman's Linux Kernel in a Nutshell is also highly recommended.[4]

If you are using one, ensure that your boot USB key is inserted. Then, open a terminal window, become root, and issue:

koneko ~ #buildkernel --menuconfig
The host name you see when running these commands will obviously reflect the settings on your target PC.

Or, if you use genkernel rather than buildkernel, issue:

koneko ~ #genkernel <your normal genkernel options> --menuconfig

instead of the above.

Or again, if you prefer to build your kernels manually, ensure that you have a current version of the kernel source tree in /usr/src/linux, and then issue:

koneko ~ #cd /usr/src/linux

followed by:

koneko /usr/src/linux #make distclean
koneko /usr/src/linux #modprobe configs # not all users will require this
koneko /usr/src/linux #zcat /proc/config.gz > .config
koneko /usr/src/linux #make olddefconfig && make menuconfig

Whichever workflow you use, once the menu configuration tool appears, ensure that the following kernel options are set, to allow loop-mounting of multi-partition disk images using the device mapper on your helper PC:

KERNEL Additional kernel configuration changes to support user namespaces
Device Drivers  --->
      [*] Multiple devices driver support (RAID and LVM)  --->
          <*> Device mapper support
              <*> Multipath target
Some of the options in the above list may not be immediately visible to you, if they have dependencies (also from the list) that are not initially satisfied. Accordingly, if you can't find a particular option in the location specified, try in the first instance setting all the other options that are visible to you, then come back to look for it again. Repeat this process as necessary, until all the required options have been set.
These modifications assume that you have a 'sane' baseline kernel configuration on your helper PC to begin with, for example, one that was derived from the Gentoo Minimal Install system kernel, and then suitably augmented to allow a graphical desktop system to run successfully.

Once you have made the necessary changes, save the kernel configuration and exit the kconfig tool, after which — if you are using either the buildkernel or (with appropriate options) genkernel scripts — the kernel should automatically build and install.

However, if working manually, you'll have to perform the build yourself:

koneko /usr/src/linux #nice make -j $(nproc) && make modules_install && make install
koneko /usr/src/linux #cd
For further notes on building custom kernels, please see the Gentoo Handbook.

Once the kernel build has successfully completed, reboot your system, then follow the usual steps to unlock the LUKS partition and log in again (using GNOME) as your regular user.

Userspace Packages

Next, we will ensure that the necessary userspace applications are in place on the helper.

First, to ensure that we can format FAT32 partitions (necessary for EFI), open a terminal window, become root, and issue:

koneko ~ #emerge --noreplace --verbose sys-fs/dosfstools
We don't use the --ask option to emerge here, as --noreplace will ensure nothing gets done if the package specified is already installed.

You should also install:

  • sys-fs/multipath-tools, which provides kpartx, a tool that creates device maps from partition tables; and
  • sys-block/parted, which provides partprobe, a tool that informs the OS of partition table changes; and
  • app-text/tree, which provides an easy-to-read recursive directory listing (useful for checking staging filestructures).

To do so, issue:

koneko ~ #emerge --noreplace --verbose sys-fs/multipath-tools sys-block/parted app-text/tree

Lastly, install net-misc/curl, used (inter alia) to download files to stdout. Issue:

koneko ~ #emerge --noreplace --verbose net-misc/curl

Creating the kexec Bootloader

With the helper machine prepared, we are ready to start building the kexec-based bootloader itself!

Userspace Packages

Our first task is to emerge some statically-linked executables, namely busybox and kexec, for use in the bootloader-kernel's integral initramfs. To avoid polluting your helper system (which may not be using static libraries[5]) we'll install to a temporary root, /root/bbroot-staging. Issue:

koneko ~ #rm -rf /root/bbroot-staging
koneko ~ #mkdir -pv /root/bbroot-staging
koneko ~ #USE="static mdev" ROOT="/root/bbroot-staging" emerge --oneshot --verbose sys-apps/busybox
koneko ~ #USE="static-libs" ROOT="/root/bbroot-staging" emerge --oneshot --verbose sys-libs/zlib
koneko ~ #USE="zlib" LDFLAGS="-static" ROOT="/root/bbroot-staging" emerge --oneshot --verbose sys-apps/kexec-tools
We have to create a statically-linked zlib library within our temporary root (/root/bbroot-staging), so that the kexec binary can be linked statically. Also, note that although sys-apps/kexec-tools does not support the -static USE flag natively (as sys-apps/busybox does, for example), we can still force it to link statically through the use of the LDFLAGS variable.

