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 often find myself figuring out some niche oddities, only to find myself stuck on those same problems a year later due to my wide yet thin activity in certain topics related to my career and hobbies. This blog is where I document these nuances (or nuisances) to ease my pain the second time around, and hopefully that of some other fellow desperate internet scouts.
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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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