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Installing Debian Linux 6.x (Squeeze)


Click here if you want the Debian 2.2 (Potato) Installation Page
Click here if you want the Debian 3.0 (Woody) Installation Page
Click here if you want the Debian 3.1 (Sarge) Installation Page
Click here if you want the Debian 4.x (Etch) Installation Page
Click here if you want the Debian 5.x (Lenny) Installation Page
Click here if you want the Debian 7.x (Wheezy) Installation Page
Click here if you want the Debian 8.x (Jessie) Installation Page


The Squeeze (6.0) version comes on 8 DVDs because it includes not only the operating system but over 35,000 packages containing software for applications, utilities, and OS enhancements. The primary improvements in Squeeze included updated software (compilers, interpreters, applications, etc.) and an updated "Debian installer" which does a better job of hardware detection and simplifies the installation process. We'll be using the Debian Installer on this page.

Many distros install the "full boat" by default and this isn't necessarily a good thing. If you want to learn Linux, the install routine does too much for you. And it sets up a system that's downright insecure if you want to use it as a server. (They set it up this way because it means fewer tech support contacts for them.) The procedure below does a very basic OS install. This keeps things simple, results in a more secure configuration, and allows you learn more. Another advantage is that it doesn't clutter up memory with unnecessary processes.

One very good thing about the Debian installer is that, unless you specify additional functionality during the installation, it will only install a bare-bones system. (It still insists on installing the Exim e-mail software but we get rid of that when we setup an e-mail server using Sendmail.) It also does a good job of detecting hardware.

SECURITY WARNING

Do NOT plan to use the system you will create using these guide pages as a "production" (real) server. It will NOT be secure!

There are many steps involved in creating a secure Internet or LAN server and it begins with the installation of the OS. A secure server will have its hard-drives divided up into multiple partitions which is not something we do in this procedure. While we do refer to some things you can do to make your system more secure, there are many other measures related to system configurations, accounts, and services that also need to be taken and they also are not covered on these pages.

These guide pages are meant as a learning tool which will allow you to "get your hands dirty" so you can get accustomed to working with Debian. The knowledge gained on these pages will help you make informed decisions when you do want to set up secure production systems.


While it is possible to set up Debian on a second partition of an existing system and set up a dual-boot configuration, I wouldn't recommend it if this is your first time installing Linux. In order to set up a dual-boot you'll need to over-write the MBR (Master Boot Record) of your hard-drive, and if you mess that up you could lose access to your entire system.

Given that Linux has such modest hardware requirements, you should be able to pick up a used Pentium III clone (non-name-brand) desktop system on places like eBay for less than $50. Cheap insurance and a good investment in your education. If you've only got one system and money is tight, another alternative would be to get another hard-drive and install it in your current system (in addition to your current hard-drive). The key is to only have one hard-drive connected at a time. You'd have to do some cable swapping (the power and IDE ribbon cable) between hard-drives when you want to switch back and forth between your regular system and Linux. (Note that with this type of configuration both hard-drives would be jumpered as master). But since you'd only need a four gigabyte hard-drive for Linux, this would be a very low-cost option. Being that it's getting hard to find a new hard-drive for anything less than 80 gigabytes, you should be able to find a used 4 to 8 gigabyte hard-drive for $10 to $20. If you do plan to run the GUI you'll want at least 256 meg or RAM. Crucial.com has good prices on RAM on their system selector tool makes it easy to find out exactly what type of memory you need to order.

The options we select in this procedure are more appropriate for a server system (external Internet server or internal file server).

Be Advised

If you select "Go Back" on most of the screens during the installation you won't go back to the screen you were on. You'll go back to a list of installation steps ('Expert' mode) that you'll have to select one after the other (except for the two lines for Grub and LILO - you'll only want to do the Grub step because you don't want two boot loaders).

You can either continue the installation by selecting each step or you can just reboot and start the installation over again.


One thing you may want to check before you get started is in the BIOS setup of your system. Some systems have a "PnP OS" option in the BIOS. Make sure this is set to No before you get started.


