Several projects expressed interest in reusing Tails to build different live distributions, also called derivatives, to fulfill slightly different goals.

Tails being Free Software this is not only possible but encouraged, because the more people look at our code and work on it, the better it gets. Still, at this time we don't know of any Tails derivative.

Derivatives have been imagined:

  • To include additional features or software that are not available in Tails, for example, to include other cryptocurrency wallets.

  • To have custom branding or configuration, for example, to disable JavaScript by default or disable proprietary firmware.

  • To provide USB images with less or different features, for example, to have a smaller USB image or use the I2P network instead of the Tor network.

Technical and security reasons to avoid creating derivatives

While creating custom USB images of Tails is relatively easy, we believe that maintaining custom USB images on the long run is very complicated, and for the following reasons:

  • We release a new version every 4 weeks which fixes numerous security issues. We also sometimes release unscheduled emergency upgrades to fix critical security vulnerabilites.

    A derivative with custom USB images would have to follow the same release schedule to provide USB images that fix these issues as well.

  • Before we release them, our USB images follow a complex quality assurance process involving systematic peer review of the code, manual and automated tests which are particularly heavy to run.

    A derivative with custom USB images would have to duplicate our quality assurance process and adapt it to its specificities to make sure that it doesn't break any security feature.

  • We offer automatic upgrades which are binary diffs from one USB image to the other.

    A derivative with custom USB images would need a similar process and infrastructure or otherwise disable the automatic upgrades mechanism.

  • The anonymity provided by Tor and Tails works by making everybody look the same, especially on the network. Derivatives should be careful about not breaking this anonymity set or they will provide less anonymity to both its users and Tails users.

  • Derivatives could be tempted to implement some of the features Tails is missing too quickly and hastily.

Other ways to customize Tails

Still, some of the reasons to create Tails derivatives could be solved by relying on our official USB images and customizing them at run time.

For example, derivatives could:

  • Package specific applications in Debian to make them available in Tails as Additional Software.

  • Document how to use specific applications in Tails, for example, using the Persistent Storage.

  • Help us build in Tails other mechanisms that derivatives might need to adapt Tails to their needs, for example, to have persistent DConf settings or additional APT sources.

  • Talk with us to see how we can adapt our USB images and source code to make them easier to reuse for derivatives.

  • To include a piece of software into Tails, talk to us as early as possible so we can provide feedback on how to integrate it.

Legal considerations

  • Tails is an unregistered trademark. The creators of derivatives who would want to distribute modified USB images beyond their personal use would have to use a different name and branding.

  • Tails is licensed as Free Software under the GPL. The creators of derivatives who would want to distribute modified USB images beyond their personal use would have to also distribute their source code under the GPL.