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Development for Multiple Linux Distributions mini-HOWTO

Ed Hill


Revision History                                                             
Revision 0.9.1            2002-08-14           Revised by: EH3               
Small update for using X11 (sockets).                                        
Revision 0.9              2001-12-03           Revised by: EH3               
Initial version.                                                             

This document outlines a quick hack to aid in developing and testing
user-space programs for multiple Linux distributions.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
    1.1. Copyright and License
2. Setup
3. Using the Secondary Distributions
4. Credits

1. Introduction

As a developer, there is occasionally a need to code and/or test programs on
multiple Linux distributions. This mini-howto outlines a neat chroot trick
that can, in many cases, obviate the need to reboot into different Linux
distributions to do testing or development.

In a nutshell, the "trick" is to place all the files from a particular linux
distribution into a single directory and then chroot into that directory to
develop/test/debug your program. This approach will work provided that:

 1. The kernel version of the "main" or "primary" distribution that you are
    running is (at least somewhat) compatible with the "secondary" or chroot
    'ed distributions, and
 2. Your application is primarily user-space (ie. no kernel modules) and does
    not depend intimately on any particular kernel features (ie. /proc

1.1. Copyright and License

This document is copyright 2001 by Ed Hill III. Permission is granted to
copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free
Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free
Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts,
and with no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is available at [http://]

2. Setup

We assume that you already have:

 1. One "main" or "primary" Linux distribution installed that is running a
    2.4-series or newer kernel,
 2. a free partition with 2--4Gigs available, and
 3. sufficient disk space for the secondary installs (and any subsequent
    development/testing work).

Given those assumptions, the following outline is one way to setup the
multiple secondary Linux distributions that will be used for development,
testing, or other purposes:

 1. First, create or locate an unused partition on one of your hard drives
    that is large enough (usually 2--4Gb is sufficient) to do a basic install
    of one of the secondary Linux distributions.
 2. Install the secondary distro into this partition but do not add it to
    your boot configuration. Note that this install need only include the
    packages that your target application (or tests) require. For instance,
    you may be able to ignore applications such as the X server or other
 3. Reboot your primary Linux distribution and mount the partition containing
    the freshly-installed "secondary" distro. Copy (preferably using tar -cp
    or some other method that preserves permissions) all the files from the
    secondary distro to a location such as /opt/distros/DISTRO_NAME.
 4. Repeat steps 2--3 for any additional distributions that you wish to
    install. The result should be a directory structure resembling:
    where each directory contains the complete set of files resulting from
    each distribution install.

3. Using the Secondary Distributions

With the secondary distributions installed, the steps to use them are:

 1. It is important to use a 2.4-series or newer Linux kernel in the
    "primary" Linux distribution in order to take advantage of the multiple
    mount points feature that the 2.4-series permits. For many tasks, the /
    proc and /tmp filesystems will have to be remounted in the secondary
    distribution using:
    mount --bind /proc /opt/distros/redhat_6.2/proc                  
    mount --bind /tmp /opt/distros/redhat_6.2/tmp                    
 2. Also, it can be helpful to remount (rather than copy) the source tree
    from the primary to the secondary distro:
    mount --bind /home/USER/src/PROJECT /opt/distros/redhat_6.2/USER/src/PROJECT
 3. Become root and use:
    xhost +localhost chroot /opt/distros/redhat_6.2                  
    to obtain a shell with one of the secondary distros. Note that the xhost
    command is only necessary if you intend to use X-windows applications.
 4. Finally, create a user (if necessary) within the chroot-ed shell and
    develop, build, and/or test your application within this "separate" Linux
    distribution! Not that you may also have to specify your DISPLAY
    environment variable if you'd like to use X applications.

Done! You now have a shell that is, for all practical purposes, running
within the secondary Linux distribution of your choice.

4. Credits

The ideas contained in this mini-HOWTO are not originally mine. They are
culled from posts by Ben Reed (of [] OpenNMS ) to one
of the [] TriLUG mailing lists. I found the information
to be so useful that I wanted to document the idea for others.

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