Installing Debian 10 Buster with Encrypted LVM and btrfs Subvolumes
Author: Jake Bauer | Published: 2020-07-14
Debian currently supports formatting partitions with btrfs, but doesn’t support creating subvolumes from within the installer. Below I will detail the process of getting subvolumes on your root file system with optional LVM encryption, should you desire. Once you’re familiar with this procedure, you will find that it is actually a lot easier than it seemed at first!
This procedure has been adapted from this video found on YouTube: Debian 9 | Installation mit Btrfs Subvolumes (Debian Wochen) by YouTube user “unicks.eu”. This video is in German but you don’t need to understand the language to follow the steps on screen. This tutorial aims to expand on the content of the video by approaching it from the perspective of wanting encrypted partitions and it also provides an English-language reference to the content of the video.
After downloading a Debian installation image and putting it on a CD/DVD/USB,
boot it and choose
Advanced options > Expert install (or
install if you want).
Run through the installation as normal until you reach the section on partitioning:
On this screen, if you want an encrypted root file system then you probably want
to choose the option
Guided - use entire disk and set up encrypted LVM. If you
are working with a disk that already has an operating system on it which you
wish to keep or if you have more complicated partitioning needs, you will have
Manual and create the partitions necessary for your configuration.
Once you have run through the setup of the partitions you should now see a screen similar to the one below:
Select your root file system (the one with the
/ as the mount point), change
Use as: field to
btrfs journaling file system and select
up the partition. After this, select
Finish partitioning and write changes to
disk, following the prompts until you arrive back in the installation menu.
This will apply the chosen partitioning scheme.
After this and before continuing with the installation, type
to be put into a shell. Press
Enter to activate this shell and follow the
following procedure to set up subvolumes:
df command to view what the current mounted partitions are. In my case
/dev/mapper/debianbtrfs--vg-root mounted to
/target is the place where the Debian system files
will be installed. We need to change and set some things up so that it becomes a
The first step is to unmount both
/target/boot and then
/target using the
Then, mount the btrfs root volume (i.e. the volume that used to be mounted to
/target hereby referred to as
/mnt and then
Create the desired subvolumes with
btrfs subvolume create SUBVOLUME_NAME. I
Following this, mount the root subvolume to
/target like so:
noatime,compress=lzo,space_cache,subvol=@ BTRFS_VOLUME /target.
There are quite a few compression algorithms available for use with btrfs now; learn more on [the btrfs wiki](https://btrfs.wiki.kernel.org/index.php/Compression). I personally use zstd.
Now we want to
mkdir -p /target/etc and copy
/mnt/etc/crypttab if you are using encrypted LVM volumes) into
Once this is done we can
rm -r /mnt/boot /mnt/etc /mnt/media otherwise these
directories will remain in the final installation (which isn’t a big deal but
this is done just for the sake of cleanliness). When this is done, unmount
The next step is to make the necessary subdirectories in
/target for your
subvolumes. I did:
mkdir -p /target/home /target/.snapshots. Now, mount the
rest of the subvolumes the same way as before like we did for the root
subvolume. Also, mount the boot partition (which in my case resides on
/target/boot/efi (or just
/target/boot for a legacy BIOS
system). The following screenshots show the exact commands that I ran:
/target/etc/fstab (you must use
nano as unfortunately there is no
vi in this busybox configuration) and add the relevant
entries to mount your subvolumes on boot. These should look the same as the
entry that already exists but you will have to change the options from
to the ones that we used above when mounting our subvolumes and you will have to
change the mount points. For example, the line for mounting the root filesystem
will go from:
/dev/mapper/debianbtrfs--vg-root / btrfs defaults 0 0
/dev/mapper/debianbtrfs--vg-root / btrfs noatime,compress=lzo,space_cache,subvol=@ 0 0
Where the other lines will look similar:
Once this is all done and you have saved your changes, you may exit out of this
D) and return to the installation (
Proceed with the installation as normal and, when you boot, you should have a
btrfs filesystem working with subvolumes!
If you get stuck somewhere, try asking in the many helpful areas of the Internet
such as the Debian User Forums, the
#debian IRC channel on the Freenode network, or the
list. See this resource for more
information on getting help with Debian.
This is my seventy-first post for the #100DaysToOffload challenge. You can learn more about this challenge over at https://100daystooffload.com.