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Installing Debian GNU/Linux 2.1 For Intel x86 - Chapter 5
Methods for Installing Debian


As you initially install Debian, there are several steps that you shall undergo, in order:

  1. booting the installation system
  2. initial system configuration
  3. installing the base system
  4. booting the newly installed base system
  5. installing the rest of the system

Each step may have multiple methods. Note that different platforms will have different methods available to it; this document only describes the methods available for Intel x86.

Booting the Debian installation system, the first step, can be accomplished with the following media:

These different choices are described in Choosing Initial Boot Media, Section 5.1.1. The first boot is sometimes the hardest, depending on your hardware. It is described in it's own section, Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6.

Once you've booted into Linux, the dbootstrap program will launch and guide you through the second step, the initial system configuration. This step is described in detail in Using dbootstrap for Initial System Configuration, Chapter 7.

The ``Debian base system'' is a core set of packages which are required to run Debian in a minimal, stand-alone fashion. Once you have configured and installed the base system, your machine can ``stand on its own''. The Debian base system can be installed from the following media: floppies, hard disk, CD-ROM, or from an NFS server. dbootstrap will perform this installation; it is described in ``Install the Base System'', Section 7.14.

The final step is the installation of the remainder of the Debian system. This would include the applications and documents that you actually use on your computer, such as the X Window System, editors, shells, and development environments. The rest of the Debian system can be installed from CD-ROM or any mirror of the Debian archive (on or off the Internet, via HTTP, FTP, or NFS). At this point, you'll be using the standard Debian package management tools, such as dselect or apt-get. This step is described in Installing the Rest of Your System, Section 7.26.

Note that the media you use for one step and the media used for another step do not need to be the same. That is, you can boot from the Rescue Floppy, install the base system from NFS, and then install the remainder of the system from the Internet. If you're downloading the system from the archive, you'll generally boot and install the base system from floppies, installing the complete Debian system from the Internet.

Below you will find a description of the different installation methods, and a description of files which might be required for installation. Which files you use, and what steps you have to take to prepare your installation media, will vary with the method that you select to install Debian.


5.1 Choosing Your Installation Media

First, choose the media to use to boot the installation system. Next, choose the method you will use to install the base system. As discussed above, these decisions can be made independently.


5.1.1 Choosing Initial Boot Media

To boot the installation system, you have the following choices: floppies, bootable CD-ROM, or a non-Linux boot loader.

Booting from floppies is supported for most platforms. Floppy booting is described in Booting from Floppies, Section 5.6.1.

CD-ROM booting is one of the easiest ways to install. If you're unlucky and the kernel on the CD-ROM doesn't work for you, you'll have to fall back to another technique. Installing from CD-ROM is described in Installing from a CD-ROM, Section 5.4.

Booting from an existing operating system is often a convenient option; for some systems it is the only supported method of installation. This method is described in Installing from a Hard Disk, Section 5.3.


5.1.2 Choosing Media for Installing Base

The base system can be installed in the following ways: from floppies (Installing Base from Floppies, Section 5.7.1), from a CD-ROM (Installing from a CD-ROM, Section 5.4), from an NFS server (Installing from NFS, Section 5.5), or from a local hard disk (Installing from a Hard Disk, Section 5.3). You should choose whatever method matches the media you have, and whatever is the most convenient.


5.2 Description of Installation System Files

This section contains an annotated list of files you will find in the disks-i386 directory. You may not need to download these at all; it all depends on the booting and base system installation media you have chosen.

Most files are floppy disk images; that is, a single file which can be written to a disk to create the necessary floppy disk. These images are, obviously, dependent on the size of the target floppy, such as 1.4MB, 1.2MB, or 720KB. Which sizes are available depends on your platform (i.e., 720KB drives are Atari-specific). The images for 1.4MB drives have `14' embedded in their filenames, 1.2MB images have `12' somewhere in their filename, 720KB drives have `72' in their filename.

