Partitioning Notes

This is generally simple, but will differ depending on the hardware/firmware.

When using the installer, it will provide you with instructions appropriate for your machine.


OpenPOWER machines, such as the Talos 2 or IBM PowerNV servers, load into Linux and feature a bootloader called Petitboot. The final kernel is then loaded via the kexec mechanism. POWER8 and newer machines are in general OpenPOWER, but not always (the other ones use SLOF, see below).

That's why there is no bootstrap partition necessary. However, the partition that contains /boot must be mountable from the firmware environment. The partition table does not matter either, as long as the firmware can see it; the typical choice is either GPT or MBR.

Necessary partitions:

  • Root partition (/)

When using an unsupported root filesystem:

  • Root partition (/)
  • /boot partition (with a supported filesystem)

Unsupported root file systems generally include out of tree ones such as ZFS, and Btrfs is usually affected as well, since it requires page size and endianness to match the machine where it was created, and Void uses 4 kB kernel pages (a typical OpenPOWER firmware uses 64 kB).

Open Firmware

Other machines the live images can boot on use Open Firmware. This comes in several flavors:

  • IBM PowerVM servers use SLOF (SlimLine Open Firmware)
  • Virtual machines in qemu by default use SLOF
  • Apple hardware uses Apple's version of OF

Open Firmware based machines always use some kind of bootstrap partition. The bootstrap partition contains the first stage bootloader executable - this is usually GRUB. The executable is just plain ELF.

The bootstrap partition is generally small, and is not /boot. The first stage bootloader size is at most a few hundred kilobytes in general, unless you manually install a full GRUB image, which may be larger (this is not necessary in general, other GRUB modules can be loaded from a filesystem).

The rest of GRUB generally goes in /boot/grub which is either on your / partition or your /boot partition if you have one.

When using the installer, the bootstrap partition is what you should select when it asks you where to install the bootloader.


Necessary partitions:

  • PowerPC PReP Boot (bootstrap)
  • Root partition (/)

On pSeries, virtual machines and so on, the default recommended choice is a MBR. On newer versions of SLOF, GPT will also work (and in virtual machines it does), but MBR is a safe choice.

The bootstrap in SLOF is a special partition of type PowerPC PReP Boot. Make it around 1 megabyte; this should be generous. This partition is never mounted and does not contain a mountable filesystem.


# fdisk /dev/sdX
o # MBR, g for GPT
n # new partition for PReP boot; make it 1 megabyte
t # change partition type to PowerPC PReP boot
n # new partition for /
a # set first partition bootable
w # write changes and quit

The partition type number for PowerPC PReP boot should be 7 for GPT and 41 for MBR.

PowerPC Macs

Necessary partitions:

  • Apple_Bootstrap (bootstrap)
  • Root partition (/)

Macs use APM (Apple Partition Map), at least for booting. The actual / partition can be on anything Linux supports.

You can use pmac-fdisk for APM partitioning. Standard fdisk does not support it.

Note that partitioning has nothing to do with filesystems present. Partitioning will only ensure that you will have the partitions with correct types available. Do not get confused by partition types like Apple_HFS; that is unrelated to the filesystem in the partition. You will format your filesystems once everything is partitioned correctly.

You will need at least one partition on your APM, the bootstrap partition, which will be used by OpenFirmware to invoke the bootloader. The actual OS can be anywhere that GRUB can use. In an APM-only setup, your partitioning will look for example like this:

/dev/sdX1Apple_partition_mapApple-Partition map
/dev/sdX2Apple_Bootstrapbootstrap800kNewWorld bootblock
/dev/sdX3Apple_UNIX_SVR2rootfsanyLinux native
/dev/sdX4Apple_UNIX_SVR2swapanyLinux swap

You can create it for example like this:

# pmac-fdisk /dev/sdX
i                                    # init partition table, wipes all data
b 2p                                 # bootstrap partition
c 3p 120G rootfs                     # root filesystem (/)
c 4p 4p swap                         # swap partition, all unused space

This is only for clean installations! It will wipe anything else present on the drive. If you don't want that, read below.

In an APM, the first partition is always automatic, being the APM itself.

The b <x> command in pmac-fdisk is functionally equivalent to something like C <x> 800k bootstrap Apple_Bootstrap.

The bootstrap partition contains a legacy HFS filesystem when installed, but the installer takes care of correctly formatting it and you should never worry about doing that manually.

Dual or multiboot

If you want to preserve your existing system(s) and multi-boot the computer, you will probably not want to reinitialize your partition layout.

In that case, you will need to look if you have free space (should be marked Apple_Free when you print out the partition table in pmac-fdisk). If you do, everything is good and you can just create a new bootstrap partition somewhere. If you don't have available unused space, you will need to delete some other partition, or shrink some existing filesystem to make more free space.

On installations with OS X, it seems to be a common occurence that there are unused Apple_Free spaces sized about 128MB scattered around the disk. If that is the case, that is a good place to make your bootstrap partition. OS X does not need anything other than its own HFS+ partition, which is blessed and acts as its own bootstrap.

Generally, it does not matter how the disk is layouted, as long as you have a bootstrap partition somewhere and then another partition or a few for your rootfs and possibly other things.

As an example, if you have an existing layout like this:

/dev/sdX1Apple_partition_mapApple-Partition map
/dev/sdX2Apple_Free128MFree space
/dev/sdX3Apple_HFSOS X100GHFS
/dev/sdX4Apple_Free128MFree space
/dev/sdX6Apple_Free8kFree space

In this context, sdX3 is OS X, and sdX5 is an empty HFS+ formatted partition you want to install Void on. sdX2 and sdX4 are just unused gaps, as is sdX6.

You'd do something like this:

# pmac-fdisk /dev/sdX
b 2p                               # bootstrap partition, could also be 4p
d 5p                               # delete the empty Apple_HFS
c 4p 46G rootfs                    # root filesystem (/)
c 5p 5p swap                       # remaining (4G) unused space as swap

Note how the rootfs is 4p; this is because deleting a partition inbetween two free spaces merges them all together, so sdX4, sdX5 and sdX6 will become just sdX4.

Other configurations will need equivalent changes.