Package Oriented Server Operations

Now that we have a Photon RPM-OSTree server up and running (if not, see how to install), we will learn how to provide the desired set of packages as input and instruct rpm-ostree to compose a filetree, that will result in creation (or update) of an OSTree repo.
The simplest way to explain is to take a look at the files installed by the Photon RPM-OSTree server during setup.

root [ ~ ]# cd /srv/rpm-ostree/
root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# ls -l
total 16
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 7356 Aug 28 19:06 ostree-httpd.conf
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1085 Aug 28 19:06 photon-base.json
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   35 Aug 28 19:06 photon-extras-ostree.repo -> /etc/yum.repos.d/photon-extras.repo
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   32 Aug 28 19:06 photon-iso-ostree.repo -> /etc/yum.repos.d/photon-iso.repo
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   28 Aug 28 19:06 photon-ostree.repo -> /etc/yum.repos.d/photon.repo
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   36 Aug 28 19:06 photon-updates-ostree.repo -> /etc/yum.repos.d/photon-updates.repo
drwxr-xr-x 7 root root 4096 Aug 20 22:27 repo

JSON configuration file

How can we tell rpm-ostree what packages we want to include, where to get them from and how to compose the filetree? There is JSON file for that. Let’s take a look at photon-base.json used by the Photon OS team.

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# cat photon-base.json
    "comment": "Photon Minimal OSTree",

    "osname": "photon",

    "ref": "photon/5.0/x86_64/minimal",

    "automatic_version_prefix": "5.0_minimal",

    "repos": ["photon"],

    "selinux": false,

    "initramfs-args": ["--no-hostonly"],

    "bootstrap_packages": ["filesystem"],

    "documentation": false,

    "packages": ["glibc", "zlib", "binutils", "gmp", "mpfr", "libgcc", "libstdc++","libgomp",
                "pkg-config", "ncurses", "bash", "bzip2", "cracklib", "cracklib-dicts", "shadow",
                "procps-ng", "iana-etc", "readline", "coreutils", "bc", "libtool", "net-tools",
                "findutils", "xz", "grub2", "grub2-pc", "grub2-efi", "iproute2", "util-linux", "linux",
                "attr", "libcap", "kmod", "expat", "dbus", "file",
                "sed", "grep", "cpio", "gzip",
                "openssl", "ca-certificates", "curl",
                "openssh", "iptables",
                "vim", "photon-repos",
                "docker", "bridge-utils",
                "dracut", "dracut-tools", "rpm-ostree", "nss-altfiles", "which"]

There are some mandatory settings, some optional. I’m only going to explain the most important ones for our use case. osname and ref should be familiar, they have been explained in previous sections OSname and Refspec. Basicaly, we are asking rpm-ostree to compose a tree for photon OS and photon/3.0/x86_64/minimal branch.

For more information, see the OS Tree Documentation.

Package addition, removal, upgrade

packages is the list of packages that are to be added, in this case, in the “minimal” installation profile, on top of the packages already included by default. This is not quite the identical set of RPMS you get when you select the minimal profile in the ISO installer, but it’s pretty close and that’s why it’s been named the same. Let’s add to the list three new packages: gawk, sudo and wget using vim photon-base.json

!!!Warning: do not remove any packages from the default list, even an “innocent” one, as it may bring the system to an unstable condition. During my testing, I’ve removed “which”; it turns out it was used to figure out the grub booting roots: on reboot, the system was left hanging at grub prompt.

RPMS repository

But where are these packages located? RPM-OStree uses the same standard RPMS repositories, that yum installs from.

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# ls /etc/yum.repos.d/
photon-debuginfo.repo  photon-extras.repo  photon-iso.repo  photon-updates.repo  photon.repo

Going back to our JSON file, repos is a multi-value setting that tells RPM-OSTree in what RPMS repositories to look for packages. In this case, it looks in the current directory for a “photon” repo configuration file, that is a .repo file starting with a [photon] section. There is such a file: photon-ostree.repo, that is in fact a link to photon.repo in /etc/yum.repos.d directory.

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# cat /etc/yum.repos.d/photon.repo 
name=VMware Photon Linux 5.0(x86_64)

In this case, rpm-ostree is instructed to download its packages in RPM format from the VMware Photon Packages URL, which is the location of an online RPMS repo maintained by the VMware Photon OS team. To ensure those packages can be validated as being genuine and signed by VMware, the signature is checked against the official VMware public key.

So what’s in an RPMS repository? If we point the browser to, we can see there are three top directories:

  • noarch - where all packages that don’t depend on the architecture reside. Those may contain scripts, platform neutral source files, configuration.
  • x86_64 - platform dependent packages for Intel 32 and 64 bits CPUs.
  • repodata - internal repo management data, like a catalog of all packages, and for every package its name, id, version, architecture and full path file/directory list. There is also a compressed XML file containing the history of changelogs extracted from github, as packages in RPM format were built by Photon OS team members from sources.