The resulting applications we need from this are /root/bbroot-staging/bin/busybox and /root/bbroot-staging/sbin/kexec, both of which are statically linked (i.e., can be deployed to an initramfs without any additional shared libraries).

Initramfs Tree

Next, we'll create a 'staging' tree on the helper PC for the initramfs. This is a skeleton Filesystem Hierarchy Standard structure, which we will only populate minimally. Issue:

koneko ~ #rm -rf /root/initramfs-staging
koneko ~ #mkdir -pv /root/initramfs-staging/{bin,boot,lib,dev/pts,etc,mnt/target,proc,root,sbin,sys,usr/sbin}

With the core directory layout in place, create some basic device nodes in /root/initramfs-staging/dev. Issue:

koneko ~ #mknod -m 600 /root/initramfs-staging/dev/console c 5 1
koneko ~ #mknod -m 666 /root/initramfs-staging/dev/null c 1 3
koneko ~ #mknod -m 666 /root/initramfs-staging/dev/tty c 5 0
koneko ~ #chown -v root:tty /root/initramfs-staging/dev/{console,tty}
Yes, busybox's mini-udev should populate /dev automatically upon startup, but a small number of 'seed' nodes are still required, to allow init to output to the console,[6] and to enable mdev itself to start.[7])

Lastly, copy the statically-linked binaries we just created into the staging filestructure:

koneko ~ #cp -v /root/bbroot-staging/bin/busybox /root/initramfs-staging/bin/
koneko ~ #cp -v /root/bbroot-staging/usr/sbin/kexec /root/initramfs-staging/usr/sbin/

Init Script

Next, we will create a simple init script in the root directory of the staging initramfs tree. The purpose of this script is, when run, to:

  1. set up the special /proc, /sys and /dev/pts pseudo-filesystems;
  2. setup busybox's symbolic links (so calls to apps like /bin/ls redirect to it);
  3. load any necessary kernel modules for USB support;
  4. startup busybox's 'mini-udev' (which takes over automatic population of device nodes in /dev);
  5. locate the EFI system partition itself;
  6. mount this read-only; and finally,
  7. source the script /kexec.sourceme from within it.
It is this last /kexec.sourceme script fragment — which we place outside the initramfs for ease of later modification — that has the responsibility for loading, and ultimately kexec-ing, the target kernel itself. We'll get back to it shortly.


koneko ~ #nano -w /root/initramfs-staging/init

Then put the following text in that file:

FILE /root/initramfs-staging/initMinimal init script for initramfs
#!/bin/busybox sh
# Attempt to mount boot partition r/o and source KSCRIPT within it.
# Copyright (c) 2016-8 sakaki <>
# License: GPL 3.0+

# Simple init script to source /boot/kexec.sourceme
# (the sourced script should setup and then kexec -e the final
# target kernel)
# If the specified partition cannot be found, starts recovery console

# We will try and exec the following script on the boot partition

start_mini_udev() {
    echo "Starting mini udev..."
    echo "/sbin/mdev" > /proc/sys/kernel/hotplug
    mdev -s

error_exit() {
    # exit to an interactive shell with job control
    exec setsid cttyhack sh

# Mount the /proc and /sys filesystems.
/bin/busybox mount -t proc none /proc
/bin/busybox mount -t sysfs none /sys
/bin/busybox mount -t devpts none /dev/pts

# ensure all symlinks are present
/bin/busybox --install -s

# ensure we have at least USB access
modprobe ehci_pci
modprobe xhci_pci
modprobe usb_storage

# start minimal device event management
sleep "${DELAY}"

# hand over control to user script
echo "Trying to locate filesystem ${BOOT_FILESYSTEM_LABEL}..."
if ! BOOT_PATH="$(findfs LABEL="${BOOT_FILESYSTEM_LABEL}")"; then
    echo "Error - could not find ${BOOT_FILESYSTEM_LABEL}!" >&2
echo "Mounting boot filesystem (read only)..."
if ! mount -o ro "${BOOT_PATH}" /boot; then
    echo "Error - failed to mount ${BOOT_PATH}!" >&2
if [ -f "${KSCRIPT}" ]; then
    echo "Sourcing ${KSCRIPT}..."
    source "${KSCRIPT}"
    echo "Error - ${KSCRIPT} not found!" >&2
# should not get here, KSCRIPT should have kexec'd a new kernel
echo "Error - ${KSCRIPT} has returned!" >&2

Save, and exit nano.

