Install Debian (based) Linux Distributions in a Folder (chroot)

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How to create a chroot (change root) in a secure way using mmdebstrap and systemd-nspawn.

Documentation for this is incomplete. Contributions are happily considered! See this for potential alternatives.

Chroot Use Cases[edit]

Chroot Security[edit]

chroot is not a security




Quote Changing

  • systemd-nspawn tool which acts as chroot(1) on steroids

  • it makes use of file system and PID namespaces to boot a simple lightweight container on a file system tree.

  • It can be used almost like chroot(1), except that the isolation from the host OS is much more complete, a lot more secure and even easier to use

  • systemd-nspawn is capable of booting a complete systemd or sysvinit OS in container with a single command.

  • Booting of the container can take less than 3 seconds.


Can systemd-nspawn be made a secure jail? The following quote might be outdated and/or not reflect a "hardened container". Quote systemd lead

Note however that this protects the host OS only from accidental changes of its parameters. A process in the container can manually remount the file systems read-writeable and then change whatever it wants to change.

What are these issues? Related to running root vs non-root inside the container? Can these security holes nowadays be closed?

Since we are inside a VM already, can containers be used for better security?

Quote systemd-nspawn man


Specify one or more additional capabilities to drop for the container. This allows running the container with fewer capabilities than the default (see above).


systemd-nspawn supports unprivileged containers,


, though the containers need to be booted as root.

That could be an OK limitation?

See also:

Exit systemd-nspawn[edit]

To leave the chroot press keep holding key CTRL and press key 5 quickly 3 times within 1 second. [1]

See Also[edit]



mmdebstrap is a tool that can be used to securely create chroots.

Using debootstrap is insecure at times such as if APT is vulnerable and the fixed package only available from APT repository not the regular Debian repository because it can use only 1 APT repository at a time. And does not include all packages created to create a chroot.

A secure alternative is mmdebstrap. [2] See also other advantages of


  • chroot for users with Xorg/X11 forwarding and automatic mounting + aufs/unionfs read only root support.
    • Needs cautious review. Same author as which does not do gpg signature verification of downloaded package metadata because that's useless.


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