Merge the /usr Directory of a Gentoo Installation


The /usr merge, sometimes also known as /usr move, refers to a process on a Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS) compliant system, which most GNU/Linux distributions are, that moves all contents under /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin into /usr/bin, /usr/lib, /usr/lib64 and /usr/sbin respectively, and then replace each of /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin with a symbolic link to the directory with the same name under /usr. More information about /usr merge is available on and Fedora Wiki.

The trend of /usr merge in GNU/Linux distributions seemed to be started by Fedora in 2012, and then, we can see that many well-known and popular distributions, including Debian and Arch Linux, have made the move. It was similar to the wide adoption of systemd in GNU/Linux distributions, both of which were started by Red Hat’s desire to shape all modern Linux-based systems at their discretion and Lennart Poettering’s support, then made their debut in Fedora, and finally accepted by other distributions.

Gentoo, being one of the few distributions that still do not use systemd as the default init system, is also absent from the group of distributions that have completed the /usr merge. By default, in the root file system of a Gentoo installation, /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin are still standalone directories instead of symbolic links. But judging from a split-usr global Portage USE flag, there might have already been plans to merge /usr in Gentoo. As of the current revision of this post was published, the USE flag was forcibly declared, to indicate that /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin were still split from /usr; in the future, the USE flag might become optional when Gentoo is fully ready for the /usr merge.

This article will show you how to merge /usr on a Gentoo installation now, when it is yet to be officially supported. It is by no means suggesting that /usr split is a definitely beneficial decision, and the advantages of /usr merge are not the subject of discussion here. The sole purpose of this post is to help people who are interested in making the merge to do it.

Though it is possible, merging /usr is not officially supported by Gentoo yet! Unless you are somewhat confident in resolving arbitrary issues on your system, particularly those pertinent to system file paths and symbolic links, it is not advisable to merge /usr on Gentoo.

It is already known that a few packages cannot be installed correctly on a Gentoo system with /usr merged, like dev-ml/dune. Fixing those package installation issues will typically require you to modify the package’s ebuild, so unless you know how to do this right, merging /usr is not a good idea.

Variants of /usr Merge

It is worth mentioning that there are two different ways of merging /usr that can be found in various GNU/Linux distributions:

  1. Merge /bin into /usr/bin, /lib into /usr/lib, /lib64 into /usr/lib64, and /sbin into /usr/sbin. This kind of merge is what Fedora and Debian do.

    $ ls -dl /bin /lib /lib64 /sbin /usr/sbin
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    7 Dec 13 14:11 /bin -> usr/bin
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    7 Dec 13 14:11 /lib -> usr/lib
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    9 Dec 13 14:11 /lib64 -> usr/lib64
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    8 Dec 13 14:11 /sbin -> usr/sbin
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root 7006 Dec 26 09:50 /usr/sbin
  2. Perform not only the merges mentioned above but also another one that moves contents of /usr/sbin into /usr/bin. Arch Linux merges /usr in this way, and from the ebuild for Gentoo package sys-apps/baselayout, which already supports the split-usr USE flag, this is likely to be how Gentoo merges /usr too.

    $ ls -dl /bin /lib /lib64 /sbin /usr/sbin
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 7 Dec 13 14:11 /bin -> usr/bin
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 7 Dec 13 14:11 /lib -> usr/lib
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 Dec 13 14:11 /lib64 -> usr/lib64
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 7 Dec 13 14:11 /sbin -> usr/bin
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 3 Dec 13 14:11 /usr/sbin -> bin

The command output snippets above are only for demonstrating the difference of /usr/sbin in both methods of merging /usr; they might slightly differ from the actual file system layout you might encounter.

This article will mainly focus on the first way because the resulting merged file system layout is what I am personally more familiar with, and I prefer that layout because I have used Fedora and Debian, but not Arch Linux. Even if you would like to perform the second type of merge, this should not matter too much because it is the way Gentoo devises. Doing the first type of merge, on the other hand, is actually a little more complicated because of this. If I provide you a guide for a more difficult goal, then you should be able to use it to achieve an easier goal, though you might need to slightly change some commands for your special situation.