Make it executable:

koneko ~ #chmod +x /root/initramfs-staging/init

EFI-Bootable Kernel

Next, we'll create an EFI-bootable (aka "EFI stub") kernel. We'll use the standard sys-kernel/gentoo-sources here, installing the kernel tree to our temporary working root to avoid pollution. However, since this package has a number of build-time dependencies, we won't directly emerge it into /root/bbroot-staging. Instead, we'll first install any missing dependencies into your helper PC's main root, and only then emerge sys-kernel/gentoo-sources into the temporary working tree.

Incidentally, you can of course just work directly in your normal Gentoo root for all of this. However, many users will have an existing set of kernel sources installed, and, since we don't want to disrupt that, we elect to build our 'bootloader kernel' in /root/bbroot-staging instead.


koneko ~ #emerge --onlydeps --verbose sys-kernel/gentoo-sources
koneko ~ #ROOT="/root/bbroot-staging" emerge --nodeps --oneshot --verbose sys-kernel/gentoo-sources

When this completes, a kernel source tree should be present in /root/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux.

Our next step is to set an appropriate configuration for our new kernel. We'll need a 'sane' baseline, which, for the sake of concreteness, we'll extract here from the most recent Gentoo minimal install image's kernel (other choices are possible; however, take particular care if using the configuration captured from a kernel created by buildkernel, as that will have a built-in command line etc. that we don't want).

So, begin by downloading a current version of the image. Issue:

koneko ~ #export ISOPATH="$(grep install <(curl --silent | cut -d' ' -f1)"
koneko ~ #export ISONAME="$(basename "${ISOPATH}")"
koneko ~ #echo -e "${ISOPATH}\n${ISONAME}"

Your output will of course likely different as new versions are released. Now download the image itself, and (if desired) its contents list and digitally signed digest list. Issue:

koneko ~ #mkdir -pv /root/gentoo-images && cd /root/gentoo-images

followed by:

Once this completes, you can verify the image if you like; for instructions please see these notes.

Next, you can loop-map the image's partitions. In this image, there should only be two partitions; to check, issue:

koneko ~ #kpartx -l "/root/gentoo-images/${ISONAME}"
loop1p1 : 0 481280 /dev/loop1 0
loop1p2 : 0 12912 /dev/loop1 160
With all these kpartx operations, you may see a warning printed (Disk has a valid GPT signature but invalid PMBR): this is normal with the type of hybrid structure employed in post-August 2018 Gentoo minimal install images, and may safely be ignored for our purposes.
Always use fully-qualified paths with kpartx, to avoid confusing it.
Your output may differ depending on the version of your image, or if you have other loop maps present on your machine.

In this case, we only want the first partition, so issue:

koneko ~ #LOOPNAME="$(kpartx -l "/root/gentoo-images/${ISONAME}" | head -n 1 | cut -d ' ' -f 1)"
koneko ~ #kpartx -a -v "/root/gentoo-images/${ISONAME}" && echo "Loop name is: ${LOOPNAME}"
add map loop1p1 (253:12): 0 481280 linear 7:1 0
add map loop1p2 (253:13): 0 12912 linear 7:1 160
Loop name is: loop1p1

The kpartx -a ... command scans the specified image, and creates device maps corresponding to the partitions detected within it, at /dev/mapper/loop<#>p<#>. The first partition (which in this case is the one we want) is at /dev/mapper/${LOOPNAME (your target partition number may differ, if you have more than one partition on your target image, in which case modify these instructions accordingly). Such device-mapper entries can be treated just like regular device paths (/dev/sda1 etc.), so we can proceed to mount it (read-only, since we just want to extract the kernel configuration). Issue:

koneko ~ #mkdir -pv /root/mingenp1
koneko ~ #mount -v -o ro /dev/mapper/${LOOPNAME} /root/mingenp1
mount: /dev/mapper/loop1p1 mounted on /root/mingenp1.