If you are using a web browser on a networked computer to read this document, you can probably retrieve the files by selecting their names in your web browser. Depending on your browser you may need to take special action to download directly to a file, in raw binary mode. For example, in Netscape you need to hold the shift key when clicking on the URL to retrieve the file. Files can be downloaded from the URLs in this document, or you can retrieve them from ftp://ftp.debian.org/debian/dists/slink/main/disks-i386/current/, or the corresponding directory on any of the Debian mirror sites.

resc1440.bin, resc1440tecra.bin, resc1200.bin -- the Rescue Floppy images
These are the Rescue Floppy disk images. The Rescue Floppy is used for initial setup and for emergencies, such as when your system doesn't boot for some reason. Therefore it is recommended you write the disk image to the floppy even if you are not using floppies for installation.

If you have a 5.25 inch floppy drive, use the image with `1200' in the name; otherwise, use the image with `1440' in the name. You'll also need root.bin, described below.

The `tecra' images are an alternate kernel for people who have problems with the standard disks.

drv1440.bin, drv1440tecra.bin, drv1200.bin -- the Drivers Floppy images
These are the Drivers Floppy disk images. They contain the kernel modules, or drivers, for all kinds of hardware that are not necessary for initial booting. You will be prompted to choose the drivers you need during the installation process.

If you used a special Rescue Floppy image, you need to use the corresponding Drivers Floppy image.

base2_1.tgz, or base14-1.bin, base14-2.bin, base14-3.bin, base14-4.bin, base14-5.bin, base14-6.bin, base14-7.bin , or base12-1.bin, base12-2.bin, base12-3.bin, base12-4.bin, base12-5.bin, base12-6.bin, base12-7.bin, base12-8.bin, base12-9.bin -- the base system images
These files contain the base system which will be installed on your Linux partition during the installation process. This is the bare minimum necessary for you to be able to install the rest of the packages. The base2_1.tgz file is for installation from non-floppy media, i.e., CD-ROM, harddisk, or NFS.

root.bin -- Root image
This file contains an image of a temporary filesystem that gets loaded into memory when you boot. This is used for installations from hard disk and from CD-ROM.

It is also used in cases where the root filesystem cannot fit on the Rescue Floppy for whatever reason. For instance, if booting from 5.25 floppies, you'll need root.bin.

lowmem.bin -- Low Memory Boot Image
Alternative low memory boot floppy for installations on machines with less than 5MB. For information on how to install in these situations, see Installation on Systems with Low Memory, Section 5.7.

lowmemrd.bin -- Low Memory Root Filesystem Image
Alternative root filesystem image for low memory installation. Specifically, this is used by people with 5.25 inch drives, since lowmem.bin doesn't fit within that disk capacity.

rawrite2.exe
This is a DOS utility to write a floppy disk image to a floppy. You should not copy images to the floppy, but instead use this utility to ``raw write'' them.

loadlin.exe -- Linux boot loader
You will need this boot loader if you are installing from a DOS partition or from a CD-ROM. See Installing from a DOS partition, Section 5.3.1.

install.bat
DOS batch file for starting Debian installation from DOS. This batch file is used in installations from hard disk or CD-ROM. See Installing from a DOS partition, Section 5.3.1.

linux -- kernel image
This is the Linux kernel image to be used for hard disk and CD installations. Remember, if you are downloading this file, depending on your browser you may need to take special action to download directly to a file, in raw binary mode. For example, in Netscape you need to hold the shift key when clicking on the URL to retrieve the file.

install.txt, install.html -- Installation Manual
This file you are now reading, in plain ASCII or HTML format.

fdisk.txt cfdisk.txt
Instructions for using your available partitioning programs.

basecont.txt
Listing of the contents of the base system.

md5sum.txt
List of MD5 checksums for the binary files. If you have the md5sum program, you can ensure that your files are not corrupt by running md5sum -v -c md5sum.txt.


5.3 Installing from a Hard Disk

In some cases, you may wish to boot from an existing operating system. You can also boot into the installation system using other means, but install the base system from disk.


5.3.1 Installing from a DOS partition

It is possible to install Debian from an already installed DOS partition on the same machine. You have two alternatives: either try the floppy-less installation, or boot from the Rescue Floppy but install base from the local disk.

