Installation of Debian GNU/Linux Step by Step (Part 1)

from the June 2002 Newsletter
by John Anderson

Over the last 5 months I've talked about the benefits of the GNU/Linux operating system. Now it's time to put my money where my mouth is. This article is the first in a step by step guide to installing Debian.

I have chosen the Debian distribution because it is widely used and runs the middle line between distributions which often work straight out of the box, like Red Hat, and ones which are very flexible and help you understand the system more, but can be arcane to configure like Slackware. Debian GNU/Linux is also very well documented, you can find out a slew of information at

Before I proceed, the obligatory disclaimer: Neither Actrix Networks nor the present writer can be held responsible for any fault or loss of information that may be due to the content of this article. Proceed with caution and at your own risk.

Packed and Ready to Go

Chances are you will already have a computer since you're reading this newsletter. You can simply reformat the hard drive and just whack Linux on there. This method can have mixed results. Think of it as heading out into a new country, mostly friendly and full of promise, but you still need to pack your bags carefully, have a decent map to get there and plan ahead a little. So, first of all, lets see what's in our bags.

There are several ways to find out what hardware makes up your computer. Making sure that you have disconnected the box from the mains, you can carefully open the box and record the hardware manually. Write down any significant looking numbers and letters and then check them on the Internet or send them through to me. Remember to always handle hardware carefully and to use a static strap (you can pick one of these up from any electronics store cheaply). Please be aware, if you mishandle your hardware you may never be able to fix it again. In order to find out the monitor setting you will have to dig out the manual that you've hopefully tucked away somewhere safe.

The other alternative is to use Windows to find out what you've got. Click on My Computer and then click once on the Local Disk Drive, usually called the c: drive. To the left you should see your hard disk capacity, which is usually measured now in GB or gigabytes.

Next , go to My Computer, Control Panel and then System. You will then need to find a panel called Device Manager. Under Windows 2000 it is under System and Hardware and then Device Manager.

You now need to scan through the list and write down the details of your video card, sound card, modem, network card and mouse. If you can't see enough details, right click on the item and then left click on properties.

Your list should look something like this:

HCF 56K PCI Modem
Serial Microsoft Mouse
Cirrus Logic GD5465 Graphics Card
Realtek 8139 Network Card
Creative Sound Blaster 16 Card

You also need to find out the frequency and resolution you are comfortable with. Right-click on your desktop and left click on properties, this will show your Display Properties. Now click on Settings and check out what it says under Colours. It is probably set to 16 bit or higher. Now look at Screen Area and write down what it says. It is probably something like 1024 by 768. Record these settings.

Now click on Advanced and Frequency. Record the frequency rate. It will be something like 75mhz.

One of the key areas where installations can have difficulty is WinModems. Most computers now come with these software based modems which are supposed to only be run on the Windows Operating Systems. You can find out more here at or send me an e-mail. WinModems are the equivalent of Here Be Dragons, you may want to save yourself a lot of heartache and purchase a hardware based serial port hardware modem.

Don't Forget the Map

We now need to get the map and determine the best way way to get there. We need the software.

Like almost everything to do with Unix, there is always more than one way to do it. Download a floppy set from an ftp server like, purchase a book like The Debian GNU/Linux Bible by Steven Hunger which comes with its own CD, or send a burnable CD to me care of Actrix Networks with a self addressed stamped envelope and I will send you a copy.

P O Box 11-410

A Spot of Planning

Well, we're all well-packed, plenty of warm jumpers and possibly a handkerchief or two as well, and now we have the map. If you've ever ended up cold and wet and wondering where you are, you'll know why we need to quickly plan ahead the first leg.

If you want to have a dual booting system, meaning having both Windows and Linux at the same time, you will need to use a tool like Partition Magic, which you can find here:

Partitions are divisions in you hard disk which allow you to divide up your information. In Windows, by default, you install everything in one partition, if you want though, you can have separate partitions which helps if you need to reinstall your system, and still preserve your files separately, or have separate operating systems running on the same computer. You can change your operating system at startup.

Unix systems naturally divide into different sections. One of the things that constantly amazes about this operating system is that it is often so transparent. If something goes wrong, usually you can find the problem quickly through a sound knowledge of the following system and the ability to find and use the manual pages. The following schema is quickly described below, a more detailed discussion is available here:

The system is divided up into.

/ root, the base of the system from which everything grows
/tmp temporary files
/usr and /usr/local where the applications sit

/bin binary files
/home the home of all user files
/etc configuration files etc etc
/var logs and mail, all the stuff that varies

/swap used when your computer's memory runs out of space

Some of these areas should have their own partition. There is a huge variety of ways of splitting the system up, but my recommendation is to split up the system like so. I have used 8 gigs of space:
/ 300MB
/swap 128MB
/tmp 300MB
/usr 3GB
/usr/local 2GB
/home 1GB
/var the remainder

When you load up Debian/GNU Linux for the first time you will be asked to partition your hard disk.

Let's Get Moving

So now we're ready to set foot on the road and begin. Send me a burnable CD and SASE if you want to head on to the next step. If you have any questions before we set out please email me on .

'Roads go ever ever on' - The Hobbit