Fortunately, in order to compose a tree, you don’t need to download the packages from the online repository (which is time consuming - in the order of minutes), unless there are some new ones or updated versions of them, added by the Photon team after shipping 1.0 version or the 1.0 Refresh. A copy of the starter RPMS repository (as of 1.0 shipping date) has been included on the CD-ROM and you can access it.

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# mount /dev/cdrom
root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# ls /mnt/cdrom/RPMS
noarch  repodata  x86_64

All you have to do now is to replace the "repos": ["photon"] entry by "repos": ["photon-iso"], which will point to the RPMS repo on CD-ROM, rather than the online repo. This way, composing saves time, bandwidth and reduces to zero the risk of failure because of a networking issue.

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# cat /etc/yum.repos.d/photon-iso.repo
name=VMWare Photon Linux ISO 5.0(x86_64)

There are already in current directory links created to all repositories in /etc/yum.repos.d, so they are found when tree compose command is invoked. You may add any other repo to the list and include packages found in that repo to be part of the image.

Composing a tree

After so much preparation, we can execute a tree compose. We have only added 3 new packages and changed the RPMS repo source. Assuming that the JSON file is editted, run the following:

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# rpm-ostree compose tree --repo=repo photon-base.json
Previous commit: 2940e10c4d90ce6da572cbaeeff7b511cab4a64c280bd5969333dd2fca57cfa8

Downloading metadata [=========================================================================] 100%

Transaction: 117 packages
Installing packages [==========================================================================] 100%
Writing '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp/usr/share/rpm-ostree/treefile.json'
Preparing kernel
Creating empty machine-id
Executing: /usr/bin/dracut -v --tmpdir=/tmp -f /var/tmp/initramfs.img 4.0.9 --no-hostonly
*** Including module: bash ***
*** Including module: kernel-modules ***
*** Including module: resume ***
*** Including module: rootfs-block ***
*** Including module: terminfo ***
*** Including module: udev-rules ***
Skipping udev rule: 91-permissions.rules
Skipping udev rule: 80-drivers-modprobe.rules
*** Including module: ostree ***
*** Including module: systemd ***
*** Including module: usrmount ***
*** Including module: base ***
/etc/os-release: line 1: Photon: command not found
*** Including module: fs-lib ***
*** Including module: shutdown ***
*** Including modules done ***
*** Installing kernel module dependencies and firmware ***
*** Installing kernel module dependencies and firmware done ***
*** Resolving executable dependencies ***
*** Resolving executable dependencies done***
*** Stripping files ***
*** Stripping files done ***
*** Store current command line parameters ***
*** Creating image file ***
*** Creating image file done ***
Image: /var/tmp/initramfs.img: 11M
Version: dracut-041-1.ph5

Arguments: -v --tmpdir '/tmp' -f --no-hostonly

dracut modules:
drwxr-xr-x  12 root     root            0 Sep  1 00:52 .
crw-r--r--   1 root     root       5,   1 Sep  1 00:52 dev/console
crw-r--r--   1 root     root       1,  11 Sep  1 00:52 dev/kmsg
...   (long list of files removed)
Initializing rootfs
Migrating /etc/passwd to /usr/lib/
Migrating /etc/group to /usr/lib/
Moving /usr to target
Linking /usr/local -> ../var/usrlocal
Moving /etc to /usr/etc
Placing RPM db in /usr/share/rpm
Ignoring non-directory/non-symlink '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp/var/lib/nss_db/Makefile'
Ignoring non-directory/non-symlink '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp/var/cache/ldconfig/aux-cache'
Ignoring non-directory/non-symlink '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp/var/log/btmp'
Ignoring non-directory/non-symlink '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp/var/log/lastlog'
Ignoring non-directory/non-symlink '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp/var/log/wtmp'
Moving /boot
Using boot location: both
Copying toplevel compat symlinks
Adding tmpfiles-ostree-integration.conf
Committing '/var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp' ...
photon/1.0/x86_64/minimal => c505f4bddb4381e8b5213682465f1e5bb150a18228aa207d763cea45c6a81bbe

We’ve omitted a large portion of the logging output, however you can see that the new filetree adds to the top of the previous (initial) commit 2940e10c4d and produces a new commit c505f4bddb. Our packages gawk-4.1.0-2.ph5.x86_64, sudo-1.8.11p1-4.ph5.x86_64 and wget-1.15-1.ph5.x86_64 have been added.

During compose, rpm-ostree checks out the file tree into its uncompressed form, applies the package changes, places the updated RPM repo into /usr/share/rpm and calls ostree to commit its changes back into the OSTree repo. If we were to look at the temp directory during this time:

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# ls /var/tmp/rpm-ostree.TVO089/rootfs.tmp
bin   dev   lib    media  opt     proc  run   srv  sysroot  usr
boot  home  lib64  mnt    ostree  root  sbin  sys  tmp      var

If we repeat the command, and there is no change in the JSON file settings and no change in metadata, rpm-ostree will figure out that nothing has changed and stop. You can force however to redo the whole composition.

root [ /srv/rpm-ostree ]# rpm-ostree compose tree --repo=repo photon-base.json
Previous commit: c505f4bddb4381e8b5213682465f1e5bb150a18228aa207d763cea45c6a81bbe

Downloading metadata [=========================================================================] 100%

No apparent changes since previous commit; use --force-nocache to override

This takes several minutes. Then why is the RPM-OSTree server installing so fast, in 45 seconds on my SSD? The server doesn’t compose the tree, it uses a pre-created OSTree repo that is stored on the CD-ROM. It comes of course at the expense of larger CD-ROM size. This OSTree repo is created from the same set of RPMS on the CD-ROM, so if you compose fresh, you will get the same exact tree, with same commit ID for the “minimal” ref.