Next, check the contents; issue:

koneko ~ #ls -R /root/mingenp1
README.txt  gentoo.efimg  image.squashfs  isolinux  livecd



F2.msg  F5.msg  elilo.efi   isolinux.bin  memtest86
F3.msg  F6.msg           gentoo      isolinux.cfg
F4.msg  F7.msg  boot.msg           gentoo.igz  kernels.msg

Again, your output may differ slightly. However, in this case, the actual 'payload' kernel is /root/mingenp1/isolinux/gentoo, and its initramfs is /root/mingenp1/isolinux/gentoo.igz. Command line options (for the default boot case) may be found in /root/mingenp1/isolinux/isolinux.cfg.

The relevant stanza in that latter file (not necessary now, where we are only really interested in the kernel config, but of relevance later on) reads:

FILE /root/mingenp1/isolinux/isolinux.cfgBaseline kernel stanza from isolinux.cfg
label gentoo
  kernel gentoo
  append root=/dev/ram0 init=/linuxrc  dokeymap looptype=squashfs loop=/image.squashfs  cdroot initrd=gentoo.igz vga=791

Returning to the task at hand, now we can enter the kernel source directory, and extract the config from the minimal install image kernel, using a utility script (scripts/extract-ikconfig) provided with the kernel sources. Issue:

koneko ~ #cd /root/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux


koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #make distclean
koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #scripts/extract-ikconfig /root/mingenp1/isolinux/gentoo > .config
koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #make olddefconfig
koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #cp .config orig_config

With the 'starter' kernel configuration extracted, the device mapping onto the image may safely be removed:

koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #umount -v /root/mingenp1
koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #kpartx -v -d "/root/gentoo-images/${ISONAME}"
Always remove loop mappings, using kpartx -d, when you are finished with an image file, even when, as here, you have only accessed partitions within it in read-only mode.

Start the kernel configuration editor (we will do a manual kernel build here, to keep things simple):

koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #make menuconfig

and set the required options as follows:

KERNEL Support integral initramfs, EFI stub booting, and kexec
General setup  --->
      [*] Initial RAM filesystem and RAM disk (initramfs/initrd) support
      (/root/initramfs-staging)    Initramfs source file(s)
   Processor type and features  --->
      [*] EFI runtime service support
      [*]   EFI stub support 
      [*] kexec system call
      [ ] Built-in kernel command line
There is no need for a built-in kernel command line; by default the kernel will mount our initramfs as the root filesystem, and attempt to start /init from there.
Here, for clarity of exposition, we are going to build the modules into the initramfs — however, if desired, you can simply ensure that all necessary features are built-in when creating the kernel. If you do this, the module tree can be omitted from the initramfs altogether, which will generally make for a somewhat smaller kernel size / faster boot (and you won't have to modprobe the correct modules inside your /kexec.readme script either).

Then exit the menuconfig tool, saving options. With that done, build the kernel modules first:

koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #nice make -j $(nproc) modules

Install the modules into the staging initramfs filestructure:

koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #nice make INSTALL_MOD_PATH="/root/initramfs-staging" modules_install

The modules will now be present in /root/initramfs-staging/lib/modules/<kernel-release-name>/...

Next, clean up a few spurious soft links in the above directory (which will fail to resolve outside of the build environment):

koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #find /root/initramfs-staging/lib/modules/ -mindepth 2 -maxdepth 2 -type l -delete

Now, check your staging initramfs tree is complete (which it should be, at this point). To do so, issue:

koneko ~ #tree -n -L 4 /root/initramfs-staging/
├── bin
│   └── busybox
├── boot
├── dev
│   ├── console
│   ├── null
│   ├── pts
│   └── tty
├── etc
├── init
├── lib
│   └── modules
│       └── 4.18.5-gentoo
│           ├── kernel
│           ├── modules.builtin
│           └── modules.order
├── mnt
│   └── target
├── proc
├── root
├── sbin
├── sys
└── usr
    └── sbin
        └── kexec

17 directories, 8 files
Obviously, the kernel release name (in /root/initramfs-staging/lib/modules/ may be different to the above, depending on which version of sys-kernel/gentoo-sources you used above. Also note that through the -N 4 option, the above tree has been restricted to four levels deep — there should be a large number of kernel modules present in the /root/initramfs-staging/lib/modules/<release-name>/kernel/ subdirectories.