  • The /usr merge can be performed either during installation of a new system or on an existing installation. The steps slightly differ, and this article will cover both cases in two separate sections.

  • Please make sure you have another bootable drive (e.g. a USB drive with Gentoo minimal installation CD image applied) available before you start. Obviously, if you are installing Gentoo, you must have had such a drive for installation. If you are doing /usr merge on an existing system, you will need to shut down the system and modify file system layout for the merge while the system is not running, so you need another bootable media with an environment from which you can work on an existing Gentoo installation.

Merge During System Installation

The following instruction assumes you are following installation steps outlined in the Gentoo Handbook.

  1. After you have unpacked the stage tarball under the “Installing stage3” step, enter the extracted usr directory, and re-extract ./bin, ./lib, ./lib64 and ./sbin from the stage tarball.

    livecd /mnt/gentoo # cd usr
    livecd /mnt/gentoo/usr # tar xpvf ../stage3-*.tar.xz --xattrs-include='*.*' --numeric-owner ./{bin,lib,lib64,sbin}
  2. Go back to the parent directory, and replace each of bin, lib, lib64 and sbin with symbolic link to the directory under usr with the same name.

    livecd /mnt/gentoo/usr # cd ..
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # rm -rf bin lib lib64 sbin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/bin bin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/lib lib
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/lib64 lib64
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/sbin sbin

    If you wish to have the second type of /usr merge, you should additionally move everything in usr/sbin into usr/bin and replace usr/sbin with a symbolic link to the usr/bin directory:

    livecd /mnt/gentoo # cd usr
    livecd /mnt/gentoo/usr # mv sbin/* bin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo/usr # rmdir sbin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo/usr # ln -s bin sbin

    The result of this operation is something like the following. Note that bin, lib, lib64 and sbin are now symbolic links:

    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ls -l
    total 16
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    7 Dec 28 04:07 bin -> usr/bin
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 boot
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root 1686 Dec 23 05:25 dev
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root 1546 Dec 23 06:32 etc
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 home
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    7 Dec 28 04:07 lib -> usr/lib
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    9 Dec 28 04:07 lib64 -> usr/lib64
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 media
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 mnt
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 opt
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root    0 Dec 23 03:28 proc
    drwx------ 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 root
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 run
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    8 Dec 28 04:08 sbin -> usr/sbin
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   10 Dec 23 05:20 sys
    drwxrwxrwt 1 root root   10 Dec 23 06:32 tmp
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root  128 Dec 23 05:29 usr
    drwxr-xr-x 1 root root   66 Dec 23 05:20 var
  3. Continue to follow Gentoo Handbook’s instruction, until you have chrooted into /mnt/gentoo.

  4. Find broken symbolic links under /usr by using find -L /usr -type l. The command’s output will show all broken links.

    (chroot) livecd / # find -L /usr -type l

    Here, /usr/sbin/resolvconf and /usr/bin/awk are broken links – they point to path that does not exist. This can cause problems when other programs and scripts need to use the files pointed by those links. For instance, awk is a very important program required for compiling many other packages; since /usr/bin/awk is a broken symbolic link, the awk command is unavailable, and you might have trouble installing packages that require awk to build.

    (chroot) livecd / # /usr/bin/awk
    bash: /usr/bin/awk: No such file or directory

    To fix a broken symbolic link, first enter the directory containing it, then use ls -l to find the file that link points to.

    (chroot) livecd / # cd /usr/bin/
    (chroot) livecd /usr/bin # ls -l awk
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 15 Dec 23 05:26 awk -> ../usr/bin/gawk

    The awk symbolic link was supposed to be under /bin, and /bin/../usr/bin/gawk, which is equivalent to /usr/bin/gawk, is a valid path. Because it is now moved to /usr, and /usr/bin/../usr/bin/gawk, i.e. /usr/usr/bin/gawk, does not exist, the symbolic link is thus broken. To fix it, remove the old link and create a new one with correct target:

    (chroot) livecd /usr/bin # rm awk
    (chroot) livecd /usr/bin # ln -s gawk awk

    Apply the same procedure for /usr/sbin/resolvconf:

    (chroot) livecd / # cd /usr/sbin/
    (chroot) livecd /usr/sbin # ls -l resolvconf
    lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 21 Dec 23 06:28 resolvconf -> ../usr/bin/resolvectl
    (chroot) livecd /usr/sbin # rm resolvconf
    (chroot) livecd /usr/sbin # ln -s ../bin/resolvectl resolvconf

    If you run find -L /usr -type l again now, nothing should be printed, which indicates that all broken symbolic links have been fixed.

    find -L -type l is the panacea for finding broken symbolic links. find is a basic but powerful command that is usually preinstalled on most GNU/Linux distributions. There is no need to install other packages like symlinks for this purpose!

