Disk encryption

This largely applies to installation from any source. You should be aware of how Chimera installation with unencrypted root works for your device, so that you can understand the differences.


The first part that is different from regular installation is partitioning.

There are multiple ways you can arrange your drive when using encryption:

  1. Unencrypted /boot, other partitions in LVM on LUKS
  2. Unencrypted /boot with ZFS pool on LUKS
  3. Full disk encryption with LVM/ZFS on LUKS
  4. LUKS without LVM
  5. Native ZFS encryption
  6. and other combos

Each way has some advantages and some disadvantages. We will not cover all of them here.

LVM on LUKS with unencrypted /boot

The main advantage of this method is that it’s simple and works on any device with any bootloader.

In this case, the kernel and initramfs resides in a dedicated /boot partition that is unencrypted. This is often already the case with e.g. device images that use U-Boot. It could also be the case with EFI systems that combine the ESP and /boot into one, which is a valid configuration.

Other partitions are in an LVM. LVM stands for Logical Volume Manager and allows for flexible “partitioning” of space within a single physical partition. The lvm2 package in Chimera contains tooling to deal with LVM.

LUKS stands for Linux Unified Key Setup. It is independent of LVM. It deals purely with encrypting a block device and the cryptsetup package in Chimera provides the tooling.

Assuming a target device /dev/sda and an EFI system with dedicated /boot partition separate from ESP, we will create a GPT on the disk, along with 3 partitions:

  1. The EFI system partition
  2. The /boot Linux partition of a desired size and filesystem (e.g. ext4)
  3. A Linux partition that covers the rest of the space

Adjust this to whatever your computer uses. For example a BIOS or OpenPOWER system would have only two partitions here and so on.

Format the unencrypted partitions:

# mkfs.vfat /dev/sda1
# mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda2

The next step is to create LUKS on the remaining (third) partition. Use any name you want, we will use crypt:

# cryptsetup luksFormat /dev/sda3
# cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda3 crypt

You will be asked for a passphrase in both steps. The passphrase is for you to choose.

Once this is done, a new block device will appear in /dev/mapper/crypt. You can use this block device as if it was a partition, i.e. you could create a filesystem or a ZFS pool or whatever you want on it, but in this case we will create a volume group. Name it whatever you want, in this case volg:

# vgcreate volg /dev/mapper/crypt

After that, create logical volumes in the volume group. Logical volumes are “partitions” here. We will want at least one for root, but you can create as many as you want. If you use swap, you will want to keep it in the LVM as well, as it’s convenient and does not require a separate LUKS. Do not use unencrypted swap, as it can leak secrets.

In this example, we will use 40 gigabytes for /, 8 gigabytes for swap, and the rest for /home.

# lvcreate --name root -L 40G volg
# lvcreate --name swap -L 8G volg
# lvcreate --name home -l 100%free volg

Note the -L vs -l for exact and non-exact sizes.

In any case, whatever layout you choose, you will see new block devices in /dev/volg, with the names you have given them. The next step is to create filesystems on them and mount them in the desired layout, for example like:

# mkfs.ext4 /dev/volg/root
# mkfs.ext4 /dev/volg/home
# mkswap /dev/volg/swap
# mkdir /media/root
# mount /dev/volg/root /media/root
# mkdir /media/root/boot
# mkdir /media/root/home
# mount /dev/volg/home /media/root/home
# mount /dev/sda2 /media/root/boot
# mkdir /media/root/boot/efi
# mount /dev/sda1 /media/root/boot/efi

After that, follow the regular Chimera installation for your device type, e.g. using chimera-bootstrap and so on.

Full disk encryption with LVM on LUKS

In this arrangement you will not have a separate /boot partition. Otherwise, the partitioning is similar, for EFI systems you will still need a dedicated ESP, and the rest of the drive will be a single partition with a LUKS on it. You do not need a separate /boot, but if you wish you can create one as a logical volume in your LVM.

The main disadvantage of this method is a more complicated setup, plus that it requires support from the bootloader. It will only work if you use GRUB.