Assuming that all looks good, you can proceed to build the kernel itself (which will encapsulate a copy of the above initramfs, due to the CONFIG_INITRAMFS_SOURCE="/root/initramfs-staging" option set earlier). Issue:

koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #nice make -j $(nproc) bzImage
koneko ~/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux #cd

The resulting file we need (or a link to it, anyhow) is in /root/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux/arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage.

Staging EFI Filestructure

Next we will create a (staging) copy of the required filestructure for the EFI partition, and then add the kernel we have just built into it. Issue:

koneko ~ #rm -rf /root/efiroot-staging
koneko ~ #mkdir -pv /root/efiroot-staging/EFI/Boot
koneko ~ #cp -v --dereference /root/bbroot-staging/usr/src/linux/arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage /root/efiroot-staging/EFI/Boot/bootx64.efi

Note that we have copied our kernel to the 'magic path' — (/root/efiroot-staging)/EFI/Boot/bootx64.efi — that most (64-bit) EFI BIOSes look for during boot.

kexec.sourceme Script Fragment

Next, we need to put in place the /kexec.sourceme fragment, which the initramfs's init script (created above) will load.

Exactly what is needed in this fragment will, of course, depend upon the target legacy image you want to boot, but, for concreteness, in this tutorial we'll put together a simple script targeting legacy Gentoo minimal install images, which, accordingly, will need to:

  1. mount the first partition on the EFI boot device read-only;
  2. extract the desired command line from the isolinux config file therein;
  3. load the (original, target) kernel, initramfs from the same location; then
  4. switch to the new kernel, using kexec -e.
Even if this does not match your specific use-case exactly, hopefully it will provide a good basis for modification. The content of the minimal install image's first partition was reviewed earlier (yes, this was using a more modern, EFI-enabled version of the image, but the first partition's structure has not changed much over time).


koneko ~ #nano -w /root/efiroot-staging/kexec.sourceme

Then put the following text in that file:

FILE /root/efiroot-staging/kexec.sourcemeSample kexec bootloader script
# Copyright (c) 2018 sakaki <>
# License: GPL 3.0+

# This script fragment will be sourced by the initial (boot) kernel's
# init script; it must in turn load the final (target) kernel,
# and initramfs, setup the kernel command line, and finally pass
# control over to the new kernel with kexec -e.
# Remember that this script is running in a fairly minimal busybox
# environment, and that the shell is ash, not bash.
# On entry, /boot is already mounted (read-only), and its
# device path (e.g. "/dev/sdb2") placed in the shell variable

# adjust the following to suit your system... here we are loading
# the kernel, initramfs and command line from the TARGET_PATH,
# which is the device path of the first partition of the boot
# device
TARGET_PATH="$(echo "$BOOT_PATH" | sed 's/[0-9]*$/1/')"

echo "Mounting target filesystem (read only)..."
if ! mount -o ro "${TARGET_PATH}" /mnt/target; then
    echo "Error - failed to mount ${TARGET_PATH}!" >&2

echo "Loading target kernel, initramfs and command line..."
# extract command line from minimal install image
# adapt for your own target system
CMDLINE="$(grep append "${ISOLINUX_CONFIG}" | head -n 1 | sed 's/append //')"
kexec --type=bzImage \
    --initrd="${INITRAMFS}" \
    --append="${CMDLINE}" \
    --load "${KERNEL}"
umount /boot
umount /mnt/target
echo "Booting target kernel with kexec..."
kexec -e

Save, and exit nano.

As this file will be sourced (and on a FAT filesystem!) we do not need to worry about making it executable.

With the script in place, our staging EFI filestructure is complete.

Check yours looks as follows:

koneko ~ #tree -n /root/efiroot-staging/
├── EFI
│   └── Boot
│       └── bootx64.efi
└── kexec.sourceme

2 directories, 2 files
Remember that in the above, /EFI/Boot/bootx64.efi is our kernel bzImage, which in turn contains our initramfs filestructure internally.

If all looks good, tar the tree up for future use:

koneko ~ #rm -vf /root/efi.tar.xz
koneko ~ #XZ_OPT="-e9" tar -cJf /root/efi.tar.xz -C /root/efiroot-staging .

(Don't forget the period at the end!) The resulting file is /root/efi.tar.gz.

