[Rule] Debian install without cd

Richard Kweskin rkwesk at hellug.gr
Fri Aug 24 16:45:25 EEST 2007

C David Rigby wrote:

On a practical note, I did learn something about Debian yesterday that may
be useful to you.

> > In response to some remarks from Richard and James, I note that:
> >
> >    1. Debian can still be installed from floppy diskette. I just
> >    installed the latest version on my ancient dual PII-333 system (which
> we
> >    used for a while to host some RULE-project files - that was some
> years ago).
> >    It required three floppies - boot.img, root.img and net-drivers-1.img
> .

Debian can do a net install from the hard disk, as long as you can download
files onto the hard disk in advance and boot from floppy.


   1. Grab your favorite floppy-based mini-distro and use it to create an
   ext2 partition on your hard disk. I like Tomsrtbt (
   http://www.toms.net/rb/). You may prefer something else, and something
   that provides network access will make things quite a bit easier. That
   depends on your hardware.
   2. See this link:
   where the needed files are discussed. Basically, you need the net install
   vmlinuz and initrd.gz from the Debian archive netboot directory.
   3. Create a grub boot floppy, and use it to boot the kernel and load
   the initrd.gz. Now the installer has control and is loaded in RAM. So,
   you can partition the disk as you wish, including removing the partition you
   booted from. Details are here:
   Other sections of the same manual describe the commands for using grub's
   command line to actually boot the kernel with ramdisk.

The sticking point in all this is the assumption that you can gain network
access from a floppy boot disk. As well, you do not want to damage a Windows
installation before you are confident that a Debian installation has a good
chance of success. Better GNU/Linux than Windows, but better Windows than a
paperweight! (8->

Finally, there is one way of installing on a recalcitrant laptop that has
always worked for me. Remove the hard disk and mount it in a 2.5" to 3.5"
adapter inside a desktop PC, or even an external USB case, then run the
installation against it there. The Debian installer will automatically give
you a kernel tuned to the CPU of the installing system, but you can add a
kernel that matches the notebook's CPU using dselect or apt-get before
returning it to the laptop. Other than the kernel, all of Debian is compiled
against basic i386, IIRC. Once the hard disk is back in the laptop, you'll
need to adjust networking, Xorg, and so forth.

Anyway, if you want amplification or clarification on any of these points,
just let me know. Feel free to send along details on your hardware as well.


Thank you, David. The above can go into a new addition to our site's documentation.

My hardware:

laptop is Sony Vaio pcg-505fx, i.e. cpu p1 @ 266MHz with mmx, hd 4.3 GB, ram 64 MB, graphics Neomagic 2MB, pcmcia Ricoh's RL5c475 type II, bridges,ide and usb Intel PIIX4 and pcmcia cards both type II (1) Xircom CE3B-100BTX nic (2) citirom adapter attaching external ide

My utilities:

I, too, like Tomsrtbt. It successfully brings up the nic so I can wipe the hd anytime I want and start again.
I also use a grub floppy which can set off any setup on the hd. I also can use an old Knoppix image (3.3) for which I have a bootable floppy so long as I have setup a partition which I won't otherwise use and have copied over the compressed file KNOPPIX from the cd and do not change its name.

With the above I can put what I want on the laptop. What I didn't know is what the ramdisk on whatever floppy needs to contain so that an installer or some other script or program may run once the kernel on the floppy is loaded. So thank you, David, for pointing me in the direction of http://d-i.alioth.debian.org/manual/en.i386/ch05s01.html#boot-initrd. What I have also heard of is a kernel on a floppy allowing a larger kernel being loaded afterwards to then startup whatever, but I know nothing else about that.

Interestingly, the 2.6.8 kernel from Debian for i386 kicks off a repeating series of warnings of acpi messages:

ACPI-0352: *** Error: Looking up [\_TZ_.ATF0] in namespace, AE_NOT_FOUND
ACPI-1133: *** Error: Method execution failed [\_SB_.PCI0.ISA_.SIO_.EC__.QREC] (Node c394bb40), AE_NOT_FOUND
ACPI-1133: *** Error: Method execution failed [\_SB_.PCI0.ISA_.SIO_.EC__.SCID] (Node c394bb60), AE_NOT_FOUND
ACPI-1133: *** Error: Method execution failed [\_GPE._E09] (Node c3b90200), AE_NOT_FOUND
ACPI-0295: *** Error: AE_NOT_FOUND while evaluating method [_E09] for GPE[ 0]

What is even more interesting is when I first booted with my old Knoppix with the 2.4 kernel and then did a reboot (without turning off the laptop) with the 2.6.8 kernel into Debian, there were no repeating messages.

So I downloaded the Debian linux-source-2.6.22 package and compiled a kernel from it for the laptop and now there are no more messages filling my screen!

I started with a bare minimum of packages, used aptitude to update, dist-upgrade (to latest Etch) and then installed as few xorg packages (using the vesa driver instead of the neomagic) as I could plus icewm, openoffice's writer and firefox. This yields a footprint of 570 MB. With X up and firefox running nearly all the ram is used (1.8mb free) but only using 36kb of swap. When writer and firefox are running the ram usage stays the same but the swap usage is now 11.5 MB. When writer has loaded my tiny .xinitrc and firefox has loaded a page from the net the swap usage goes up to 24MB. Needless to say it all drags along, but it does work.


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