Some Craft applications, such as Rockcraft, include entire base filesystems in addition to the usual part-generated payload. The OVERLAY step provides the means to modify the base filesystem.

Overlay Parameters

A part has three parameters that can be used to adjust how the overlay step works: overlay-packages, overlay-script and overlay-filter. overlay-packages and overlay (the filter parameter) behave much the same way as the related parameters on the STAGE step. overlay-script likewise behaves similarly to override-stage, including having access to the craftctl command.

An example parts section with overlay parameters looks as follows:

    plugin: nil
      - ed
    overlay-script: |
      rm -f ${CRAFT_OVERLAY}/usr/bin/vi ${CRAFT_OVERLAY}/usr/bin/vim*
      rm -f ${CRAFT_OVERLAY}/usr/bin/emacs*
      rm -f ${CRAFT_OVERLAY}/bin/nano
      - bin
      - usr/bin

After running this part, the overlay layer (and the final package) will only contain ed as an editor, with vi/vim, emacs, and nano all having been removed.

Overlay Visibility

By default, a part does not get access to the filesystem overlay. However, if a part provides any overlay parameters or depends on another part that provides overlay parameters, the location of the overlay is made available in the ${CRAFT_OVERLAY} environment variable. For example:

    plugin: nil
    override-build: |
      echo "${CRAFT_OVERLAY}" > "${CRAFT_PART_INSTALL}/empty"
    plugin: nil
    overlay-script: |
      echo "${CRAFT_OVERLAY}" > "${CRAFT_PART_INSTALL}/direct"
    plugin: nil
    after: [direct-overlay-access]
    override-build: |
      echo "${CRAFT_OVERLAY}" > "${CRAFT_PART_INSTALL}/indirect"

Because no-overlay-access has no access to the overlay directory, the no-overlay-access part will fail to build, as the CRAFT_OVERLAY environment variable is unset. Removing that attempted access will make this file build.


Each part has an overlay layer, which acts on a shared storage area in the processing order of parts. If the part doesn’t specify any overlay parameters, this overlay is empty. The overlay’s integrity is checked with a checksum defined by the following diagram:

Diagram for generating the overlay checksum.

Each layer’s checksum is derived from the combination of the layer’s properties and the checksum of the layer below it. As a result, a change to any layer will require the recalculation of the overlay for all layers above it, and an update to the base layer results in the recalculation of all overlays. The order of layers is determined by the Part processing order.

Filesystem Mutations

Mutations to the filesystem may include changes caused by the installation of OS packages (including package database updates), the execution of user scripts in the overlay filesystem context, or file filters.

The outcome of the overlay step for each part includes solely the modifications made by that part to underlying layers. As a consequence, if no modifications are made, the result of the overlay step is empty and the result is the same as the four-step lifecycle without overlays. Subtractive changes such as file removals are allowed and handled through special whiteout files conforming to the OCI image layer specification.

Overlay Processing

Step Execution

Each layer in the overlay step is generated under the following rules:

  1. The overlay step for previous parts must have been executed before processing the overlay step for a part.

  2. If the part declares no overlay parameters, its layer in the overlay step is empty.

  3. Otherwise, enable the mechanism that handles filesystem layering, and assemble the layer stack up to the part being processed.

  4. Install overlay packages on top of the layer stack, and execute the user script if defined.

  5. Disable the mechanism that handles filesystem layering.

  6. Generate the overlay step state.

Staging Overlay Files

When executing the stage step for a part that declares overlay content, the consolidated content generated in the overlay step is added to the common stage area along with artifacts resulting from the part’s build step. Files from overlay and part install may overlap as long as they don’t conflict. Conflicting files can be resolved using stage or overlay file filters.

Staging any part that declares overlay content cause the consolidated overlay content be staged. The overlay files remain in the stage area until all parts that specify overlay parameters are cleaned. Because multiple parts can modify the same file, only the final version of the file is staged. This final version, not the intermediate version, of the file is what is made available to relevant parts during the build step.


Overlay files may be adjusted to work better on a non-root filesystem environment (such as converting absolute paths to relative path in symbolic link targets), but must not be changed in a way that precludes it from running correctly on a root filesystem environment (such as setting an absolute path to a non-root environment in a configuration file).

Overlay Package Installation

Overlay packages are downloaded in the pull stage into a package cache area and made available for installation during the overlay stage, from sources configured in the overlay base image. The package cache layer may be placed between the base layer and the layer for the 1st part, using the logic defined in Layers.

The package cache layer is not visible as part of the final overlay filesystem as seen by other parts during the build step, nor are its files migrated from the build to the stage step. This means that the package cache layer may be removed from the layer stack after the overlay packages are installed without affecting subsequent steps.

Note that the package installation process runs in the context of the overlay filesystem (i.e. considering the base filesystem as the root filesystem) so that package maintainer scripts are always executed correctly.

Overlay State

The overlay state for a particular part includes the overlay script and any overlay filesets. The list of overlay packages is included in the state of the pull step, so if the list of overlay packages is changed, the pull step for the part will re-run. If the overlay is visible to a part, the overlay integrity code is added to future steps of the part, ensuring proper invalidation of those steps if overlay data changes.

Step Invalidation