Convert a Mender Debian image


The mender-convert utility can be used to convert existing disk images for use with Mender. It will generate a new disk image with two rootfs partitions, install a bootloader that supports booting either of the root partitions and install the Mender client and its configuration.

The output of mender-convert is:

  • The converted disk image described above ready to be flashed into an SD card.
  • A Mender Artifact formatted update to be deployed remotely to devices running Mender through the Mender Server.
  • An ext4 image of the modified filesystem for advanced users.

Recommended workflow

The recommended workflow for using mender-convert is to rely on a golden disk image that should be replicated in a robust way to many devices. The steps in this workflow are:

  1. Install a fresh OS to a device storage (typically an SD card)
  2. Boot the device, log in, and make modifications in run-time, e.g. install packages, change configurations
  3. Power off the device with the (now updated) golden image
  4. Copy the contents of the golden image back to your workstation (e.g. using dd)
  5. Generate a Mender Artifact and disk image from this golden image using mender-convert (continue reading for details)
  6. Deploy the Artifact to all devices

Note that your golden device or SD card is not running Mender and is not modified during deployments. It is simply the "source" for generating the Artifacts that you deploy to the devices in the field.

In order to create another OTA update, the device with the golden image is booted again, i.e. the steps from 2. onwards are carried out again.

mender-convert is currently tested on BeagleBone, Raspberry Pi 3 and Raspberry Pi 4, using official Debian or Raspberry Pi OS images. The intention is to extend and test mender-convert to cover more boards and OSes.


Enough free disk space on your workstation

The amount of disk space needed depends on the size of your original raw disk image. You should have at least 4 x the size of the raw disk image available. For example, if your raw disk image is 4 GB, you should have at least 16 GB free disk space on your workstation where you are running mender-convert.

A golden raw disk image

As described in the workflow above, you need a raw disk image as input to mender-convert. This is the image that contains the root file system you want to deploy to many devices. Note that this must be a complete disk image.

Board manufacturers typically provide a disk image for you to start with so you can download and use mender-convert directly on this image.

If you have made run-time modifications on your device and want to copy the image from an existing SD card, insert it into your workstation and run the following command:

dd if=<DEVICE> of=golden-image-1.img bs=1M conv=fdatasync

Replace <DEVICE> with the location of your SD card. Normally this would be

something like /dev/mmcblk0 or /dev/sdb.


Docker Engine 17.03

Follow the documentation to install Docker Engine, version 17.03 or later.

Docker permissions

Invoking the docker commands may fail when the local user has insufficient permissions to connect to the docker daemon. In Ubuntu 18.04, the user must be a member of the docker group to be able to access it. Please check the documentation for your host OS if you encounter connection issues with docker.

Download mender-convert

Clone mender-convert from the official repository:

git clone -b 2.2.0

Build the mender-convert container image

Change directory to where you downloaded mender-convert:

cd mender-convert

Then, run the following command to build the container with all required dependencies for mender-convert:


Configure the Mender client server configuration

The easiest, and most straight-forward way, is to integrate the client with hosted Mender:

Using hosted Mender

./scripts/ \
    --output-dir ${PWD}/rootfs_overlay_demo \
    --tenant-token "Paste token from"

However, there are additional scripts in the scripts/ directory to enable working with a local demo server, or a production server.

Convert a raw disk image

Move your golden disk image into an input subdirectory:

mkdir -p input
mv <PATH_TO_MY_GOLDEN_IMAGE> input/golden-image-1.img

Use the mender-convert container image

Run mender-convert from inside the container with your desired options, e.g.

MENDER_ARTIFACT_NAME=release-1 ./docker-mender-convert \
    --disk-image input/golden-image-1.img \
    --config configs/raspberrypi3_config \
    --overlay rootfs_overlay_demo/

Conversion will take 10-30 minutes, depending on image size and resources available. In the meantime can watch work/convert.log for progress and diagnostics information.

After it finishes, you can find your images in the deploy directory on your host machine.

Found errors? Think you can improve this documentation? Simply click the Edit link at the top of the page, and then the icon on Github to submit changes.