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Basic Linux Training
Lesson 3: Preparing Your Hard Disk
Table of Contents
Ideally, you would install Linux on it's own hard disk. (In fact, you can
buy a second hard disk with Linux pre-installed.) Most of us are not that
lucky, so we'll have to create a partition on the hard disk we're using
for DOS/Windows. Since the operating systems are contained on separate
partitions, they can peacefully co-exist on the same computer. In fact,
Linux can access all the files on a DOS/Windows partition, and through
an emulation program, WINE, run Windows programs.
You'll need at least 150 MB of free space for a really useful Linux
installation, and upwards of 450 MB if you intend to load most of the software
- such as the compiler and programming tools, kernel source, and have a
comfortable margin for additional programs later. (These numbers are higher
than those given in the textbook, written when hard disk storage space
and RAM were both much higher priced than they are today. Trying to squeeze
Linux into as small a space as possible is no longer necessary.)
You'll need a swap partition if you have less than 16 MB RAM to act
as virtual RAM. Unfortunately, the swap partition can be used only for
swap space. The rule of thumb of adding swap space to total 16 MB including
RAM is probably more like totaling 32 MB. If you have 32 MB RAM you may
not need a swap partition; you can always add a swap file if you have a
particular need, then delete it and continue as you were before.
You may want to set up more than one Linux partition. For example, /,
/usr, /home. There are a number of advantages in doing this - you
have better security because damage to one partition will be insulated
from the others, other than damage to the MBR, of course; upgrades are
much easier to do, especially with Slackware, and so are backups. Remember,
though, that Intel limits you to 4 primary partitions, and that
the numbering for logical partitions always begins with 5.
The bulk of your hard disk should be devoted to /usr,
with most of your programs added there. Something like the following is
practical for a 250 MB partition:
That may or may not be practical for your situation, so read the HOWTOs
and if you need to - repartition. (Mistakes are all part of the learning
process. Questioning and revising is what science and technology are all
/ - 60 MB
/usr - 180 MB
/home - 10 MB
Remember that the X Window System will run over 55 MB (in /usr/X11R6)
and your kernel source code will run over 27 MB (in /usr/src),
and that's just two.
If you have a print out of the Hardware Survey, you should have no problem.
Just keep notes of everything you do - particularly the partition table
when you run fdisk during the initial installation. If something
should go wrong, write down the error messages. This will prove invaluable
with getting help with troubleshooting.
If you plenty of hard disk space to devote to Linux you can skip most of
these procedures, except the backup.
Prune your drive; delete programs you never use, all the shareware and
zip files, old e-mail and newsgroups messages (or move them to floppies
if you want to save them).
The executable programs on your computer should have installation floppies
or CD-ROM, so, basically, you need to concentrate on backing up your configuration
files (autoexec.bat, config.sys, win.ini, system.ini, etc.) and
your data files (anything you have created), as well as any additional
software that you have added and want to keep.
You need to make sure that the data stored in your Master Boot Record
is in sync with where is actually located on your hard disk. There is a
non-destructive DOS utility for this. (If you are prompted whether to save
these lost chains to file, answer 'no' - otherwise your root directory
will be cluttered with a lot of junk you'll end up deleting anyhow.)
The /f switch fixes the lost chains.
As you edit files, the newly entered data will be stored in the next available
space on your hard disk, and over time your hard disk will be fragmented
- as opposed to being contiguous, part may be stored in one location and
part in another. Then as files are deleted, your hard disk has gaps in
it - sort of like Swiss cheese; this is fragmentation.
Before you run the DOS defragmentation utility, temporarily delete your
Windows swap file also.
The next time you start Windows, you'll be reminded that the swap file
has been corrupted, and asked whether you want to delete the corrupted
file - answer yes, and reset your swap file before you do anything else.
Some distributions use more or less floppies for the installation, so make
adjustments accordingly. However, you should have an Emergency DOS Boot
disk, the disks for the installation, a disk for fips and a copy
of your Master Boot Record (in case you need to restore it), and a Linux
boot disk for your kernel image.
