"I'm basically a very lazy person who likes to get credit for things other people actually do." - Linus Torvalds

Beginner's Guide to Debian Etch

Wednesday 11th April 2007

Categories: Guides, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Basic Installation

Next you should be asked:

Choose a language:

I use English, so, oddly enough, I select English. (Just for future reference - use the arrow keys and Tab to move around, the Enter key for when you need to select one item, and the space bar for when you need to select items from a list, in similar fashion to tick boxes). Next is our location; the screen should say:

Based on your language, you are probably located in one of these countries or regions.

Choose a country, territory or area:

That's the United Kingdom for me - so far, fairly easy! Next is the keyboard layout, with the screen stating:

Keymap to use:

Again, a relatively simple choice. The installer will suggest the one that makes the most sense, so it selected British English for me. After some loading, we have some network configuration. It will try and use DHCP automatically - if it fails, you can set up the network manually. If DHCP is successful, but you still want to set up the network manually, then hit Tab until <Go Back> is selected, and hit Enter. From this screen, you can then manually set the network settings.

The next screen should read:

Please enter the hostname for this system.

The hostname is a single word that identifies your system to the network. If you don't know what your hostname should be, consult your network administrator. If you are setting up your own home network, you can make something up here.

See? Fairly sensible advice. I went for the wonderfully original name of penguin - I hope you can come up with something better! Following this is the domain selection - on a home network, it doesn't really matter what you put here. Of course, if you do have a domain, then now's the time to tell Debian! Next is the disk partitioning - the screen should read:

The installer can guide you through partitioning a disk (using different standard schemes) or, if you prefer, you can do it manually. With guided partitioning you will still have a chance later to review and customise the results.

If you choose guided partitioning for an entire disk, you will next be asked which disk should be used.

Now you can decide where to install Debian. Due to my already full disk, I have the choice of manual editing or erasing my entire hard disk. If you have some free space, you should also get the choice of using the free space. If you didn't choose manual editing, you should be guided through the process. The main two ways I normally install a system is either to lump it all into a single big partition, or with a separate /home partition. The result is, if you decide to reinstall, you can keep anything specific to users. This includes any files in a user's directory, and any user-specific settings. If you're still not sure, then having all the files on one partition is fine.

Next, you should be shown how the installer has distributed the space. You can change it around, although the installer tends to decide the spaces quite sensibly. I often leave far too much space for the root filesystem - about 10GB. This is to make sure I don't run out of room, especially since I barely use any in my home directory, but less than that is still plenty.

You can play around the different partitions - once you're happy, you can hit Finish partitioning and write changes to disk and you should get a screen that starts:

If you continue, the changes listed below will be written to the disks. Otherwise, you will be able to make further changes manually.

WARNING: This will destroy all data on any partitions you have removed as well as on the partitions that are going to be formatted.

That's your last chance to go back! Once you select Yes, you can wave goodbye to whatever was on your hard disk (assuming you're formatting over another installation).

After its finished mauling your disk, you'll be asked to set a password for the root user.

You need to set a password for 'root', the system administrative account. A malicious or unqualified user with root access can have disastrous results, so you should take care to choose a root password that is not easy to guess. It should not be a word found in dictionaries, or a word that could be easily associated with you.

A good password will contain a mixture of letters, numbers and punctuation and should be changed at regular intervals.

All of which is excellent advice! The root user is similar to the Adminstrator of Windows systems, so remembering this password is rather critical! You'll be asked to enter it twice just in case you made any typos the first time round.

Now the installer will ask:

Full name for the new user:

This could be Joe Bloggs, or Miss Flobadob, or whatever takes your fancy - the computer doesn't really mind if you don't use your real name or every middle name you have. You'll then be asked to:

Enter a username for your account:

This should be something fairly simple and easy to remember since you'll be using it every time you want to use the computer (at least under that account). You're then asked for another password, and to confirm it.

Installation of the base system follows. The next thing the installer asks of you is:

A network mirror can be used to supplement the software that is included on the CD-ROM. This may also make newer versions of software available.

If you are installing from a netinst CD and you choose not to use a mirror, you will end up with only a very minimal base system.

Use a network mirror?

Unless you are completely devoid of an Internet connection, then a response of Yes here is highly recommended - this not only gives you access to massive array of packages, but it also ensures that packages are up-to-date. The next page states:

Debian archive mirror country:

The preceding paragraph says all that needs to be said - for me, the choice is United Kingdom, and ftp.uk.debian.org at the next screen (Debian archive mirror).

Next up, the installer displays:

If you need to use a HTTP proxy to access the outside world, etner the proxy information here. Otherwise, leave this blank.

Home networks tend not to have proxy servers, so you'll probably want to leave it blank. If you're doing this in an office, a school, or similar, then you'll need to ask nicely for the proxy information if you don't already have it.

Next up is whether or not you want to take part in the package usage survey. The choice is yours - it doesn't really make any difference to your experience of Debian.

Then, you should get:

At the moment, only the core of the system is installed. To tune the system to your needs, you can choose to install one or more of the following predefined collections of software.

Choose software to install:

You can choose whatever you like from this list, but if you're just installing a normal desktop machine then the default of 'Desktop environment' and 'Standard system' should be fine. If you want to be more specific about the desktop software you install, then you can just install 'Standard system', but be warned - this will leave you with very little installed, such as no graphical interface. Whatever you choose, the installer will then go off and... install. The only configuration message with the default two selections I received was to pick resolutions for my monitor - if you're using the text installer, don't forget to use the spacebar to select or deselect any option. To finish off:

Install the GRUB boot loader to the master boot record?

The message beforehand will vary as to whether you have another operating system on the system. If you do have another operating system, it should be listed. If it isn't, then you might want to stop here since you won't be able to get back into the operating system easily. Otherwise, hit Yes, and the installation will continue. You'll be asked to take your CD out, which you don't really need to do if you just change the boot order so that it boots from the hard disk rather than the CD drive. The next thing that should happen is... a reboot!

Hooray! The installation should now be finished. You can log in using the username you provided beforehand. Remember: don't log in as root - you should never log in as root. Instead, at a prompt such as the one provided once you log in, type su. You'll then be asked for a password, which is the root password you gave earlier. This effectively turns you into root - never do things as root that you could do as a normal user, such as browse the internet or chat online. In other words, you should only be root if you need to be - if you can do the task as an ordinary user, then its generally best to be an ordinary user! This improves security, and also reduces the chance of accidentally obliterating your entire system! To turn back into a normal user, simply type exit. Type exit again to logout.