Debian Guide (Long)

Preparing to install Debian
Configuring and managing Debian
Why Debian?


Why would someone who has not before installed Linux (pronounced Linn-nux), do so now?
  • they have an interest in better understanding this "alternative"
  • they want to satisfy themselves it can do the job(s) required of themselves and/or their office staff
  • they want to be able to show IT decision-makers that they should be less afraid wink

The above is only the briefest of introductions. More is appended, below the quick-reference items, as "Why Debian?"

Preparing to install Debian GNU/Linux

There are multiple options, but the following should be practical for most:

  1. Know in advance what is your computer hardware (processor family, motherboard, video card, chip set information, hard drive information, monitor information). You will need the processor info to select the right installer, and will require some of the other information during set-up. It may also be a good idea to google your hardware info, along with "install" and the current stable release ("sarge" is current as of this writing; next will come "etch").
  2. Make sure that you will have available some writable CD media and a burner.
  3. Plan your time.
    • Obtain / prepare your installation media:
      • If your internet connection is slow or costly, consider on the Installer page above to obtain low-cost CDs from the CD Vendor link, choosing one who forwards a portion of the cost to Debian.
    • If on the other hand you have a high speed internet connection, you can likely download a suitable installer image -- I suggest netinstall rather than businesscard -- in about 20-30 minutes. Choose from the Installer page
      • you will then need to burn it properly to prepare a bootable installer disk. To burn may require only 5 minutes, unless you will have to first figure out how to do this (Windows help here).
    • If you will not have concurrent internet access to a second computer (handy to access instructions online) you will want to select, download and -- if you have only one computer -- print suitable guides in advance. You will want to have access to the Debian Installer page for its:
      • Errata section
      • stable release Installation manual linked from the same page
    • Once you have all your information and disks available and are ready to boot off the CD, the installation may require only an hour. But in case it takes more -- maybe you are reading/learning extra during the installation -- allow for more time.
  4. Be prepared to choose installation options, for example whether the machine will be used as a server, or as a desktop machine. This will help the installer to make some choices for you. You can always go back later, even after the installation is completed, and alter your choices by running tasksel
  5. I suggest people be prepared to submit a report on how it went, to the Debian Install team. Not only is it courteous but, in the event of any hiccups, they may freely give you helpful knowledge to fix something or help you next time:

Configuring and Managing Debian

Using a mixed (stable / testing / unstable / experimental) system

We are recommending that people select debian 'stable' for servers, and 'testing' for desktop machines.

While apt-get permits the installation of packages from a different distribution, some graphical tools like Synaptic Package Manager have had problems managing a mixed system and, especially if you would decide to include sources for unstable or experimental, you are hereby warned to protect yourself against the dangers of a mixed system by having a suitable preferences file in /etc/apt/. Use the command line to modify the /etc/apt/preferences file to "pin" and safely handle a mixed system.

You can consider whether (as root or via sudo) to adopt this uploaded-for-sharing preferences file. After you preview it, in case it was hacked, issue the following commands:
  • cd /etc/apt
  • cp preferences preferences.default
  • wget
  • {text editor of choice e.g. nano or pico or gedit } preferences

More information on configuring apt is here.

User management

You will have assigned a root password, and a principal user login (say, in this example user1) and user password, during your Debian installation process.
  • from a terminal session, you may want to create a system account to which certain administrators can "switch" (using su ) for the later database bootstrapping process, using the command
    useradd -c "system account GNUmed"-g sys gmadm
  • you may need to create an additional user, say a person to whom you may subcontract some maintenance, and who may need to be trusted with much except usually the root password. In the following sample command:
    1. substitute a real initial and lastname for user2
    2. only if the person can be trusted to see clinical data, include (after "adm") "gmadm"
    3. use the command
      useradd -c "Tech supportName" -d /home/user2 -g users\ -G adm -m -s\ /bin/bash user2
      which will also add the person / login to the group adm
  • don't worry about creating the system user postgres, it will be created by the postgres installation process
  • don't worry about creating the postgres database user gm-dbo, it will be created by the later GNUmed database bootstrapping process. Note gm-dbo will not exist at a system account level.