Installing the OS Top of page

The following procedure was developed installing the Debian "Squeeze" (6.0) DVDs on a Dell Pentium III with 128 meg of RAM and a 20-gig IDE hard-drive. If you are installing Debian (or any Linux distro for that matter) on a name-brand (read 'proprietary') system you may run into some problems. In these cases it's best to check the support pages on the hardware vendor's Web site (I didn't run into any problems with my Optiplex). Using the following procedure on hardware with different configurations may also result in different prompts or windows appearing. It's important to READ the information presented on the various screens during the installation.

Don't worry about screwing things up. If you do, just hit the reset button on the PC and start over. Even if you don't screw something up, you can just boot off the DVD to redo the install just to get more practice at it. I've gone through this install routine at least 30 times trying different options and, because you accept the default selections most of the time, you can literally whip through it in about 20 minutes once you're familier with it.

Many organizations don't allow Internet access for servers for security reasons. Our installation selections assume that, while your system may be on a network, it does not have Internet access.
  1. Insert DVD #1 into the DVD-ROM drive and boot the system off of it. The Debian splash screen appears with the installer boot menu and the Install selection highlighted. Press the Tab key and at the end of the install command line (after the word "quiet") type in:

    netcfg/disable_dhcp=true debian-installer/framebuffer=false

    and hit Enter. Disabling DHCP allows us to assign a fixed "static" IP address because we don't want the IP address of our server changing. The "framebuffer" switch in the above command runs the installer in text mode which prevents any possible issues with arcane video cards.

  2. Select your desired language, country, and keymap. Once this is done hardware will be detected and installer componenets will be loaded.

  3. Because we disabled DHCP at the initial prompt you will now be prompted for your network settings such as the IP address, netmask, gateway address, DNS server addresses, hostname, and domain name. Lets cover these settings in more detail.

    • Enter an IP address for your system. If you're installing this machine on an existing network, MAKE SURE IT'S AN AVAILABLE IP ADDRESS!. If you choose an IP address that's used by another system you'll cause all kinds of problems. (You can use a different system to try and ping the address you plan to use to make sure there are no replies to it.) If you don't know what IP address to use don't accept the default since it's commonly assigned in home-network cable/DSL routers.

      Note:  If you're installing this machine on an existing network, even a home network, try this:

      • Go to a Windows machine that's also on the network
      • Open a DOS window
      • At the DOS prompt type in winipcfg or ipconfig (one of them should work) and see what the IP address of the machine is
      • Think of an address for your Linux system where the first three "octets" are the same. For example, if the Windows machine has an address of 192.168.1.101, the address for you Linux machine should be 192.168.1.xxx (you make up a number for "xxx" from 1 to 254)
      • Try to ping the number you come up with. For example, if the number you come up with for xxx is 45, at the DOS prompt type in ping 192.168.1.45 and make sure there are no responses to the ping. This means the address isn't being used by another system so you can use it for your Linux system.

    • Enter a subnet mask that's appropriate for the class of the IP address you entered and it should be OK as long as you're not on a subnetted LAN. If you're using a 192.168.x.x private address you'll probably want a 255.255.255.0 subnet mask. If you're using a 172.x.x.x private address you'll probably want a 255.255.0.0 subnet mask. (Private addresses and how to determine an appropriate subnet mask are covered on the Networking page.)

    • Enter a gateway address if you know what it is (the default route off your network). If it's a home network you probably not have a gateway (unless you have a cable/DSL router). Don't just accept the default entry as a system that's not a gateway may already have this address. The procedure above using winipcfg or ipconfig on a Windows system already on the network should display a default gateway address. If not, just back-space out the default value and press Enter leaving the field blank.

    • At the prompt for a DNS server address (Debian refers to DNS servers as "name servers") you have three options. One, at the office you'd typically enter the address of one of your internal DNS servers. If you have a Windows Active Directory domain at the office, the domain controllers are typically also DNS servers. Two, if you don't have any internal DNS servers (such as at home), you can use the IP address of one of your ISP's DNS servers. Your third option is to leave it blank which is what you want to do if the system will not have access to internal or ISP DNS servers. Here again you don't want to just accept the default because that address may be used by another machine on the network which isn't a DNS server.

      Some Windows versions support the nslookup command which you can enter at a DOS prompt. The "Default server" name and address of the DNS server the Windows system is using will be listed and you can use that address. If you're not sure of your ISP's DNS server addresses, just backspace out the existing address and leave it blank for now.

