Revision 3 as of 2006-02-25 00:30:02

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To support low level diskless clients some kind of nework based swap service is needed to make even booting possible. Ubuntu LTSP supports nbd (Network Block Device) swapping through the nbd-server and nbd-client packages. Sadly these packages currently need a fair amount of manual setup. Scope of this spec is to solve this problem and modify the two packages so a fully automatic network swapping is guaranteed if you just install the ndb-server and nbd-client packages on the machines


There are a lot of older machines out there, and one of the huge selling points of any thin client GNU/Linux solution will be to use existing, older hardware that's unable to be used with other operating systems. Developing countries, schools, non-profits, and cost-conscious companies will all be interested in taking advantage of hardware they already own. Beyond the usage of LTSP, this implementation can indeed be used in other context as well, it might be helpful for netbooted computing clusters or even just to make ubuntu work on another low powered machine in your local network. Since NBD is not restricted to swap, even other areas of blockdevice related interaction would be possible.

Use Cases

Will has an old lab with a bunch of old Pentium 120's with 32 megabytes of memory. He's been informed that to upgrade his current operating system that he bought in 1998, to the current one will be both expensive and painful, as it will require him to replace all of his lab machines. However, he hears about Edubuntu on Slashdot, and downloads a CD, and within an hour, he's got it installed on a spare file server. He shows his boss the shiny new lab with great educational software without having to upgrade a single workstations memory, or buy a software license.

Hans is working on an embedded thin client kiosk solution to be used in homeless shelters in a developing country. Money's tight, being a startup, and the kiosk portal's a web based solution, but he needs something to power the minimal kiosk machine, thanks to the fully automatic swap server his 32MB embedded clients will work right away with ubuntu LTSP.

Wilmas husband has a home network with several PCs. To give Wilma an opportunity to have her own PC, he assembled a machine from his spare parts with a harddisk that is just able to carry xubuntu on the disk. Instead of loosing valuable diskspace on this machine, Wilmas husband just installed nbd-server on his powerful machine and nbd-client on his wifes PC now the low profile machine will just use swap space on the powerful one.



  • The nbd-server needs to be modified to automatically create a swapfile on the fly if a client connects to it, so that if nbd-server is run through inetd with a commandline option enabling this autocreation of files, a swap client can connect right away without any initial configuration on the server.
  • The nbd-server package should get assigned a default port in /etc/services for ubuntu (there seems to be no standarization on a specific port yet, ltsp.org uses 9210 for their swapd). This will make easy inetd integration possible.
  • Code needs to be added to nbd-server to clean up the swap files after the connection is done.
  • The authentication mechanism of nbd-server should get enhanced to support the authentication of subnets instead of doing single host only authentication.


  • Through the standarization on one port, a wrapper or even a code enhancement to nbd-client for server autodetection would be possible.
  • The client could get either a non blocking wrapper in the initscript that sends a broadcast ping to determine available hosts, and then checks these hosts for nbd service availability or it could get a directly implemented commandline option (which would most likely bloat the client code a bit) that achieves the same.
  • The initscript of nbd-client should also see enhancement to use mkswap and swapon automatically to create a clean swapspace in case a "swap" option is set in the nbd-client configuration.