C:\>format /u a:
This is an unconditional format; if you're using fresh, pre-formatted floppies,
you can skip this step (or use /q instead of /u for a quick
format just to be safe).
Make a DOS bootable floppy if you don't have one already; you'll also need
to copy some additional DOS utilities to this disk; e.g. format, fdisk.com,
system.com, restore.com, etc. (any DOS utility that you may need to work
some quick fix in case your system goes down and you have to boot from
a floppy). Label this first floppy Emergency DOS Boot, and date.
(See bootable.txt in the archives for additional information.)
You will use this floppy to boot your computer with the Linux operating
system, rather than DOS, to install from the CD-ROM. There are a number
of options depending on how you want to do your installation; for this
example, we will be using a colorized installation program and installing
from CD-ROM. rawrite the bootdisk on the second floppy. Label
this diskette Bootdisk and date. (Some versions use rawrite2.)
E:\install\fips*ft;rawrite color.gz a:
rawrite does a block by block transfer, you can NOT substitute
There are a number of option, but for our example here we will be using
the boot.i for IDE; you will have to use the one which is appropriate for
your specific hardware. rawrite the rootdisk on the third
floppy. Label this diskette Rootdisk and date.
E:\install\fips>rawrite bare.i a:
Which boot disk to use depends on your CD-ROM; first go to the directory
for the size of your floppy drive (1.2 or 1.44). All IDE boot disks (.i)
support IDE hard drives and CD-ROM drive plus the additional drivers listed;
all SCSI boot disks (.s) have full IDE support plus the additional drivers
listed; choose the image with your CD-ROM and the least number of other
If you're confused by the listings, find one that has your CD-ROM listed
and use the extension for whether your hard drive is IDE or SCSI.
Copy fips.exe and restorbb.exe from the CD-ROM
(usually in E:/install/fips) on one floppy. You will copy
your old MBR (Master Boot Record) to this floppy during the installation
program, in case you ever need to restore it. (Things can and do occasionally
go wrong and you're dead in the water unless you can restore your computer
to the way it was before you started messing around with critical things
like the MBR.) Label this diskette FIPS, and date.
A copy of the old MBR will be on your Linux partition as /boot/boot.0300
(for IDE drives), or /boot/boot.0800 (for SCSI drives). Copy
this to the floppy disk, but do not delete the original on your hard disk.
Reserve the fifth floppy for your zImage which will be copied
to this diskette during the installation program. (You'll be prompted during
the setup program.) Label this diskette vmlinuz and date.
Choose the disk sets you want to install; just installing everything can
cause problems and waste hard disk space. If you're not familiar with any
of the programs and utilities, all the setup programs will have a default
minimum preselected that will be adequate for the time being.
A few tips on selections: The bash shell is standard in
Linux; the others pale in comparison, however if disk space is tight, you
might try ash instead. There are a number of editors - you'll
probably use emacs for the majority of your work; some variations
you might like better are joe and jove; when
you need a quick edit, vi is much smaller and much faster.
You'll have to watch out for your X server, only load one.
The programs you need to connect to the Internet will be covered later.
Textbook: Running Linux
Chapter 2: Preparing to Install Linux, p.46-51
Terms and Concepts:
Define and add these to your glossary:
- master boot record (MBR)
- partition table
NOTE: As you begin some extensive reading of the LDP HOWTOs and
mini-HOWTOS, bear in mind that they were written by many different people
with different writing styles and skills. Some of these documents are very
easy to read and understand, others are not. There will necessarily be a lot
of repetition, but the information you need is there. Some Linux documentation
is cyrrently available in translation, and more will
become available in the months ahead.
Depending on your distribution, you might also want to check the Linux
Gazette archives for additions to the Installation and Getting Started
Guide specific to that distribution:
http://www.ssc.com/lg/ - Linux Gazette.
Various LDP HOWTOs and mini-HOWTOs at:
Some of the most useful at this stage are:
and from the mini-HOWTOs:
and the appropriate mini-HOWTOs, especially those with your operating system(s)
in the title.
Go to Basic Linux Index
Date last revised: 11 May 1998
Copyright © 1997, 1998 Henry
White. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction or redistribution
without prior written consent is prohibited.
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