5.1. Booting the Installer on 32-bit PC

[Warning] Warning

If you have any other operating systems on your system that you wish to keep (dual boot setup), you should make sure that they have been properly shut down before you boot the installer. Installing an operating system while another operating system is in hibernation (has been suspended to disk) could result in loss of, or damage to the state of the suspended operating system which could cause problems when it is rebooted.

[Note] Note

For information on how to boot the graphical installer, see Section 5.1.8, “The Graphical Installer”.

5.1.1. Booting from USB Memory Stick

If your computer will boot from USB, this will probably be the easiest route for installation. Assuming you have prepared everything from Section 3.6.2, “Boot Device Selection” and Section 4.3, “Preparing Files for USB Memory Stick Booting”, just plug your USB stick into some free USB connector and reboot the computer. The system should boot up, and unless you have used the flexible way to build the stick and not enabled it, you should be presented with a graphical boot menu (on hardware that supports it). Here you can select various installer options, or just hit Enter.

5.1.2. Booting from a CD-ROM

If you have a CD set, and if your machine supports booting directly off the CD, great! Simply configure your system for booting off a CD as described in Section 3.6.2, “Boot Device Selection”, insert your CD, reboot, and proceed to the next chapter.

Note that certain CD drives may require special drivers, and thus be inaccessible in the early installation stages. If it turns out the standard way of booting off a CD doesn't work for your hardware, revisit this chapter and read about alternate kernels and installation methods which may work for you.

Even if you cannot boot from CD-ROM, you can probably install the Debian system components and any packages you want from CD-ROM. Simply boot using a different medium and when it's time to install the operating system, base system, and any additional packages, point the installation system at the CD-ROM drive.

If you have problems booting, see Section 5.4, “Troubleshooting the Installation Process”.

5.1.3. Booting from Windows

To start the installer from Windows, you can either

If you use an installation CD or DVD, a pre-installation program should be launched automatically when you insert the disc. In case Windows does not start it automatically, or if you are using a USB memory stick, you can run it manually by accessing the device and executing setup.exe.

After the program has been started, a few preliminary questions will be asked and the system will be prepared to reboot into the Debian GNU/Linux installer.

5.1.4. Booting from DOS using loadlin

Boot into DOS (not Windows). To do this, you can for instance boot from a recovery or diagnostic disk.

If you can access the installation CD, change the current drive to the CD-ROM drive, e.g.


else make sure you have first prepared your hard disk as explained in Section 4.4.2, “Hard disk installer booting from DOS using loadlin, and change the current drive to it if needed.

Enter the subdirectory for the flavor you chose, e.g.,

cd \install.386

If you prefer using the graphical installer, enter the gtk sub-directory.

cd gtk

Next, execute install.bat. The kernel will load and launch the installer system.

5.1.5. Booting from Linux using LILO or GRUB

To boot the installer from hard disk, you must first download and place the needed files as described in Section 4.4, “Preparing Files for Hard Disk Booting”.

If you intend to use the hard drive only for booting and then download everything over the network, you should download the netboot/debian-installer/i386/initrd.gz file and its corresponding kernel netboot/debian-installer/i386/linux. This will allow you to repartition the hard disk from which you boot the installer, although you should do so with care.

Alternatively, if you intend to keep an existing partition on the hard drive unchanged during the install, you can download the hd-media/initrd.gz file and its kernel, as well as copy a CD (or DVD) iso to the drive (make sure the file is named ending in .iso). The installer can then boot from the drive and install from the CD/DVD image, without needing the network.

For LILO, you will need to configure two essential things in /etc/lilo.conf:

  • to load the initrd.gz installer at boot time;

  • have the vmlinuz kernel use a RAM disk as its root partition.

Here is a /etc/lilo.conf example:


For more details, refer to the initrd(4) and lilo.conf(5) man pages. Now run lilo and reboot.

The procedure for GRUB1 is quite similar. Locate your menu.lst in the /boot/grub/ directory (or sometimes /boot/boot/grub/) and add an entry for the installer, for example (assuming /boot is on the first partition of the first disk in the system):

title  New Install
root   (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/newinstall/vmlinuz
initrd /boot/newinstall/initrd.gz

The procedure for GRUB2 is very similar. The file is named grub.cfg instead of menu.lst. An entry for the installer would be for instance for example:

menuentry 'New Install' {
insmod part_msdos
insmod ext2
set root='(hd0,msdos1)'
linux /boot/newinstall/vmlinuz
initrd /boot/newinstall/initrd.gz

From here on, there should be no difference between GRUB or LILO.

5.1.6. Booting with TFTP

Booting from the network requires that you have a network connection and a TFTP network boot server (and probably also a DHCP, RARP, or BOOTP server for automatic network configuration).

The server-side setup to support network booting is described in Section 4.5, “Preparing Files for TFTP Net Booting”.