      Note:  If you enter your ISP's DNS server address, some network-related functions (like establishing a telnet session) may operate slowly until your get your system connected to the Internet so it can "see" the ISP's DNS server.
    • Enter a "hostname" for your system. (A hostname is just the name you give your system.) If this is going to be an Internet server, use a name that describes its function (ex: "www" or "mail"). If it's going to be in an internal domain in your company, use a name that uniquely identifies it in your company.

      If this is going to be a home Web/e-mail server using dynamic DNS you'll want to pick something that's really unique (something that isn't already being used by anyone else using the same dynamic DNS service). If none of these apply, you can just accept the default "debian" name.

    • You will then be prompted for a domain name. Enter your domain name if you already have one. If you're just playing around, use your last name (for example smith.net). You'll see why on the Internet Servers page. If you accepted the default "debian" hostname earlier, your system will then be referred to as "debian.smith.net". Don't worry about conflicting with a real domain that may have that name since this machine won't have a DNS record created on any ISP's DNS server.

      Note:  There are up to three types of "domains" to consider when you are asked for a domain name in Linux. If this will be a system in your Internet domain space, naturally you would use that name. Companies can also set up an internal domain space which has the same type of naming hierarchy as the Internet domain naming system. This type of domain name can be anything you want because it is not visible to the outside world nor do you have to "register" the name with any domain naming authority. In other words, a company can have a public (Internet) domain name like widgets.com (registered through someone like Network Solutions) and a private (internal) domain name like widgets.corp. They can be the same or they can be different.

      The third type of domain are familier to those who work with Windows NT networks. These domains only have a single-word domain, not the dotted hierarchy found on the Internet and in internal Linux/UNIX networks. Linux does not support these type of domains. However, starting with Windows 2000, Windows servers also started using the dotted hierarchy domain naming convention. If you have any such Windows servers on your network, your Linux system can be put into this domain space (i.e. be given the same dotted domain name as your Windows 2000 servers).

  4. The next series of dialogs will be password and account related.

    • You'll be prompted to enter, and re-enter, a password for the root (super-user) account. REMEMBER IT.
    • You'll be be asked to to create a non-root user account entering the full name, username, and password. Create one for yourself using your first name for the username. It may help to use the same password that you used for the root account.

  5. On the next menu select the time zone that your server is located in.

  6. Next is hard-drive partitioning. (If you're setting up a dual-boot system now is the time to go the Dual-boot page.) Since we're here to learn we'll manually create partitions we need, a small swap partition and one large root partition.

    • If you're reading this step you obviously didn't go to the Dual-boot page so we're going to assume you want to use the entire hard-drive for Debain. Highlight the Manual selection and press Enter to bring up the partition list screen.

    • You'll see your hard-drive listed (something like "IDE1 master"). You may also see a partition under it indicated by a > character. Arrow down to highlight the drive (not the partition) and press Enter. You will be prompted for confirmation that you want to create an empty partition table for the drive. Tab to Yes and press Enter. You'll again see your hard-drive listed with the unpartitioned space under it identified by the pri/log "FREE SPACE" line.

    • Now that we have a clean slate will create the two partitions we need. Highlight the pri/log "FREE SPACE" line and press Enter.

    • We'll start out by creating the swap partition. This is usd by Linux as virtual memory and all Linux systems require a swap partition. (Windows uses a swap file rather than a separate partition.) Select Create a new partition and press Enter.

    • When prompted for a size enter 256 MB and press Enter. This value really depends on the amount of RAM in your system. The value should be 1.5 to 2 times the amount of RAM you have.

    • For a partition type select Primary and press Enter.

    • For a partition location select Beginning and press Enter.

    • Note on the partition settings screen that appears that by default the partition has been set up as the root partition using an Ext3 filesystem. That's not what we want. Arrow up to the Use as: line and press Enter.

    • Arrow down to swap area and press Enter.

    • On the next screen arrow down to Done setting up the partition and press Enter and you'll return to the partition list screen with the swap partition listed.

    • Again highlight the pri/log "FREE SPACE" line and press Enter.

    • Select Create a new partition and press Enter.

    • The indicated size is the remainder of the free space on the hard-drive which is what we want so just press Enter.