Cleaning Up

With all that done, the staging directories can be deleted, if you like (the following step is optional):

koneko ~ #rm -rf /root/{bbroot-staging,efiroot-staging,initramfs-staging}

Adapting a Target Legacy Image

Now that we have created a target EFI kexec-bootloader tarball, we can use it to 'EFI'-ify an existing legacy bootable image. To do this, we'll download the image, add a new EFI system partition) to it, create a FAT32 filesystem thereon, and then mount it, untar the efi.tar.xz file we just created there, edit the kexec.sourceme file if necessary, and then sync and dismount. The legacy image should then be bootable for both UEFI and legacy systems, and can subsequently be tested.

As a shortcut, if you have skipped over the steps above, you can download a pre-built kexec-bootloader tarball if you wish, as follows:

For concreteness, I'll illustrate how to modify a September 2018 Gentoo minimal install image — you can easily adapt these instructions for a different target.

As of August 2018, Gentoo minimal install images support EFI booting directly, by inclusion of the grub bootloader.[2] For that reason, we'll download an older image archived just prior to that change. You can verify the Release Engineering digital signature on the supplied image prior to using it if you like, to verify it is original.
As a matter of (academic) interest, it is also possible to create an additional EFI system partition on post August 2018 Gentoo minimal install images. On some UEFI BIOSes, you can then select which system partition on the USB stick to boot from. However, not all systems support having more than one system partition per drive (and these more modern images support EFI booting anyway).

Download the image, and, if desired, the matching contents and digitally-signed digest listing for it:

koneko ~ #export ISONAME="install-amd64-minimal-20180703T214502Z.iso"

Once this completes, you can verify the image if you like; for instructions please see these notes.

Next, append some extra space to the image for use as an EFI system partition. How much you need will depend upon your system, but 100MiB should suffice (we'll actually add 101MiB, to allow some free space at the end for GPT use, should this be required). Issue:

koneko ~ #cp -v "${ISONAME}" efi-image.iso
koneko ~ #dd if=/dev/zero bs=1M count=101 >> efi-image.iso

Now add a new EFI system partition to the image using fdisk.

If your image is MBR (which most will be, including our example in this case), then use:

koneko ~ #sed 's:\s*#.*$::g' <<EOF | fdisk efi-image.iso
n     # create a new partition
p     # which is primary
      # use next partition number (here 2)
      # use the default start sector
+100M # fill the remaining space, bar 1MiB
t     # change the partition type
      # of the last-created partition
ef    # to 'EFI system partition'
w     # then commit changes and exit

Or, if your image is GPT (unusual, since most of these will already be provisioned with EFI bootloaders), then use instead:

koneko ~ #sed 's:\s*#.*$::g' <<EOF | fdisk efi-image.iso
n     # create a new partition
      # use next partition number (here 2)
      # use the default start sector
+100M # fill the remaining space, bar 1MiB
t     # change the partition type
      # of the last-created partition
1     # to 'EFI system partition'
w     # then commit changes and exit
The sed command in the above simply strips out the inline # comments from the heredoc.

Check the structure of the image (for our example, it should now have two partitions (we just added the second), but your target may differ), using kpartx; issue:

koneko ~ #kpartx -l /root/efi-image.iso
loop2p1 : 0 643072 /dev/loop3 0
loop2p2 : 0 204800 /dev/loop3 643072

Assuming that looks good, map the partitions:

koneko ~ #export EFILOOPNAME="$(kpartx -l "/root/efi-image.iso" | tail -n 1 | cut -d ' ' -f 1)"
koneko ~ #kpartx -a -v "/root/efi-image.iso" && echo "Loop name of last partition is: ${EFILOOPNAME}"
add map loop1p1 (253:12): 0 643072 linear 7:1 0
add map loop1p2 (253:13): 0 204800 linear 7:1 643072
Loop name of last partition is: loop1p2

Next, create a FAT32 filesystem in the newly created partition, ensuring its label is set to gen-kexec, as that is the name which the init script looks we created earlier looks for:

koneko ~ #mkfs.vfat -F 32 -n gen-kexec /dev/mapper/${EFILOOPNAME}

With that done, we can make a temporary mountpoint, and mount the newly created EFI system partition (mapped from within the image file) there:

koneko ~ #mkdir -pv /mnt/efisys
koneko ~ #mount -t vfat -v /dev/mapper/${EFILOOPNAME} /mnt/efisys

Unpack the EFI tarball into the root directory of the filesystem you just mounted:

koneko ~ #tar -xJf /root/efi.tar.xz -C /mnt/efisys
koneko ~ #tree /mnt/efisys
├── EFI
│   └── Boot
│       └── bootx64.efi
└── kexec.sourceme

2 directories, 2 files

Then, if required, you can edit the file /mnt/efisys/kexec.sourceme to suit.

