Dealing with SYSLINUX

Syslinux is simple and works great, but I wasted a lot of time today with a setup that refused to boot. Apparently if you install syslinux on a bootable partition, that just isn’t enough for the PC to boot.

By any means necessary find the mbr.bin file that came with your version of syslinux and cat it to the disk device (not the partition of course). For me “any means” meant a simple apt-get source syslinux. install-mbr simply did not work despite what debian’s guide said.

Most of what I know was given to me by rolling a custom debian installer. Of course I read all the way through their guide except the very bottom where there was a user contributed note expressing what I just explained. But I wanted to drop that note here just for the sake of polluting the Internet.

Here’s an example of what I’m working with for this project.


development:~/usb-disk# find .

And the script “” … note that this is very crude…

if whiptail --yesno "This is a dangerous tool... do you want to quit?" 8 40
    exit 1

if whiptail --yesno "Are you SURE you want to wipe all data on disk $1 ???" 8 40

    # Destroy whatever's going on with this disk
    dd if=/dev/zero of=$1 bs=512 count=1

    # Add a FAT32 partition for the size of the disk
    echo -e "n\np\n1\n\n\nt\nc\na\n1\nw" | fdisk $1

    # Format....
    mkdosfs $11

    # Install SYSLINUX on this bootable partition
    syslinux $11

    # Install a valid MBR on the disk itself
    cat mbr.bin  > /dev/sdb

    # Add the boot environment

    mntdir=/mnt/target-`date +%s`/
    mkdir $mntdir
    mount $11 $mntdir
    cp `dirname $0`/boot-contents/* $mntdir
    umount $mntdir
    rmdir $mntdir



About andyortlieb

I've been a tinkerer and a lazy ideologist since I gained my first personal computer in 1989. I have an aversion to formal education and I prefer to learn things by experimentation. That is not a brag, it has not been a particularly helpful set of traits. My primary goals are to increase my safety, pleasure and usefulness as I work to build and modify technologies that will bring those same attributes to the masses irrespective of government. This is the documentation of my attempt at that journey.
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One Response to Dealing with SYSLINUX

  1. andyortlieb says:

    Correction, mbr.bin is in debian

    root@mke-vz:~# dpkg -L syslinux-common | grep mbr

    However, since it’s not the exact same file, and the one from the original source works well, I’m not going to change my processes.

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