There are various ways to do a TFTP boot on i386. NIC or Motherboard that support PXE

It could be that your Network Interface Card or Motherboard provides PXE boot functionality. This is a Intel™ re-implementation of TFTP boot. If so, you may be able to configure your BIOS to boot from the network. NIC with Network BootROM

It could be that your Network Interface Card provides TFTP boot functionality. Etherboot

The etherboot project provides bootdiskettes and even bootroms that do a TFTPboot.

5.1.7. The Boot Screen

When the installer boots, you should be presented with a friendly graphical screen showing the Debian logo and a menu:

Debian GNU/Linux installer boot menu

Graphical install
Advanced options             >
Install with speech synthesis

[Note] Note

This graphical screen will look very slightly different depending on how your computer has booted (BIOS or UEFI), but the same options will be shown.

Depending on the installation method you are using, the Graphical install option may not be available. Bi-arch images additionally have a 64 bit variant for each install option, right below it, thus almost doubling the number of options.

For a normal installation, select either the Graphical install or the Install entry — using either the arrow keys on your keyboard or by typing the first (highlighted) letter — and press Enter to boot the installer. The Graphical install entry is already selected by default.

The Advanced options entry gives access to a second menu that allows to boot the installer in expert mode, in rescue mode and for automated installs.

If you wish or need to add any boot parameters for either the installer or the kernel, press Tab (BIOS boot), or e then down arrow three times then end (UEFI boot). This will bring the boot command for the selected menu entry and allow you to edit it to suit your needs. The help screens (see below) list some common possible options. Press Enter (BIOS boot) or F10 (UEFI boot) to boot the installer with your options; pressing Esc will return you to the boot menu and undo any changes you made.

Choosing the Help entry will result in the first help screen being displayed which gives an overview of all available help screens. To return to the boot menu after the help screens have been displayed, type 'menu' at the boot prompt and press Enter. All help screens have a boot prompt at which the boot command can be typed:

Press F1 for the help index, or ENTER to boot:

At this boot prompt you can either just press Enter to boot the installer with default options or enter a specific boot command and, optionally, boot parameters. A number of boot parameters which might be useful can be found on the various help screens. If you do add any parameters to the boot command line, be sure to first type the boot method (the default is install) and a space before the first parameter (e.g., install fb=false).

[Note] Note

The keyboard is assumed to have a default American English layout at this point. This means that if your keyboard has a different (language-specific) layout, the characters that appear on the screen may be different from what you'd expect when you type parameters. Wikipedia has a schema of the US keyboard layout which can be used as a reference to find the correct keys to use.

[Note] Note

If you are using a system that has the BIOS configured to use serial console, you may not be able to see the initial graphical splash screen upon booting the installer; you may even not see the boot menu. The same can happen if you are installing the system via a remote management device that provides a text interface to the VGA console. Examples of these devices include the text console of Compaq's integrated Lights Out (iLO) and HP's Integrated Remote Assistant (IRA).

To bypass the graphical boot screen you can either blindly press Esc to get a text boot prompt, or (equally blindly) press H followed by Enter to select the Help option described above. After that your keystrokes should be echoed at the prompt. To prevent the installer from using the framebuffer for the rest of the installation, you will also want to add vga=normal fb=false to the boot prompt, as described in the help text.

5.1.8. The Graphical Installer

The graphical version of the installer is only available for a limited number of architectures, including 32-bit PC . The functionality of the graphical installer is essentially the same as that of the text-based installer as it basically uses the same programs, but with a different frontend.

Although the functionality is identical, the graphical installer still has a few significant advantages. The main advantage is that it supports more languages, namely those that use a character set that cannot be displayed with the text-based newt frontend. It also has a few usability advantages such as the option to use a mouse, and in some cases several questions can be displayed on a single screen.

The graphical installer is available with all CD images and with the hd-media installation method. To boot the graphical installer simply select the relevant option from the boot menu. Expert and rescue mode for the graphical installer can be selected from the Advanced options menu. The previously used boot methods installgui, expertgui and rescuegui can still be used from the boot prompt which is shown after selecting the Help option in the boot menu.

There is also a graphical installer image that can be netbooted. And there is a special mini ISO image[5], which is mainly useful for testing.

Just as with the text-based installer it is possible to add boot parameters when starting the graphical installer.

[Note] Note

The graphical installer requires significantly more memory to run than the text-based installer: 293MB. If insufficient memory is available, it will automatically fall back to the text-based newt frontend.

If the amount of memory in your system is below 135MB, the graphical installer may fail to boot at all while booting the text-based installer would still work. Using the text-based installer is recommended for systems with little available memory.

[5] The mini ISO image can be downloaded from a Debian mirror as described in Section 4.2, “Downloading Files from Debian Mirrors”. Look for netboot/gtk/mini.iso.