For this particular target, however, we're already done (no editing required), so you just need to sync, dismount the filesystem, then unbind the device mapper from the image file. Issue:

koneko ~ #sync
koneko ~ #umount -v /mnt/efisys
koneko ~ #kpartx -v -d /root/efi-image.iso

And with that, modification of the legacy image to support EFI booting is complete!

Writing and Booting the Modified Image

Now the image has been created, you can try writing it to a USB stick, and then booting a (UEFI) PC with it.

To do so, insert an unused USB stick into your machine, and note its device path (you can use the lsblk tool, run before and after insertion, to help you; alternatively, look at dmesg | tail). Then, write the image:

koneko ~ #cat /root/efi-image.iso > /dev/sdX && sync && partprobe /dev/sdX

Replace /dev/sdX in the above with actual path to your USB stick (e.g. /dev/sdc, /dev/sdd etc. Be sure to use the top-level device, and not a partition within it (so e.g., /dev/sdc and not /dev/sdc1; /dev/sdd and not /dev/sdd1 etc.).

Ensure you have the path correct, as the above command will wipe all existing contents of the target drive.
With some images (most often, although not always, of the 'hybrid-MBR' variety), you may see the error Invalid partition table - recursive partition on /dev/sdX printed by the partprobe in the above command sequence. This can generally be ignored, as the MBR created by fdisk is valid (and will normally be used by the BIOS in preference to any residual GPT information).

Once this completes, remove the new USB key and place it into your target PC (which should be powered off at the time). Then, apply power to your target machine, and use the (system-specific) hotkey to enter the BIOS (or bring up the one-time boot selection). You should then (provided that you ensure secure boot is off) be able to select the USB stick as an EFI boot target, save, and reboot.

If all is well, the target system should then load and run the EFI-stub kernel from /EFI/Boot/bootx64.efi on the USB stick. This will unpack the embedded kernel and its initramfs, and start it, which will, after initialization, run the initramfs init script. This will attempt to locate the gen-kexec filesystem and mount it read-only, then source the kexec.sourceme script fragment from within it. This, in turn will mount (in the case of the Gentoo minimal install image) the first partition of the image read-only, load its kernel, initramfs and command line, and then pass control over to that new kernel via kexec. The system should then start up, just the same as if it were booted from a legacy, non-EFI BIOS.

Well, not quite the same, since the efivarfs filesystem will be mounted. If you are running an OpenRC system, such as the minimal install image, and wish to use a tool such as buildkernel which modifies variables in this pseudo-filesystem, you should, once booted, remount the efivarfs filesystem read-write. To do so, issue:
koneko ~ #remount -v -o remount,rw efivarfs

For avoidance of doubt, it is safe to carry out the above step on systemd also (although redundant there, as it mounts efivarfs read-write by default).

That concludes this mini-guide! To rejoin the main tutorial, please click here (systemd) or here (OpenRC).


  1. So-called 'class-3' UEFI systems, see e.g. Microsoft Docs: "UEFI Firmware"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gentoo Forums: "The Gentoo minimal installation CD doesn't boot in UEFI"
  3. Actually, this is not quite the case — since the system has been booted under EFI, it will have the /sys/firmware/efi/efivars efivarfs filesystem mounted, but this will have no practical implication for most users.
  4. Kroah-Hartman, Greg. Linux Kernel in a Nutshell (ebook). O'Reilly, 2006
  5. If a statically linked executable relies on libraries from another package, that other package must provide its libraries in static form. However, many systems do not have the requisite static static-libs USE flag set, so forcing this on globally in the helper could cause significant (and unwanted) package rebuilds.
  6. Linux from Scratch: "Populating /dev". Note that while it is possible to set these nodes up within the init script itself, you will not see any output from the init script if you do.
  7. maus.log "How to set up mdev rules for busybox"