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Installing Debian GNU/Linux 2.1 For SPARC - 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 SPARC.

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 7.13.

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 7.23.

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, network boot (TFTP), or a non-Linux boot loader.

Booting from floppies is supported for most platforms. Floppy booting is described in Booting from Floppies, Section 5.7.1.

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 the network requires that you have a TFTP server, a RARP server, and a network connection supported by the boot floppies. This installation method is described in Booting from TFTP, Section 5.5.

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 5.7.2), from a CD-ROM (Installing from a CD-ROM, Section 5.4), from an NFS server (Installing from NFS, Section 5.6), 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-sparc 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-sparc/current/, or the corresponding directory on any of the Debian mirror sites.

resc1440.bin, resc1440-2.2.1.bin, resc1440-2.2.1-sun4u.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 for some reason you need to run the Linux 2.2.1 kernels, you will want to use the resc1440-2.2.1.bin rescue image. Sun4c users might want to try the 2.2 Linux kernel, since the 2.0 kernel versions are said to have a large slowdown on disk access. Sun4u architectures, i.e., the ``Ultra'' line, must use the resc1440-2.2.1-sun4u.bin images. If you do opt to use the 2.2 kernels, either during installation or later, be sure to see Using the Linux 2.2 Kernel with Debian 2.1, Section 8.5 for compatibility notes.

drv1440.bin, drv1440-2.2.1.bin, drv1440-2.2.1-sun4u.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, base14-8.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. On your architecture, a root image is required, since it won't fit on the Rescue Floppy. If you are booting from floppies (Booting from Floppies, Section 5.7.1), you'll need to create a root floppy as well.

tftpboot.img, tftpboot-2.2.1.img -- TFTP boot images
Boot images used for network booting, see Booting from TFTP, Section 5.5. Generally, they contain the Linux kernel and the root.bin root filesystem. The 2.2.1 image contains both sparc32 and sparc64 support; use it if you need to use the 2.2.1 Rescue Floppy images above.

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

Instructions for using your available partitioning programs.

Listing of the contents of the base system.

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 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. Note that some problems have been reported on Sun4m (e.g., Sparc 10s and Sparc 20s) systems booting from CD-ROM. Then put the CD-ROM into the drive, and reboot. Now you can skip down to Booting the Installation System, Chapter 6.

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 7.13.

5.5 Booting from TFTP

You need to setup two servers: a RARP server and a TFTP server. The Reverse Address Resolution Protocol (RARP) is one way to tell your client what IP address to use for itself. Another way is to use the BOOTP protocol. The Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) is used to serve the boot image to the client. Theoretically, any server, on any platform, which implements these protocols, may be used. In the examples in this section, we shall provide commands for SunOS 4.x, SunOS 5.x (a.k.a. Solaris), and GNU/Linux.

5.5.1 Setting up RARP

To setup RARP, you need to know the ethernet address of the client (a.k.a. the MAC address). If you don't know this information, you can pick it off the initial OpenPROM boot messages, use the OpenBoot .enet-addr command, or boot into ``Rescue'' mode (e.g., from the Rescue Floppy) and use the command /sbin/ifconfig eth0.

In GNU/Linux you need to populate the kernel's RARP table. To do this execute

     /sbin/rarp -s client-hostname client-enet-addr
     /usr/sbin/arp -s client-ip client-enet-addr

Under SunOS, you need to ensure that the ethernet hardware address for the client is listed in the ``ethers'' database (either in the /etc/ethers file, or via NIS/NIS+) and in the ``hosts'' database. Then you need to start the RARP daemon. In SunOS 4, issue the command (as root): /usr/etc/rarpd -a; in SunOS 5, use /usr/sbin/rarpd -a.

5.5.2 Enabling the TFTP Server

To get the TFTP server ready to go, you should first make sure that tftpd is enabled. This is usually enabled by having the following line in /etc/inetd.conf:

     tftp dgram udp wait root /usr/etc/in.tftpd in.tftpd -l /boot

Look in that file and remember the directory which is used as the argument of in.tftpd; you'll need that below. The -l argument enables some versions of in.tftpd to log all requests to the system logs; this is useful for diagnosing boot errors. If you've had to change /etc/inetd.conf, you'll have to notify the running inetd process that the file has changed. On a Debian machine, run /etc/init.d/netbase reload; on other machines, find out the process ID for inetd, and run kill -1 inetd-pid.

5.5.3 Move TFTP Images Into Place

Next, place the TFTP boot image you need, as found in Description of Installation System Files, Section 5.2, in the tftpd boot image directory. Generally, this directory will be /boot in Debian, and /tftpboot in other operating systems. Next you'll have to make a link from that file to the file which tftpd will use for booting a particular client. Unfortunately, the file name is determined by the TFTP client, and there are no strong standards.

Often, the file that the TFTP client will look for is client-ip-in-hexclient-architecture. To compute client-ip-in-hex, take each byte of the client IP address and translate it into hexadecimal notation. If you have a machine handy with the bc program, you can use the program. First issue the obase=16 command to set the output to hex, then enter the individual components of the client IP one at a time. As for client-architecture, try out some values. SPARC architectures for instance use the sub-architecture names, such as ``SUN4M'' or ``SUN4C''; in some cases, the architecture is left blank, so the file the client looks for is just client-ip-in-hex. Once you've determined the name, make the link like this: ln /boot/tftpboot.img /boot/file-name.

Now you should be ready to actually boot your system. On machines with OpenBoot, simply enter the boot monitor on the machine you are installing to (see Invoking OpenBoot, Section 3.3.1), and use the command boot net.

5.5.4 TFTP Installation for Low-Memory Systems

On some systems, the standard installation RAM-disk, combined with the memory requirements of the TFTP boot image, cannot fit in memory. In this case, you can still install using TFTP, you'll just have to go through the additional step of NFS mounting your root directory over the network as well. This type of setup is also appropriate for diskless or dataless clients.

First, follow all the steps above in Booting from TFTP, Section 5.5.

  1. Put the linux kernel image on your TFTP server after you have uncompressed it.
         # zcat linux-a.out > kernel-2.0.35

    Note the ``#'' signs are part of the prompt, do not type them in.

  2. Untar the root archive on your NFS server (could be the same as your TFTP server):
         # cd /tftpboot
         # tar xvzf root.tar.gz

    Be sure to use the GNU tar (other tar programs, like the SunOS one, badly handle devices as plain files).

  3. export your /tftpboot/debian-sparc-root directory with root access to your client. E.g., add the following line to /etc/exports (GNU/Linux syntax):
         /tftpboot/debian-sparc-root	client(rw,no_root_squash)
  4. create a symbolic link from your client IP addr in dotted notation to debian-sparc-root in the /tftpboot directory. For example, if the client IP address is, do
         # ln -s debian-sparc-root
  5. Now you can boot your client as discussed in Booting from TFTP, Section 5.5.

5.6 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 7.13), you should choose NFS, and follow the instructions.

5.7 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.

5.7.1 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.

On your architecture, the Rescue Floppy couldn't fit the root filesystem image, so you'll need the root image to be written to a disk as well. You can create that floppy just as the other images are written to floppies. Once the kernel has been loaded from the Rescue Floppy, you'll be prompted for the root disk. Insert that floppy and continue. See also Booting With the Rescue Floppy, Section 6.2.

Be warned that the Sun4u (ultra) architecture does not seem to support floppy booting.

5.7.2 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 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 SPARC
version 2.1.11, 28 August, 1999
Bruce Perens
Sven Rudolph
Igor Grobman
James Treacy
Adam Di Carlo