How you can boot Microsoft’s own Linux distribution: CBL-Mariner

How you can boot Microsoft’s own Linux distribution: CBL-Mariner

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It has been a few years since Microsoft released the second version of its Windows Subsystem for Linux (AKA WSL 2), and the runtime is now mature enough to run Linux applications with GUI. The next step in the journey is none other than the Windows Subsystem for Android, which will allow you to run Android applications on Windows 11. Microsoft’s love of Linux doesn’t just end here, as the company has also maintained a full Linux. distribution for a time. Known as CBL-Mariner (where CBL stands for Common Base Linux), the distribution has been created by Microsoft’s Linux Systems Group, the same team that created the Linux kernel used for WSL 2.

In particular, CBL-Mariner is not a traditional user-centric Linux distribution with a fancy graphical user interface. Rather, you only have the basic packages required to support and run containers. The package management system is based on RPM, which uses both dnf and tdnf (Tiny DNF). The distribution also supports an image-based update mechanism for atomic service and rollback using RPM-OSTree. In terms of security, CBL-Mariner comes with a hardened kernel, signed updates, ASLR, compiler-based hardening, and tamper-proof registries, among many other features.

How to boot CBL-Mariner using the official ISO

Although Microsoft released the operating system in 2020, the company did not initially offer pre-compiled ISOs. The source code is available on GitHub and people are expected to create the ISO themselves. This situation changed recently, as Microsoft now hosts official versions of CBL-Mariner ISO on its server.

While experienced users can still create a bootable VHDX (or VHD) image from pre-compiled RPMs in the CBL-Mariner package repository, you can also grab the installer disk image in ISO format and easily install the operating system. on a virtualization platform or a real PC.

Step 1: get the ISO

CBL-Mariner ISO is UEFI compliant and can be started on any modern x86-64 PC. The latest version of the ISO can be downloaded from the following link:

In case you want to create the ISO yourself, do the following:

  • Clone the CBL-Mariner GitHub repository using git:
  • git clone
  • Change to the toolkit folder:

CBL-Mariner cd / toolkit

  • Run the ISO build command:

sudo make iso REBUILD_TOOLS = and REBUILD_PACKAGES = n CONFIG_FILE =. / imageconfigs / full.json

  • The resulting ISO can be found at ../out/images/full.

Step 2: prepare the target platform

As mentioned above, CBL-Mariner is not intended to be a daily driver operating system for your PC. It would be better to install it on a hypervisor platform. On Windows, you can use Microsoft’s own Hyper-V. Oracle VM VirtualBox is another cross-platform solution that can be used on Windows, Linux, and macOS. Depending on the host operating system, you can also choose a suitable virtualization product from VMware or Parallels.

In this tutorial, we will use Hyper-V for convenience.

  • Since Hyper-V is built into Windows as an optional feature, we need to enable it first. Home and Home Single Language SKUs are not officially supported by Hyper-V, but it is possible to enable the feature in those editions using this tutorial.
  • Open the Hyper-V Manager application and select Action-> New-> Virtual Machine. Provide a name for your VM and press Next>.
  • Select Generation 1 (VHD) or Generation 2 (VHDX), then press Next>.
  • Change the memory size if you want, then press Next>.
  • Select a virtual switch, then click Next>.
  • Select Create a virtual hard disk, choose a location for your VHD (X), and set the desired Disk Size. Then press Next>.
  • Select Install an operating system from a bootable image file and browse for your CBL-Mariner ISO.
  • Press Finish.

If you have created a generation 2 virtual machine, you need to configure a couple of additional settings:

  • Right click on your virtual machine from Hyper-V Manager.
  • Select the Settings… option.
  • Select Security and under Template: select Microsoft UEFI Certificate Authority.
  • Select Firmware and set the boot order so that DVD is first and HDD is second.
  • Select Apply to apply all changes.

Step 3: installing the operating system

Now that we have prepared the platform, we are ready to install CBL-Mariner on the virtual machine.

  • Right-click on your VM and select the Connect … option to start booting.
  • Select Start.
  • The installation application will give the option to continue in text or graphic mode. In this tutorial, we will choose the latter.
  • There are two types of installations: Core and Full.
  • After choosing your desired flavor, it will ask for typical parameters like username, partitions, etc.
  • When the installation is complete, select reboot to reboot the machine. The installation ISO will be automatically ejected.

Step 4: boot the operating system

As soon as the installation phase is complete, the virtual machine will reboot and then start to start the newly installed operating system from the virtual hard disk. When prompted, log into your CBL-Mariner instance with the username and password provided through the setup application.

That is all! Now you can add additional packages like an SSH server and customize the VM instance according to your needs. For more information on its security features, see CBL-Mariner’s GitHub Security Features List.

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