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michapma 11-07-2005 06:18 AM

Coming back to Debian
Hi all,

Sorry to go on at length about my personal experience. I expect to be able to use this thread to ask questions as I go, plus I feel like elaborating. You've been warned. If you'd just like to be helpful without going through a fuller context, you can skip down to the highlighted question below.

In September last year I installed Sarge (was testing but unofficially stable) on my PC on hdb. The installation was a success, and although there certainly were issues and a couple of frustrations, I had fun installing; fun, because I learned a lot of stuff as I went. This actually is a large part of what I like about *nix systems.

Unfortunately, the large part of my home computer use is for games and surfing, as well as occasional document work. At work I don't really have much of a choice; it's either WinXP or leave my office and sit at a UNIX terminal in the student lab. (That's not strictly true: I installed Debian by CD on a machine in my office, but I'm not allowed to connect it to the network... I have to transfer everything by USB stick, it's kind of like a car without wheels.) It seems that I never get very far past installing and configuring Linux. :(

I should get to the point. Last week I decided to learn Emacs and installed it on my PC. In the process I realized I kind of miss Debian, so I decided to get it running again. Not that it was missing or broken, but this year I transferred my Windows drive (I have my Windows partitions on a separate drive) to a new larger drive, and left the other drives disconnected. I also decided to let Windows take over the MBR, because GRUB was having trouble chain-loading XP; I think it's not on a primary partition or something. This left me with hdb now connected but a powerless bootloader. No problem, of course, I'll just use the GRUB bootable floppy I made.

The floppy, last used in January, is dead. Neither Windows nor Knoppix could read from it. So I tried rescue booting from the Debian CD, but the copy I had on hand was Woody 3.0r2, and I have Sarge installed, so it didn't work. I have the Sarge CDs here at work and will take them home and try again tonight to rescue boot, then write a new GRUB boot floppy. (Question comes below)

I would like to continue to use the NT bootloader and add an entry for Debian that can be loaded from by the NT bootloader. I did this with LILO when I had SuSE installed, and will try it with GRUB (for example, here.)

Question 1: Since I haven't really used or upgraded Debian since the end of 2004, I want to upgrade to the stable version of Sarge. I am burning a DVD today, which I can use both to install a new distribution or, hopefully, in place of Internet access for upgrading. The question is , if I have further trouble rescuing (i.e., booting) the current Debian installation (Sarge 3.1r2, I believe) -- I spent an hour or so last night trying, without knowing how to do it properly via Knoppix -- might it just be easier to reinstall Debian from scratch than pulling my hair out over a rescue operation? There isn't any work or valuable data on the Linux partition, just a working, configured installation that needs to be upgraded anyway.

Question 2:Now that I've decided that I can safely scrap my old Windows partitions on the original 80GB drive, I will eventually want to transfer my Linux paritions (currently on a 40GB drive) to that 80GB drive. How difficult might this prove to be? If transferring Linux partitions to a new drive turns out to be difficult (I don't own Norton Ghost), this would speak for just doing a fresh install on the 80GB drive now with the new Sarge, costing me the install procedure at the cost of rescuing and upgrading the current installation and transferring it later.

I realize there is some speculation involved here; I'm just asking for feedback and thoughts. I know it's designed to be easy to upgrade with Debian, but I've never actually done it, and I have no idea about transferring Linux partitions between drives. I did it with the Windows partitions -- not without difficulty -- using the Maxtor utility. It writes bit for bit, so I assume it can handle any file system, but I'm not too confident about it. Then again, maybe I should do these things just to have the experience. :)

trigggl 11-07-2005 11:32 AM

If you have no valuable data, just re-install with a new install disc. There are so many things that get messed up when you try to move an operating system. The fstab will be wrong for one. I don't think there's any good reason to save the old one.

trailnut 11-07-2005 11:37 AM

I vote for a fresh install on the 80GB disc. I installed the latest Debian 3 days ago via the internet and things went very smoothly.

ssfrstlstnm 11-07-2005 11:46 AM

I also think that you should just do a fresh sarge install. Another thing that has made it easier for me is to use at least two partitions (/ and /home) so that when you reinstall you can keep the data in /home. Then you can keep your config files in /home (ie .mozilla) and also back up the /etc directory in /home.

I think you can use dd to tranfer the data to a new hard drive after formatting. But I have never done this myself, so maybe someone else can give better directions.

X-DraGoN 11-07-2005 11:47 AM

Another vote for
a Clean install, will save you miles of trouble unless you are really sure what you are doing (and I read that you are not)
Format the drive, install Sarge stable and enjoy a new Debian system!

michapma 11-07-2005 02:53 PM

If I didn't know better, I might get the impression . . . that you all think that I should just install Sarge on the new hard drive. What is this world coming to!

I've always wanted to try out these fancy new installers. I might just give it a try, even though you all want to talk me out of it. ;)


michapma 11-07-2005 06:43 PM

The installation started well. I put some thought into the partitioning scheme and made notes.

Then I got to the boot loader part. Since I don't want to overwrite the MBR, I decided to write GRUB to a bootable floppy. I tried with 7 different floppies, making sure they were not write-protected, but they all failed (some I tried several times). This has left me with no other option but to choose "Continue without boot loader". Here is the messge I got:


You will need to boot manually with the /vmlinuz kernel on partition /dev/hdb1 and root=/dev/hdb1 passed as kernel argument.
Unfortunately, I don't know what the syntax of that command is, and the installation manual is equally unhelpful:


If you are booting directly into Debian, and the system doesn't start up, either use your original installation boot media, or insert the custom boot floppy if you have one, and reset your system. This way, you will probably need to add some boot arguments like root=root, where root is your root partition, such as /dev/sda1.
Upon rebooting with the DVD nothing I tried worked. Google hasn't solved my problem either. Would someone be so kind as to let me know how to to manually boot into my new installation? (I will probably submit this as something to be updated in the installation manual.)


BittaBrotha 11-07-2005 06:50 PM

Let Grub install into MBR, it usually picks up any Windows OS installed and add it to the loader option.

Maybe you can use Debian's cd in rescue mode to install grub.

It can be a pain to peel the first 512 bytes off the root to add it to NT bootloader.

michapma 11-08-2005 05:47 AM


Originally posted by BittaBrotha
Let Grub install into MBR, it usually picks up any Windows OS installed and add it to the loader option.

Maybe you can use Debian's cd in rescue mode to install grub.

It can be a pain to peel the first 512 bytes off the root to add it to NT bootloader.

The problem I have (if I want to keep NTLDR in the MBR) is twofold: 1) I can't GRUB to write to a floppy (this is not GRUB's fault, but rather the floppies or else the floppy drive) to work, and 2) I don't know how to use the Debian CD in rescue mode. The help system and the installation manual do not explain how to use rescue mode.

In fact, it's not very painful to get Windows to load Linux, if you can get Grub to write to the floppy. But I think you may be right, installing GRUB to the MBR is probably the way to go. I didn't want to do it like that this time around, because last year I couldn't get GRUB to chainload WinXP directly. I think the reason could be that I ignorantly installed WinXP on a logical partition; I'm not sure. I tried changing the GRUB commands, but never got it to successfully load XP. (I always loaded the NTLDR with GRUB from Win2000 first, which is set up to dual-boot 2000 and XP). I'll just have to figure out how to do it directly with GRUB, so I don't have to go through two installatino menus when booting Windows.

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