System fine-tuning

Additional packages that people chose to add to Debian 5.x "Lenny" using apt-get install package name:
    • apt-show-versions (handy piped to "| grep package name_", else just use apt-cache policy _package name)
    • apt-spy or netselect (evaluate mirror download speeds)
    • xfce4 (graphical user interface) and xfce4-goodies - see debian xfce site
    • ntp (may be installed by default; suggest remove ntpdate; this guide may be helpful; and here, a more recent link to the ntp pool servers)
  • check out available mirror sites via the Debian mirror list and mirror status pages
  • apt-spy (more thorough) and netselect (only pings available mirrors) can identify the faster among the Debian mirrors for input into your etc/apt/sources.list settings file, albeit some mirrors stay less-well synced to the official sites. You may also rather confirm the legitimacy of a mirror before trusting it. Before running either tool, make a backup of etc/apt/sources.list or check the package man page (e.g. man apt-spy) for the command line options so you can save the output to a new file and not lose what you had.
  • if you will be trusting anyone else to use your machine as anything but an ordinary user, it is advisable to configure them into the sudo package (see Quick links, below)
  • you may sometimes get a status complaint "unable to resolve host " requiring that you append, to the line of your /etc/hosts, (see here)
  • if your regular user GUI environment seems to refuse locale alterations (like en_DK.UTF-8) from the console, a workaround is to create (in ~/) an .xsessions.rc file with two lines #!/bin/sh and LANG=locale and make executable and log out and in. See this -devel posting
  • the Gnome system seems to have a bug accessing > Admin programs, reporting (as with Date and Time) "unsupported platform" which might require a trial of reconfiguring or reinstalling gnome-network-admin or switching to a different network manager like wicd (reference). A gnome bug may have been inadvertently closed.
  • people running a VM on a MacBook? (13 inch) may, if using Gnome, like to set their System > Screen Resolution to 1280 x 800 and their System > Preferences > Appearance, Fonts tab, Details to a Resolution of 110 dots per inch.
  • Proceed to DebianGuideShort for GNUmed installation instructions.

Other (command) reference

  • dpkg -S returns which package installed filename
    • example: $ dpkg -S /etc/gnumed/gnumed-backup.conf returns gnumed-server: /etc/gnumed/gnumed-backup.conf

Quick links:

Why Debian?

(pronounced Deb-ee-in named after Deb + Ian)

Of the various forms (distributions or distros) in which Linux is available
  • it is a form (one form, not the only form) with which the GNUmed community is comfortable
  • doctors may naturally align with the idea of the Debian Social Contract
  • it is a distro for which we best expect to be able to make and keep GNUmed easy to install and update. For some time now, we have had a member of the Debian team interested and helpful, as his time permits, to assist the GNUmed project (thanks, Andreas!!!)

You can get familiar with the Debian approach to releases and learn however much you like about Debian release codenames and the "freezing" process.

How shall I try Linux?
  1. Can you devote a full computer (even one a few years old) if your goal is to get familiar most easily and with fewest worries about disturbing something on a computer? If no,
  2. Can you devote an extra hard drive to a Debian Linux installation? If no,
  3. Can you run it under a virtual machine as is possible with products like VMWare (Fusion for the Mac O, Parallels etc? If no,
  4. Then you are feeling it is necessary to try Linux while sharing a single hard drive with an existing operating system (e.g. Windows or Mac OS). This is certainly possible but can be very tricky if you wish older versions and/or multiple versions of the other systems, and/or if you hope to shrink an existing partition nondestructively (hoping to preserve everything that is there). These are not recommended for first-time users however can be reasonable, especially if you are willing to find the time and patience to:
    1. back up all your valuable data on the small chance of trouble (you should really be backed up anyway if you are prone to carelessness or distraction when installing). You should also probably...
    2. reformat your hard drive, though it will mean you will have to reinstall your operating systems and your applications and your data. So keep this in mind for a time you may be obtaining a new machine.
    • note that to proceed with this option with minimal downtime, you will want to organize your plan and your media (CDs or backups) to reinstall your other operating system(s) and restore your applications -- don't forget all your settings -- and your data. For people using the Macintosh computer, this can be achieved using Carbon Copy Cloner or, for a little money, more flexibly using SuperDuper.
Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
preferencesEXT preferences manage 889 bytes 08 Sep 2012 - 12:05 JamesBusser Sample "preferences" file to replace a backed-up /etc/apt/preferences
Topic revision: 08 Sep 2012, JamesBusser
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