To try floppyless booting, follow these directions:

  1. Get the following files from your nearest Debian FTP mirror and put them into a directory on your DOS partition: resc1440.bin, drv1440.bin, base2_1.tgz, root.bin, linux, install.bat and loadlin.exe.
  2. Boot into DOS (not Windows) without any drivers being loaded. To do this, you have to press F8 at exactly the right moment.
  3. Execute install.bat from that directory in DOS.
  4. Skip down to Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6.

If you want to boot from floppies, but install base from a DOS partition, then simply download and create the Rescue Floppy and Drivers Floppy as described in Creating Floppies from Disk Images, Section 5.8. Download base2_1.tgz and place that file somewhere on a DOS partition.


5.3.2 Installing from a Linux Partition

You can install Debian from an ext2fs partition or from a Minix partition. This installation technique may be appropriate if you are completely replacing your current Linux system with Debian, for instance.

Note that the partition you are installing from should not be the same as the partitions you are installing Debian to (e.g., /, /usr, /lib, and all that).

To install from an already existing Linux partition, follow these instructions.

  1. Get the following files and place them in a directory on your Linux partition. Use the largest possible files for your architecture:
  2. You can use any other functional boot method when installing from a partition. The following assumes you are booting with floppies; however, any boot installation can be used.
  3. Create the Rescue Floppy as discussed in Creating Floppies from Disk Images, Section 5.8. Note that you won't need the Drivers Floppy.
  4. Insert the Rescue Floppy into your floppy drive, and reboot the computer.
  5. Skip down to Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6.


5.4 Installing from a CD-ROM

If you have a CD which is bootable, and if your architecture and system supports booting from a CD-ROM, you don't need any floppies. Configure your hardware as indicated in Boot Device Selection, Section 3.3.2. Then put the CD-ROM into the drive, and reboot. If you have a system which requires ``tecra'' boot images, place the second CD-ROM rather than the first one into the drive, and reboot. Now you can skip down to Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6.

If your hardware does not support bootable CD-ROMs, you should boot into DOS, and execute the boot.bat file which is located in the \boot directory on your CD. Then, skip down to Using dbootstrap for Initial System Configuration, Chapter 7.

Even if you cannot boot from CD-ROM, you can install the base Debian system from CD-ROM. Simply boot using one of the other installation techniques; when it is time to install the base system and any additional packages, just point your installation system at the CD-ROM drive as described in ``Install the Base System'', Section 7.14.


5.5 Installing from NFS

Due to the nature of this method of installation, only the base system can be installed via NFS. You will need to have the rescue disk and the driver disk available locally using one of the above methods. To install the base system via NFS, you'll have to go through the regular installation as explained in Using dbootstrap for Initial System Configuration, Chapter 7. Do not forget to insert the module (driver) for your ethernet card, and the file system module for NFS.

When dbootstrap asks you where the base system is located (``Install the Base System'', Section 7.14), you should choose NFS, and follow the instructions.


5.6 Installing from Floppies

Installation from floppies, if supported on your system, is a nice fallback to have, althought it is generally not the more preferred or the fastest way to install. There are different degrees to which you can install from floppies, which are described below.


5.6.1 Booting from Floppies

To boot from floppies, simply download the Rescue Floppy image and the Drivers Floppy image. In some cases you may be required to decide which flavor of the disk images to use, as discussed in Description of Installation System Files, Section 5.2. Information in that section should help you choose which floppy images to use. Create these floppies from images as described in Creating Floppies from Disk Images, Section 5.8.

If you need to, you can also modify the Rescue Floppy; see Replacing the Rescue Floppy Kernel, Section 9.3.


5.7 Installation on Systems with Low Memory

If your system has less than 5MB of memory, you will need to boot from a special low-memory boot disk image, lowmem.bin. In all, you will need three floppies:

Write the corresponding disk images to floppies as described in Creating Floppies from Disk Images, Section 5.8. If you have only a 5.25 inch floppy drive, use the Low Memory Root Disk, lowmemrd.bin, instead of the boot floppy. Boot from the Rescue Floppy and insert the Low Memory Root Disk when asked for a root disk.

Otherwise, you will boot from the Low Memory Boot Floppy first, so put that floppy in your primary floppy drive and reboot. Jump down to Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6 for help on booting the system, if needed. Once your kernel comes up, you should automatically be asked to run the special low memory pre-installation steps, as described in Booting Low-Memory Systems, Section 6.3.