    The find(1) manual page says:

            -type c
                File is of type c:
                l      symbolic link; this is never true if the -L option or the
                       -follow  option is in effect, unless the symbolic link is
                       broken.  If you want to search for symbolic links when -L
                       is in effect, use -xtype.
  5. Mask the split-usr USE flag, so packages can know the current system has its /usr merged if they support it. Declaring -split-usr is not sufficient to mask the USE flag because split-usr is forcibly enabled; you need to mask the USE flag in /etc/portage/profile/use.mask instead:

    # /etc/portage/profile/use.mask
    # Mask the USE flag for split /usr file system layout

    Please visit this Gentoo Wiki page for more information.

  6. Complete the remaining steps in the Gentoo Handbook as instructed. Be sure to update the @world set to apply the split-usr USE flag change.

    When you run a command installed to /sbin or /usr/sbin, you may see a “command not found” error message. For example, if you choose GRUB as the bootloader, you will need to run /usr/sbin/grub-install, but an error will occur when it is invoked. You can use the whereis program to confirm that the command is installed to /usr/sbin.

    (chroot) livecd ~ # grub-install --target=x86_64-efi --efi-directory=/boot
    bash: grub-install: command not found
    (chroot) livecd ~ # whereis grub-install
    grub-install: /usr/sbin/grub-install /usr/share/man/man8/grub-install.8.bz2

    The reason for this error is that /usr/sbin is not added to the PATH environment variable:

    (chroot) livecd ~ # printenv PATH

    To complete the installation, you can use the quickest way to solve this issue, which is to add /usr/sbin temporarily to PATH by running export PATH="/usr/sbin:$PATH". This needs to be done every time when you start a new shell. For a permanent solution, please look at the “Permanently Add /usr/sbin to PATH section below.

    (chroot) livecd ~ # export PATH="/usr/sbin:$PATH"
    (chroot) livecd ~ # printenv PATH
    (chroot) livecd ~ # grub-install --target=x86_64-efi --efi-directory=/boot
    Installing for x86_64-efi platform.
    Installation finished. No error reported.

Merge on an Installed System

  1. Boot your computer from the bootable drive you prepared, and mount your system’s root partition. The subsequent steps assume your root partition is mounted to /mnt/gentoo. Switch to the directory where the partition is mounted.

    livecd ~ # cd /mnt/gentoo
  2. Using the \cp command with -r, --preserve=all and --remove-destination options, copy everything inside bin, lib, lib64 and sbin into usr/bin, usr/lib, usr/lib64 and usr/sbin respectively.

    livecd /mnt/gentoo # \cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination bin/* usr/bin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # \cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination lib/* usr/lib
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # \cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination lib64/* usr/lib64
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # \cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination sbin/* usr/sbin

    The -v option for cp allows you to see the copying progress. Feel free to omit it if you do not need it.

    Adding a backslash \ in front of cp ignores any alias set for cp. If you are using the Gentoo minimal installation CD image, the default alias for cp is cp -i, which lets cp ask for your confirmation on every file being overwritten.

    livecd ~ # alias cp
    alias cp='cp -i'

    Using \cp instead of cp ignores the alias. Alternatively, you may also use unalias cp to remove that alias and continue to invoke cp without \ in front, or pipe in a lot of y’s with yes | cp ....

    livecd /mnt/gentoo # unalias cp
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination bin/* usr/bin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination lib/* usr/lib
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination lib64/* usr/lib64
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination sbin/* usr/sbin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # yes | cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination bin/* usr/bin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # yes | cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination lib/* usr/lib
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # yes | cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination lib64/* usr/lib64
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # yes | cp -rv --preserve=all --remove-destination sbin/* usr/sbin
  3. Replace each of bin, lib, lib64 and sbin with symbolic link to the directory under usr with the same name.

