Mounting an encrypted ZFS dataset at boot on Debian 11 Bullseye

Posted: 2021-11-09 16:43:36 by Alasdair Keyes

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I've recently got myself another HP Microserver which has space for 4 disks so I decided setup Debian 11 on one disk and use the other three to create a ZFS zpool for data storage.

The last time I'd experimented with ZFS on Linux (ZoL) on a virtual machine, encryption wasn't available, but it is now so I enabled if for my dataset. This is fine when the dataset is created, as it will auto-mount, but it doesn't auto-mount on reboot as it's encrypted.

It turns out ZFS handles the process of obtaining the encryption key and mounting the volume as two distinct processes. This means that when the ZFS mount service starts, it will skip mounting the encrypted volume because there is no key available to it.

The Linux standard dm-crypt/LUKS encryption requires you to update /etc/crypttab with each encrypted volume on the system and it will prompt for a password at boot time. ZFS does have the ability to use a file as the encryption key, but as I already have to enter a password for the OS drive, I was looking for do the same for the ZFS dataset.

After some investigation I found the solution on the Arch Linux Wiki ( They provide a snippet for a systemd service file that can be set to run before the ZFS mount service to ask for the encryption keys.

It did require tweaking as the path to the ZFS binary is different on Debian. In short, create the file /etc/systemd/system/zfs-load-key.service with the following content...

Description=Load ZFS encryption keys

ExecStart=/usr/sbin/zfs load-key -a


Once that is done run the following commands to refresh systemd with the new service and then set it to run on boot.

systemctl daemon-reload
systemctl enable zfs-load-key.service

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