Automatic version prefix

If you recall the filetree version explained earlier, this is where it comes into play. When a tree is composed from scratch, the first version (0) associated to the initial commit is going to get that human readable value. Any subsequent compose operation will auto-increment to .1, .2, .3 and so on.
It’s a good idea to start a versioning scheme of your own, so that your customized Photon builds that may get different packages of your choice don’t get the same version numbers as the official Photon team builds coming from VMware’s OSTree Packages repository. There is no conflict, it’s just confusing to have same name for different commits coming from different repos.
So if you work for a company named Big Data Inc., you may want to switch to a new versioning scheme “automatic_version_prefix”: “1.0_bigdata”.

Installing package updates

If you want to provide hosts with the package updates that VMware periodically releases, all that you need to do is to add the photon-updates.repo to the list of repos in photon-base.json and then re-compose the usual way.

"repos": ["photon", "photon-updates"],

Even though you may have not modified the “packages” section in the json file, the newer versions of existing packages will be included in the new image and then downloaded by the host the usual way. Note that upgrading a package shows differently than adding (+) or removing (-). You may still see packages added (or removed) though because they are new dependencies (or no longer dependencies) for the newer versions of other packages, as libssh2 in the example below.

root [ ~ ]# rpm-ostree upgrade --check-diff
Updating from: photon:photon/5.0/x86_64/minimal

8 metadata, 13 content objects fetched; 1002 KiB transferred in 0 seconds

root [ ~ ]# rpm-ostree upgrade
Updating from: photon:photon/1.0/x86_64/minimal

258 metadata, 1165 content objects fetched; 76893 KiB transferred in 8 seconds
Copying /etc changes: 6 modified, 0 removed, 14 added
Transaction complete; bootconfig swap: yes deployment count change: 1
  bridge-utils 1.5-2.ph5 -> 1.5-3.ph5
  bzip2 1.0.6-5.ph5 -> 1.0.6-6.ph5
  curl 7.47.1-2.ph5 -> 7.51.0-2.ph5
  docker 1.11.0-5.ph5 -> 1.12.1-1.ph5
Upgrade prepared for next boot; run "systemctl reboot" to start a reboot

Now if we want to see what packages have been updated and what issues have been fixed, just run at the host the command that we learned about in chapter 5.4.

root [ ~ ]# rpm-ostree db diff 56ef 396e
ostree diff commit old: 56e (56ef687f1319604b7900a232715718d26ca407de7e1dc89251b206f8e255dcb4)
ostree diff commit new: 396 (396e1116ad94692b8c105edaee4fa12447ec3d8f73c7b3ade4e955163d517497)
* Mon Sep 12 2016 user1 <> 1.5-3
-	Update patch to fix-2.

* Fri Oct 21 2016 user2 <> 1.0.6-6
-       Fixing security bug CVE-2016-3189.

* Wed Nov 30 2016 user3 <> 7.51.0-2
-   Enable sftp support.

* Wed Nov 02 2016 user4 <> 7.51.0-1
-   	Upgrade curl to 7.51.0

* Thu Oct 27 2016 user4 <> 7.47.1-4
-   	Patch for CVE-2016-5421

* Mon Sep 19 2016 user3 <> 7.47.1-3
-   	Applied CVE-2016-7167.patch.

* Wed Sep 21 2016 user3 <> 1.12.1-1
-   Upgraded to version 1.12.1

* Mon Aug 22 2016 user1 <> 1.12.0-2
-   Added bash completion file

* Tue Aug 09 2016 user4 <> 1.12.0-1
-   Upgraded to version 1.12.0

* Tue Jun 28 2016 user4 <> 1.11.2-1
-   Upgraded to version 1.11.2

Composing for a different branch

RPM-OSTree makes it very easy to create and update new branches, by composing using json config files that include the Refspec as the new branch name, the list of packages and the other settings we are now familiar with. Photon OS RPM-OSTRee Server installer adds two extra files photon-minimal.json and photon-full.json in addition to photon-base.json, that correspond almost identically to the minimal and full profiles installed via tdnf. It also makes ‘photon-base’ a smaller set of starter branch.

Of course, you can create your own config files for your branches with desired lists of packages. You may compose on top of the existing tree, or you can start fresh your own OSTRee repo, using your own customized versioning.

Note: The outputs listed above are only for reference. The version numbers in the outputs might vary from the actual outputs.

Last modified November 8, 2023: Update (3799256)