    • For a partition type select primary and press Enter.

    • Again the partition defaults to the root partition using an Ext3 filesystem which is exactly what we want this time. Arrow down to Done setting up the partition and press Enter and you'll return to the partition list screen with both the swap and root partitions listed.

    • Arrow down to Finish partitioning and write changes to disk and press Enter.

    • At the confirmation screen press the Tab key to highlight Yes and press Enter and the partitions will be formatted.

  7. When the root and swap partitions are formatted the base installation will begin. Note that your system may appear to hang at different points during the install but it hasn't. Just be patient.

    At this point the "base system" files will be installed.

  8. Tab to No when asked if you want to use a network mirror. We'll set this up differently on the Packages page.

  9. Accept the default No answer when asked if you want to participate in the package usage survey.

  10. Next the "Software Selection" windows appears with several pre-defined software collections listed. DE-select the "Graphical desktop environment" collection by pressing the space bar. This will leave only the "Standard system utilities" selection which is what we want so press the Tab key to highlight Continue and press Enter.

    The installation will continue by installing all of the software packages that were included in the "Standard system" collection.

  11. Near the end of the installation the Grub boot loader will be installed. If you are setting this system up to dual-boot with an NT kernel-based Windows system (2000, 2003, XP Pro, etc.) you'll want to answer No to installing Grub and see the Dual-boot page. Otherwise highlight Yes and press Enter.

  12. At this point the DVD drive will open. Be sure to remove the DVD to force it to boot off hard-drive and press Enter with Continue highlighted and the system will reboot.

    You may see some error messages as the system boots up but don't worry about them. They typically refer to hot-plug features found on server-class systems.

    THAT'S IT! The installation is complete.

  13. Start out by logging in as the 'root' superuser (i.e. enter root at the login: prompt and then whatever you entered above for a root password. This will place you at a shell prompt.

  14. Our Debian system is up and running and it only took about 600 meg of disk space. You can see this for yourself by typing in the following command and hitting Enter:

    df -h

    More important than the amount of hard-drive space used is the identifier for your root partition. You'll want to remember this in case you ever have hard-drive problems (which we cover near the end of this page). If you set up your partitions using the procedure above your root partition will be the /dev/sda2 listed on the top line. This means it's the 2nd partition (swap was first) on the 1st (sda) hard-drive.

    You may have noticed that at one point in the installation the disc got scanned. The scanning process is a way of inventorying all of the available software packages on the disc so it is available for installation. We need to scan the other discs so the software packages on those are also available to us when we search for packages (you'll see how on the Packages page).

  15. Insert the remaining DVDs and execute the following command:

    apt-cdrom add

    You may see errors related to "lba address space" and "Illegal request" but eventually you should see the "Scanning disc for index files..." line. Repeat this command for each disc that you have.

    Now that we have inventoried all of the software packages available to us it's time to start installing some of them.

  16. We want to be able to telnet into the system so we have to install the telnet server daemon. Enter the following command:

    apt-get install telnetd

    You will be prompted to put DVD #1 in the drive and press Enter and the package will be installed.

    You'll find out more about working with packages on the apt-get command) on the Packages page. This is also where we'll finish the initial setup of our system (before we start adding the fun stuff - server applications).



    Trying It Out Top of page

    As your system reboots a lot of messages were displayed. With a faster system you won't be able to read them all. You can use the Shift-PgUp and Shift-PgDn key combos to scroll through this previously-displayed text to look for any error messages, etc. Don't be too concerned about error messages at this point. Your system hardware may not support certain functions such as hot-plug devices (pciehp) and older server-class systems may not have USB ports (uhci).

    Once you log in the shell prompt debian:~# (or something similar) is displayed. The # indicates you're logged in as root. (Non-root users get a $ prompt.) The debian is the hostname you gave to the system during the install. The ~ indicates that you have been placed in root's home directory. Whenever you first log in you will see this prompt because every user defaults to their home directory at login. (User home directories are created automatically when the user accounts are created on the system.)

    All non-root users have a sub-directory under the /home directory. The names of these home sub-directories for non-root users match the user names (ex: /home/fred). The root user is a little different. root's home directory is off the root of the file system. Instead of /home/root it's at /root. It's important to understand that /root is the root user's home directory. Don't confuse it with the "root" of the file system, which is denoted by a single slash (/).