With just passphrases, you will also have to unlock the drive twice. The first time will be by GRUB (which understands LUKS) in order to access the kernel, and the second time will be by the initramfs, in order to mount the root file system. You can work around this by using a keyfile (stored in your initramfs) to unlock the volume the second time.

Additionally, there is yet another caveat, and that is limited support for LUKS2 in GRUB. Starting with version 2.06, LUKS2 is partially supported, but only with the PBKDF2 key derivation function. The default for LUKS2 is Argon2i, so it will not work.

Therefore, you are best off forcing LUKS1. You can do that with a parameter passed to luksFormat:

# cryptsetup luksFormat --type luks1 /dev/...

With these precautions, this is also an arrangement you can use. Set up your drive and install the system as usual.

Other layouts

You should be able to derive information for most of the other layouts from the previous two sections, given an understanding of how this works.

For instance for ZFS on LUKS, you would create your LUKS partition as normal, then create a ZFS pool in it instead of LVM. Chimera’s version of ZFS comes with full initramfs-tools support, and the early oneshots likewise support it.

After installation

Once you have installed the system, mounted pseudo-filesystems into the target root and chrooted in, this is where this guide proceeds. Every command that is shown here is to be run inside the chroot environment.

It also assumes you have updated your system to latest packages and that you have internet access.

LUKS support in the system

In order to be able to set up encrypted volumes in the target system, you will need to have the right infrastructure package installed:

# apk add cryptsetup-scripts

For LVM-using systems, also make sure LVM is there:

# apk add lvm2

There is a chance you already have those packages, but you might not, depending on the installation method.

LUKS and fstab

Your /etc/fstab needs to be set up with the root filesystem for the cryptsetup initramfs scripts to recognize it and add it to the initramfs crypttab. Therefore, make sure that it is set up (as written in the standard installation guide).

LUKS and crypttab

The next step is to create your crypttab. It is a file similar to fstab and it describes the encrypted devices to set up.

In our previous example we only have one LUKS device. The crypttab consists of one or more device lines, each with four fields. The fields are the following:

  1. The name (as in luksOpen /dev/device name)
  2. The device
  3. A key file path
  4. Options, comma-separated

There are many options which are out of scope here, e. g. for when you want to unlock multiple devices using a single passphrase or other more sophisticated setups, but in a lot of cases you do not need any. In our case we will use the luks option. If you have an SSD and wish to enable TRIM, you will also want to add discard like luks,discard (and enable it in LVM, but that is out of scope for this guide).

For full list of options, please refer to man 5 crypttab.

In any case:

# echo crypt /dev/sda3 none luks > /etc/crypttab

You might also want to use a UUID (/dev/disk/by-uuid/... or partlabel-based path instead of direct device path, in order to make it static. For this example this is okay though.

LUKS and initramfs

Once you have your crypttab as well as fstab and all the required stuff is installed, you will need to refresh your initial ramdisk, so that this is included. Keep in mind that it is necessary to have your crypttab set up in order for the initial ramdisk to open the LUKS device and find a root filesystem on it.

To refresh the initramfs:

# update-initramfs -c -k all

LVM and initramfs

Handling of LVM is automatic thanks to udev. The necessary mappings are created automatically, so if you have your crypttab set up correctly and the root= kernel command line parameter is correct, it should just work.

ZFS and initramfs

When doing root on ZFS, LUKS does not influence the root=. You just have to specify something like root=ZFS=mypool/root/whatever and the initramfs will take care of the rest, provided the crypttab mappings are correctly set up.

The initramfs hook scripts currently don’t detect the root filesystem when it’s on ZFS (resulting in warnings while creating the initramfs which can be ignored), so you need to use the initramfs option in crypttab, e.g.:

# echo crypt /dev/sda3 none luks,initramfs > /etc/crypttab

Bootloader and kernel command line

With full disk encryption (i.e. encrypted /boot), you will need to enable this in GRUB. Simply modify /etc/default/grub and add the following:


Bootloader installation is otherwise the same as usual, with grub-install and then update-grub generating a configuration file that should work out of box.

When not using GRUB, the correct root= parameter in our particular example is root=/dev/mapper/crypt-root.