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Installing Debian
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Network configuration

Unlike some other Linuxes, Debian allows you to add more languages later, by running dpkg-reconfigure locales as root.

Once booted, the installer will guide you through a succession of menus. Figure 2 shows the first of these, language choice. Navigate the installer menus with the keyboard: the up and down arrow keys move the selection, and Enter selects it. When multiple selections are available, the space bar toggles selections on and off. Where a menu has options such as Go Back, use the Tab key or left and right arrow keys to jump to those.

installer language choice menu
Figure 2. Installer language choice menu

It's possible to install Debian over a wireless network, but only with certain wireless cards.

Once your language, location, and keyboard choice are set up, the installer attempts to configure the network. The way to make this easiest on yourself is to have the machine plugged in to a DCHP-capable network, so you need to do as little configuration as possible. (Most small business and home network routers have DHCP available by default.) If you're installing just from CDs, then it's OK to proceed without configuring the network.

The final stage of the network configuration is to choose the hostname and domain name. These constitute your computer's identity on the network. Unless you configured the network manually and have predetermined the hostname, it's fine to accept the defaults here. You can always change them later.

Partitioning the disk

Debian, like any Linux, divides up a disk for different purposes. The minimum basic configuration is to have two partitions, one for disk storage and one for swap space, the virtual memory used by Linux to store parts of programs when it doesn't need them in physical memory. Partitioning is one of the few choices you make in the Debian installer that you can't really fix afterward without a complete reinstallation, so a sensible strategy is to refrain from making it more complicated for yourself than it needs to be.

When it comes to partitioning the disk for installation, you find the value of being able to dedicate a whole disk.

The partition stage of the installer offers two choices: to erase the entire disk or to configure the partitions manually.

Following the whole-disk strategy first, the installer will use "guided partitioning" mode. Here you will face a choice between three setups: all files in one partition, a desktop setup with a separate partition for home directories, and a multiuser setup with a partition for each of /, /home, /usr, /var and /tmp. If you don't understand the significance of the multiple partitions, then you are unlikely to need to choose the multiuser setup. If in any doubt, just choose the first option, recommended for new users.

After making a choice on partitioning, you will see a screen similar to that in Figure 3, where you should choose to finish the partitioning and write the changes to disk.

Partition summary screen
Figure 3. Partition summary screen

If you wish to dual-boot your computer or have more specialized partitioning requirements, follow the manual partitioning path. This will bring you directly to the screen in Figure 3, which will show the existing partitioning strategy for the disk. This list of partitions will show any existing partitions from Windows, indicated by ntfs, or Mac OS X, indicated by hfs+ or Macintosh.

The minimum requirement for partitioning is to set up a partition for the root filesystem, /, and a swap partition. You must have free space for doing this, which either you freed up earlier or can make by deleting unwanted partitions. Be careful about deleting partitions you don't understand. Many new PCs keep suspend-to-RAM or recovery partitions at the beginning of the disk, and it's better to keep those. Likewise, Macs have a succession of drivers stored in separate partitions on the disk that should remain.

To make a new partition, select the FREE SPACE entry and press Enter. If you then choose to partition the free space automatically, the procedure becomes that of the guided partitioning described earlier. Otherwise you must create your own partitions. The "Partitioning and Mount Point Selection" section of the Debian installation guide describes this process.

By default, the Debian installer will choose the ext3 filesystem for your disks. This is a well-tested filesystem with journaling capability, which means it can recover from crashes easily. More advanced users may wish to choose other filesystems, which is possible by the manual editing of the partition tables. If you use RAID or Logical Volume Manager systems for disk management, the installer also has special options; choose the appropriate options from the partition list screen.

Mac users should note one subtlety in partitioning. Debian requires a NewWorld boot partition of about 1MB in order to boot. The guided partitioning automatically sets this up, but if you're choosing the manual route, be sure to create this partition. The installer won't let you proceed without it.

For PC users, the final stage of partitioning is the installation of the grub boot loader, a program that handles the choice of different operating systems on machine power-up. Accepting the defaults the installer offers is fine here; it will install grub on the hard disk and configure it to show a choice of all operating systems available on the disk. If you want to use another boot loader of your choice, consult the "Making Your System Bootable" section of the Debian installer documentation.

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