    Since you're in the root user's home directory, see what files are there by typing in ls and pressing Enter and you'll see that there's nothing. Kind of. There are also some hidden system files there. Try typing in ls -laF and pressing Enter. You'll see files that start with a period including the .bashrc and .profile files. They're both kind of the same thing, like a config.sys file on DOS systems.

    The .bashrc file sets certain environment defaults when you use the bash shell. You can look at the contents of the .bashrc file by typing in

    cat .bashrc

    ('cat' is the equivalent of the DOS TYPE command which just "types out" the contents of a text file on the screen.) As you can see, you can cat out a hidden system file the same as any other file.

    In most UNIX/Linux configuration files any line that begins with a pound character (#) are comments (or are commands that have been commented out as in the case of numerous alias commands in the .bashrc file).


    Note:  There is one case where a line starting with a pound character (#) is not a comment. The very first line is shell scripts will look something like this:

    #!/bin/sh

    This is known as the "bang" or "shebang" line. It specifies the path to the shell that the script should be run in. (You can run a shell script under a different shell than the one you're currently using.)

    alias commands let you substitute one command for another, or "create" your own command. Note the line in the .bashrc file:

    alias rm='rm -i'

    This just substitutes the standard rm command with itself but using the -i command-line switch. The -i command-line switch is interactive mode, which means it will prompt you for a confirmation whenever you use the rm command to delete a file (a safety measure).

    You can also "create" your own commands by aliasing existing commands with a different name. For example, you could enter the following line in the .bashrc file:

    alias zapfilz='rm -i'

    to "create" a zapfilz command.

    Linux defaults it's "virtual terminal" sessions (what you use when you are working at a shell prompt) to the "tty" (teletype) specification. However, some text editors don't get along with the tty terminal type very well. They work better with a "VT100" type of terminal. (The term "terminal" refers to the old "green screen" keyboard/screen devices that were commonly used with mainframes.) Since you tend to work with text files quite a bit in Linux, it would be beneficial to set our virtual terminal sessions to use the VT100 terminal type.

    Lets use the infamous vi text editor to edit the .bashrc file to change our default terminal type to VT100. We'll do this using an export statement.

    1. At the shell prompt type in vi .bashrc to open the file in the editor and the contents will be displayed.

      Note that most of the lines start with a pound sign commenting out all the lines as we mentioned earlier.
    2. Press the down arrow key until you get to a blank line in the file (the position of the command in the file isn't important).

    3. Press the 'a' key (for append).

      Note:  If you screw things up and you want to quit without saving, just press the following keys in the given order:

      Esc   :   q   !   Enter
    4. Type in the following line (don't start the line with a pound sign):

      export TERM='vt100'

    5. Now press the following keys in the given order to save the changes and exit vi:

      Esc   :   w   q   Enter
    Note that what we just did changes a startup file. It won't have any effect until the next time you log in. However, just enter that same export command at the shell prompt and it will take effect immediately. Once your enter it at the shell prompt, you can make sure it took effect by entering this command at the shell prompt:

    echo $TERM

    You can also try entering this command the next time you log in to make sure that the statement you entered into the .bashrc file is correct. $TERM is the environment variable which stores the current terminal value. All environment variables are upper-case. You use the $ character in front of them to indicate you want to echo the contents of the variable. If you didn't use the $ in the above command the word TERM would simply be echoed to the screen.

    The vi editor is legendary in it's difficulty to master. For one, it's a line editor, not a full-screen editor. For another, it has an "edit" mode and a "command" mode. (We went into edit mode above when we pressed the 'a' key above, and went back to command mode when we hit the Esc key.) There are entire books written on vi. It's only fair to mention though, that vi's keystroke combinations were devised in such a manner that once you get really good with vi, you'll rarely have to take your fingers off the "home" positions on the keyboard. The reason you want to at least become familier with vi is because every Linux and UNIX system will have it, no matter how old or eccentric a distro it is. That can't be said about any other editor.

    As mentioned, the .bashrc file sets up the user environment when they use the bash shell, which is the default shell for Linux. However, you can specify a different shell in the .profile file in the home directory.

