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Overview of ISO 9660 hybrid filesystems as libisofs output
by Thomas Schmitt -
Libburnia project -
07 Jun 2012
The overall framework for the filesystem images produced by libisofs is given
by ECMA-119, which is also known as ISO 9660. The hybrid aspect is the
opportunity to add access structures of other filesystems.
The framework suggests a logical block size of 2048 and divides the space of
filesystem blocks into several parts:
- The System Area. Beginning at the image start block.
32 KiB of arbitrary data, which are not considered to be
part of structure or payload of the ISO image.
- The Volume Descriptors. Beginning at image start block + 16.
The Primary Volume Descriptor block is the starting point of the ECMA-119
tree of directories and files. Among other information, it records the size
of the image block space. Other descriptor blocks may lead to boot images
or to the directory trees of add-on filesystems (e.g. Joliet).
- The area of directory structures and data file content.
libisofs divides it into two sub areas:
- Directory structures.
They record the file names and attributes of the ECMA-119 tree and
of eventual add-on filesystem.
- Data file content.
The blocks in this area are referred by zero or more file entries in the
directory trees. They store the data content or regular files. Start block
address of a file and exact byte count are stored in the trees.
libisofs may slide-in some data blocks which are neither part of the structure
nor part of file content. See doc/checksums.txt, Checksum Array, Checksum Tags.
In the same way, the superblocks of other filesystems could be inserted into
the image.
The only block addresses which are fixely occupied are image_start+16 (Primary
Volume Descriptor) and image_start+17 (first possible position of Volume
Descriptor Set Terminator).
Nevertheless, libisofs considers as reserved the blocks image_start+16 to
image_start+31, because add-ons like El Torito, Joliet, or ISO 9660:1999
need their own volume descriptors stored before the volume descriptor set
terminator block. Only one volume descriptor per add-on filesystem may be
written there, and its exact position will be chosen by libisofs.
The System Area in image_start to image_start+15 may be used for a partition
table or the superblock of an additional filesystem structure.
Another place for superblocks is after image_start+31. E.g. UDF stores its
Anchor at block address 256, or at media_size - 1 - 256, or at media_size - 1.
In both cases the superblocks would point to filesystem-specific data which
are stored in the area of directory structures. These data would then refer to
the same file contents as the ECMA-119 directory structure.
What libisofs needs to get implemented for a new add-on filesystem:
The emerging overall image is represented by an Ecma119Image object.
This is an instance of quite fat struct ecma119_image which, among many
others, holds some parameters which are specific to the implemented add-on
filesystems. It is defined in libisofs/ecma119.h.
It gets programmed by applications via API calls for IsoWriteOpts which is
defined as struct iso_write_opts in libisofs/ecma119.h.
The content of the System Area may be submitted opaquely via
Ecma119Image.system_area_data or it may get generated underneath
libisofs/system_area.c:iso_write_system_area() by a specific "System area type"
in Ecma119Image.system_area_options. The latter happens when the block adresses
of all components, directories, and files are determined. (One may have to
dig deep in the graph of objects to obtain everything.)
If a new system area type is needed, then it has to be documented in
libisofs/ecma119.h at struct ecma119_image.system_area_options and in
libisofs/libisofs.h at call iso_write_opts_set_system_area(). See e.g.
"MIPS Big Endian Volume Header".
libisofs/system_area.h offers an inner API to define partitions for Apple
Partition Map (APM) and for GPT from within the compute_data_blocks methods
of the IsoImageWriter objects (see below). If both get combined, then
APM block size must be 2048. In this case, the partition entries of APM
and GPT overwrite the following bytes of the submitted
0x0000 to 0x0007 by { 0x45, 0x52, 0x08 0x00, 0xeb, 0x02, 0xff, 0xff}
0x0200 to 0x02ff by GPT header block
0x0800 to APM_end by APM blocks (APM_end = 2048*(Num_APM_partitions + 1)
APM_end+1 to 0x7fff by GPT entries
This offers still room for a PC-BIOS MBR which has essentially no-op commands
in its first 8 bytes.
If no GPT is desired, then the bytes after APM_end stay unaltered.
If more modesty with overwriting is needed, then this would have to be caused
by either a specialized system area type or by additional elements of the
inner API for APM and GPT.
The layout of the areas above image_start+16 is defined in function
libisofs/ecma119.c:ecma119_image_new(). This is done by creating and
registering writer objects.
Writers are instances of typedef struct Iso_Image_Writer IsoImageWriter.
The struct is defined in libisofs/writer.h.
The Joliet writer is a comprehensive example of an add-on filesystem writer.
First it gets counted for the allocation of the registration array
if (target->joliet) {
Later it gets created and registered
if (target->joliet) {
ret = joliet_writer_create(target);
The function libisofs/joliet.c:joliet_writer_create() accounts for one block
that will hold the Joliet volume descriptor
/* we need the volume descriptor */
Not all add-on filesystems will need a volume descriptor. Joliet does.
joliet_writer_create() further generates a tree of JolietNode objects by
traversing the image model tree of IsoNode objects.
ret = joliet_tree_create(target);
If a JolietNode represents a regular file then it refers to an IsoFileSrc
object, which represents its data content in the emerging image.
struct Iso_File_Src is defined in libisofs/filesrc.h.
libisofs will call the methods of the writer object when it computes the
block addresses of the various image components, when it writes volume
descriptors, when it writes directory trees, and when it finally disposes the
Ecma119Image object.
Before calling the first method, it will publish the number of data file
content blocks in Ecma119Image.filesrc_blocks.
The method IsoImageWriter.compute_data_blocks() has to predict the storage
needs in the area of directory trees.
It computes and records Joliet-specific addresses and sizes:
Ecma119Image.joliet_ndirs, Ecma119Image.joliet_l_path_table_pos,
Ecma119Image.joliet_m_path_table_pos , Ecma119Image.joliet_path_table_size
Ecma119Image.j_part_l_path_table_pos, Ecma119Image.j_part_m_path_table_pos
as well as the sizes and block addresses of Joliet directories.
It increases the counter of virtually written blocks:
which is used to determine the start addresses of the image parts and
finally gives the overall image size.
The method IsoImageWriter.write_vol_desc() composes and writes the Joliet
volume descriptor. (Such writing is not necessarily needed for add-on
IsoImageWriter.write_data() writes the records of the Joliet directory tree.
This has to be exactly the same number of blocks by which Ecma119Image.curblock
was increased during IsoImageWriter.compute_data_blocks().
When it gets called, the number of content data extents, their sizes, and their
addresses are known: JolietNode.IsoFileSrc->nsections, ->sections[].size,
struct iso_file_section is defined in libisofs/libisofs.h.
IsoImageWriter.free_data() disposes the writer and the JolietNode tree.
Further examples for add-on writers are those created by:
hfsplus_writer_create() is in charge for initial part of an
embedded HFS+ filesystem
hfsplus_tail_writer_create() is in charge for trailing part of HFS+
after the data file content area
gpt_tail_writer_create() is in charge for the backup GPT near the
end of the ISO image
This text is under
Copyright (c) 2012 Thomas Schmitt <>
It shall only be modified in sync with libisofs. Please mail change requests to
mailing list <> or to the copyright holder in private.
If you make use of the license to derive modified versions of libisofs then
you are entitled to modify this text under that same license.