    livecd /mnt/gentoo # rm -rf bin lib lib64 sbin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/bin bin
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/lib lib
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/lib64 lib64
    livecd /mnt/gentoo # ln -s usr/sbin sbin

    If you wish to have the second type of /usr merge, you should additionally move everything in sbin and usr/sbin into usr/bin, and replace usr/sbin with a symbolic link to the usr/bin directory. Please see here for commands you may use to do this.

  4. Restart your computer and boot into your system (not the bootable drive). As long as you have correctly copied the contents of /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin into /usr and established the symbolic links, your system should boot up normally.

  5. Fix broken symbolic links under /usr by following step 4 for the method to merge /usr during system installation. However, you do not need to manually fix all broken symbolic links:

    • If you use systemd and dracut, you may see some broken links whose names are something like dracut-*.service. These links can be easily fixed by reinstalling sys-kernel/dracut after systemd is rebuilt with split-usr USE flag masked.

    • It should be fine to leave /usr/lib/modules/*.*.*/build and /usr/lib/modules/*.*.*/source unfixed.

    Any other broken symbolic links, like /usr/bin/awk and /usr/sbin/resolvconf, still require manual intervention.

  6. Mask the split-usr USE flag by following step 5 for the method to merge /usr during system installation.

  7. Update the @world set of Portage to rebuild packages that had the split-usr USE flag enabled.

    # emerge --ask --update --deep --newuse @world

    If you are using systemd and dracut, you can rebuild dracut now to fix the broken dracut-*.service symbolic links. Run the following command only if you intend to use dracut, because otherwise it will install dracut onto your system.

    # emerge --ask --oneshot sys-kernel/dracut

Additional Tasks

After following the steps above, your file system is /usr-merged, and the operating system should still function as if /usr is not merged. There are some additional tasks which would not cause system to malfunction if you chose not to perform them, but they fix minor issues which would arise after /usr merge.

Permanently Add /usr/sbin to PATH

This task is not required if you are using the second variant of /usr merge.

As mentioned briefly when discussing how Gentoo intends to merge /usr, /usr/sbin is planned to be merged into /usr/bin. If you look carefully at the ebuild for sys-apps/baselayout, you may find that when the split-usr USE flag is disabled, /usr/sbin is removed from the PATH environment variable, because every file that was supposed to be under /usr/sbin is now in /usr/bin, which is already in PATH.

However, if you are doing the first kind of /usr merge, this is not the desired result. Executables under /usr/sbin are not moved in this case, but /usr/sbin is removed from PATH if we disable the split-usr USE flag, so we cannot directly invoke any command installed to that location without prepending /usr/sbin/ to the front of the command name!

The way I suggest to add /usr/sbin back to PATH is to define it globally with a file under /etc/env.d. Create a file with any name you like (e.g. 50baselayout-sbin) under that path, and add the following PATH and ROOTPATH definitions:

# /etc/env.d/50baselayout-sbin


In this example, I have added not only /usr/sbin but also /usr/local/sbin to PATH because /usr/local/sbin is removed from PATH if split-usr is disabled for sys-apps/baselayout too.

Then, update your environment to apply the change:

# /usr/sbin/env-update
$ source /etc/profile

For more information about using the /etc/env.d directory, please refer to this Gentoo Handbook section covering it.

You may see a warning message like the following one when you update or uninstall a package with emerge:

 * One or more symlinks to directories have been preserved in order to
 * ensure that files installed via these symlinks remain accessible. This
 * indicates that the mentioned symlink(s) may be obsolete remnants of an
 * old install, and it may be appropriate to replace a given symlink with
 * the directory that it points to.
 * 	/bin
 * 	/lib64
 * 	/sbin

This kind of messages is expected, because /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin are indeed symbolic links rather than directories now.

If you are interested in suppressing those messages, you may add the following line to /etc/portage/make.conf:

UNINSTALL_IGNORE="/bin /lib /lib64 /sbin"