    Remember the TERM environment variable above. There's also a SHELL environment variable. If you type in:

    echo $SHELL

    you'll see that you are using the Linux-default bash shell.


    Where to learn more - The best of our bookshelves:

    Debian GNU/Linux Bible
    More info...
        Debian GNU/Linux Bible is your typical Bible-series book. It's nothing you'd want to sit down and read cover to cover but it's a good reference to have as a starting point when you want to play around with something new. It covers a very wide range of subjects without a lot of depth but throws in a lot of command and code examples. It gets into backups, scripting, multimedia, GUIs and GUI apps, adding peripherals, all the various types of servers you can set up (including NIS), and monitoring tools. While written for Sarge, most of the info is still current.


    What's next? If your system is connected to a network you should try seeing if you can ping another workstation on your network. You can use the procedure in Step 11 of the installation above (using winipcfg or ipconfig) to find the IP address of any Windows system on your network. For example, if the address of another system on your network is 192.168.10.12 you'd type in

    ping 192.168.10.12

    and see if you get "64 bytes from" the address. Left on its own, Linux ping will just keep pinging so press Ctrl-C to end it.

    If you don't get any ping responses or get errors indicating that the "Network is unreachable" you can enter the ifconfig (not ipconfig as with Windows) and check the settings for your eth0 interface (this is the NIC). The lo interface is the local loopback which is only used for testing.

    If no eth0 interface is listed, you want to check to see if the kernel driver module got loaded at boot up. Enter the lsmod command. You should see the driver module for your NIC. Typical driver module names are 3c59x, e100, and tulip. More information on checking the status of network cards and drivers are given on the Networking page.

    If the module IS loaded (but eth0 doesn't show up in the ifconfig list) it means that the kernel "sees" the NIC. It's just not being brought up automatically at bootup. Check to see if it's set to be brought up automatically by typing out the contents of the interface configuration file with the command:

    cat /etc/network/interfaces

    and look for the line:

    iface eth0 inet static

    If there is no line like this, or if it has a pound character (#) at the beginning of the line (commented out) that's the problem. You can edit it using the vi editor, or you can take the easy way out and use the nano editor withe the command:

    nano /etc/network/interfaces

    and hit Ctrl-X to exit the editor and save the file.

    If the module ISN'T loaded try loading it with the command:

    modprobe 3c59x

    Substitute the "3c59x" for the name of the NIC module you selected during the installation. After doing this you may also need to bring the interface up manually. Use the ifconfig command to see if eth0 is now listed. If not, bring it up with the command:

    ifconfig eth0 up 192.168.10.50 netmask 255.255.255.0

    substituting an address and subnet mask appropriate for your network. If you couldn't load the module you may have specified the wrong driver module during the installation or your NIC may be bad or, if this is a used non-PCI NIC, may have had the default IRQ, etc. settings changed at some point.

    Once everthing is working, back up your server using our backup page.



    Solving Hard-Drive Problems Top of page

    The one downside of using an older system to set up a Linux server is that the most likely devices to fail are the power supply and hard-drive. When a hard-drive starts to go bad on a Linux system you'll usually find out about it when you boot the system.

    The messages displayed when disk errors are encountered duing boot-up are pretty ominous, and a little confusing. You're told to run fsck manually but not really told how. The command to mount a file system as Read/Write is also given and that's NOT what you want to do. You're given the choice of pressing Control-D for "normal startup" (which is actually just a reboot which won't help the problem at all) or entering the root password for system maintenance. When presented with these errors and this choice, do the following:

    • Enter the root password.
    • Run the command fsck -fp /dev/hda1 (or whatever your root partition is).
    • Repeat the above command until no errors are displayed.
    • Reboot the system using the init 6 command.
    • Run the command badblocks -sv /dev/hda1 (or whatever your root partition is). It will take awhile.

    One way to tell if your hard-drive is starting to fail is to turn the system off for about 30 minutes. If you don't have problems for the first hour or so of using, but then problems start popping up, the hard-drive is failing. That's because failing hard-drives are more sensitive to heat and the hotter the drive gets the more likely it is to have problems. Replace these heat-sensitive drives ASAP.

    While the above installation procedure got you an operational system, it's pretty much bare-bones at this point. Next we'll install the "base" and some optional packages on the Packages page to put some meat on the bones.




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