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If i wanted my Linux install to act as non persistent, as in I boot from the hard drive as normal but any changes i make won't save, is it as simple as changing the filesystems to 'r' in fstab? Would I have to have some partitions rw, /var perhaps? I imagine read only /var would throw me tons of errors. Any other partitions I need?
Every live cd/dvd could be usually made to do what you want. That is to use the image of the live cd and save it to your hard drive. The problem is that the normal way is set to root and allows read/write to local disks. You could fix that.
Simply using grub4dos would allow many iso's to be run directly. Almost every how to at pendrivelinux would work too for a hard drive as it does for a usb.
I did a read only setup a few years ago. Just kept looking through the init scripts until I found the place where it remounted root as r/w and commented that out.
I found there was a few things, mostly in var that needed to write so I did a search on how to create a ram drive, set that up early in the init and then would link the files there and touch them in the init so they were created in the ramdisk each time. was actually pretty easy.