5.7.1 Installing Base from Floppies

NOTE: This is not a recommended way of installing Debian, because floppies are generally the least reliable type of media. This is only recommended if you have no extra, pre-existing filesystems on any of the hard drives on your system.

Complete these steps:

  1. Obtain these disk images (these files are described in greater detail in Description of Installation System Files, Section 5.2):
  2. Locate sufficient floppies for all the images you need to write.
  3. Create the floppies, as discussed in Creating Floppies from Disk Images, Section 5.8.
  4. Insert the Rescue Floppy into your floppy drive, and reboot the computer.
  5. Skip down to Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6.


5.8 Creating Floppies from Disk Images

Disk images are files containing the complete contents of a floppy disk in raw form. Disk images, such as resc1440.bin, cannot simply be copied to floppy drives. A special program is used to write the image files to floppy disk in raw mode. This is required because these images are raw representations of the disk; it is required to do a sector copy of the data from the file onto the floppy.

There are different techniques for creating floppies from disk images, which depend on your platform. This section describes how to create floppies from disk images for different platforms.

No matter which method you use to create your floppies, you should remember to flip the tab on the floppies once you have written them, to ensure they are not damaged unintentionally.


5.8.1 Writing Disk Images From a Linux or Unix System

To write the floppy disk image files to the floppy disks, you will probably need root access to the system. Place a good, blank floppy in the floppy drive. Next, use the command

     dd if=file of=/dev/fd0 bs=512 conv=sync ; sync

where file is one of the floppy disk image files. /dev/fd0 is a commonly used name of the floppy disk device, it may be different on your workstation (on Solaris, it is /dev/fd/0). The command may return to the prompt before Unix has finished writing the floppy disk, so look for the disk-in-use light on the floppy drive and be sure that the light is out and the disk has stopped revolving before you remove it from the drive. On some systems, you'll have to run a command to eject the floppy from the drive (on Solaris, use eject, see the manual page).

Some systems attempt to automatically mount a floppy disk when you place it in the drive. You might have to disable this feature before the workstation will allow you to write a floppy in raw mode. Unfortunately, how to accomplish this will vary based on your operating system. On Solaris, make sure vold isn't running. On other systems, ask your system administrator.


5.8.2 Writing Disk Images From DOS, Windows, or OS/2

You'll find the rawrite2.exe program in the same directory as the floppy disk images. There's also a rawrite2.txt file containing instructions for using rawrite2.

To write the floppy disk image files to the floppy disks, first make sure that you are booted into DOS. Many problems have been reported when trying to use rawrite2 from within a DOS box from within Windows. Double-clicking on rawrite2 from within the Windows Explorer is also reported to not work. If you don't know how to boot into DOS, just hit F8 while booting.

Once you've booted into plain DOS, use the command

     rawrite2 -f file -d drive

where file is one of the floppy disk image files, and drive is either `a:' or `b:', depending on which floppy drive you are writing to.


5.8.3 Floppy Disk Reliability

The biggest problem for people installing Debian for the first time seems to be floppy disk reliability.

The Rescue Floppy is the floppy with the worst problems, because it is read by the hardware directly, before Linux boots. Often, the hardware doesn't read as reliably as the Linux floppy disk driver, and may just stop without printing an error message if it reads incorrect data. There can also be failures in the Drivers Floppy and the base floppies, most of which indicate themselves with a flood of messages about disk I/O errors.

If you are having the installation stall at a particular floppy, the first thing you should do is re-download the floppy disk image and write it to a different floppy. Simply reformatting the old floppy may not be sufficient, even if it appears that the floppy was reformatted and written with no errors. It is sometimes useful to try writing the floppy on a different system.

One user reports he had to write the images to floppy three times before one worked, and then everything was fine with the third floppy.

Other users have reported that simply rebooting a few times with the same floppy in the floppy drive can lead to a successful boot. This is all due to buggy hardware or firmware floppy drivers.


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Installing Debian GNU/Linux 2.1 For Intel x86
version 2.1.11, 28 August, 1999
Bruce Perens
Sven Rudolph
Igor Grobman
James Treacy
Adam Di Carlo