Home > Debian, Linux > How to install Debian – my way

How to install Debian – my way

In this post I am not going to analyse the positive or negative (there is nothing negative :P) aspects of Debian.
I suppose that you know why Debian is such a good distro (number of packages, stability, rolling distro) and you want to install Debian but you are scared of the process. Actually it isn’t as difficult as it may sound. There is the easy way that you just install everything that the installation CD tells you or you can do something like the followings. My way of installing the Debian may be a little more ( 8O ) complex but after understanding it, the whole process will be quite automated and quick.

Before I start talking about the installation process I must check whether you are aware of some little but very important things! First of all the Debian OS is divided into three releases, the stable release, the testing and unstable or sid.

  • stable
    The “stable” distribution contains the latest officially released distribution of Debian.This is the production release of Debian, the one which we primarily recommend using.
  • testing
    The “testing” distribution contains packages that haven’t been accepted into a “stable” release yet, but they are in the queue for that. The main advantage of using this distribution is that it has more recent versions of software.
  • unstable
    The “unstable” distribution is where active development of Debian occurs. Generally, this distribution is run by developers and those who like to live on the edge.The “unstable” distribution is called sid.

Stable release is better for a server, testing for your pc and unstable (sid) if you are going to contribute to the Debian distro and you want to fix bugs and other. Personally I am using the testing release because it is pretty stable, not as the actual stable release but if you are installing this OS for personal use you will not have any problem and you will upgrade to the newer version of the packages quicker.

Also Debian’s packages are divided into three components: main, non-free and contrib:

  1. the free packages go into main
  2. the non-free ones into non-free, and
  3. the free ones which depend on non-free ones into contrib.

For more info about the Debian repository check this out.

Another thing that you may not know is about the filesystem’s hierarchy in linux. From wikipedia:

The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS) defines the main directories and their contents in Linux operating systems.

The least that you must know is that the root directory (/) is the root of the entire file system hierarchy, and that users’ home directories, containing saved files, personal settings, etc. are saved under /home. So a good idea is to have different partitions at least for your / (root) and /home (home) directories. This is because if you need in the future to format the /root directory for any reason (e.g. a crash that you can not fix) you can keep the /home directory with all the users’ data and personal settings.

But enough with those tiring things… lets start talking about the installation process.

I must note that one of the things that I am always scared of is to have my OS crashed when a deadline is approaching. So to face a problem like that and make a re-installation of my OS and having my configurations back in less than 45 minutes (it depends on your Internet connection), I make something like the followings.

Firstly, I always carry in my laptop’s bag a netinstall CD of Debian. The netinstall CD is about 175 MB and let you install the Debian OS over the Internet. As it is written in the official site:

A “network install” or “netinst” CD is a single CD which enables you to install the entire operating system. This single CD contains just the minimal amount of software to start the installation and fetch the remaining packages over the Internet.

So in order to install the Debian OS with the netinstall CD you must have primarily an ethernet connection to Internet.

Booting from the netinstall CD you will see something like that:

You just have to continue with the installation by following the install choice. I am not going to explain the whole process of the installation because it is the same as in all the OS installations (Ubuntu, Windows etc).

But I must notice that when you will reach the point of the partitioning it is good to do it manually, either because you have other Operating systems intalled in some other partitions and you don’t want to overwrite them or because you want to partition at least your disk for a different /home (home) and / (root) directory, for the reasons that I explained above.

The ammount of GB that you will dedicate to each partition is up to you. For the swap you can leave from 1 to 5 GB . It depends on your ram and the apps that you are running. For the / (root) partition a good ammount is about 30-40 GB if this will be your primary OS. The rest will be for the /home (home) partition. You must partition your disk(s) in a way that the / (root) partition will be smaller than the /home (home), because in your /home (home) directory you will keep your data.

The partitioning should look somehow like the image below.

I must notice that for a solid state disk is better to use ext2 file system and for a common disk ext3, or even better ext4 file system.

When a screen like the following will be prompted you just have to choice to install the standard system… the rest will be installed and configured from the script that I attach below.

I am always installing just the standard system because the repositories in the netinstall CD are set for the stable version of Debian and I am using the testing version for my desktop. So I install the standard system and then I log in to Debian and change the repositories to update the OS to the testing release. In this way I have to update just about some megabytes of software and not a bunch of gigabytes.

After installing the standard system, your PC will restart and ask you to login for the first time in Debian. Don’t be scared, it will be from command line because we had installed only the basics.

Probably you are a fan of the “sudo” command and you will want to install it:

su -c 'aptitude install sudo'

To configure the sudo command to work for you too and not just for the root, you just have to edit the sudoers file:

su -c 'visudo'

To give to a user full access to the root commands just type something like that:

# User privilege specification
root           ALL=(ALL) ALL

The next step is to set the repositories (as I said before). Open with an editor (vi, nano etc) the /etc/apt/sources.list file that lists the “sources” from which packages can be obtained and wherever you see the word stable or the name of the stable release e.g. lenny (this is the name of the stable release now) change it to the release that you want to have… (testing, sid (for unstable), or keep it to stable)… If you want to have access to all Debian’s packages add after the “main” word the “contrib non-free”.

After this step this list should look like that:

deb http://ftp.gr.debian.org/debian/ testing main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.gr.debian.org/debian/ testing main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ testing/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ testing/updates main contrib non-free

Note that the above links are for the greek mirror of Debian, because I leave in Greece. You may have another link If you are leaving somewhere else. The link’s structure is


You can find the Debian worldwide mirror sites here.

Also if you want to include some more multimedia packages and to install the skype to your OS add also the followings:

# debian multimedia
deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org/ testing main non-free

# skype
deb http://download.skype.com/linux/repos/debian stable non-free

In order to have access to the multimedia packages you will need also to install the debian-multimedia-keyring package with “dpkg -i debian-multimedia-keyring_2008.10.16_all.deb” (click on the previous link to download the package).

After setting your list of repositories you should update and upgrade the system by typing the following commands:

sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude safe-upgrade
sudo aptitude dist-upgrade

Then you can install all the other packages that you may need… like a graphic interface, a web browser and others.

For this reason I had made a little script that installs everything that I am using:

#--GRPAPHIC ENVIRONMENT------------------------------------------------------
# xorg server
sudo aptitude -y install xorg
# kde graphic environment
sudo aptitude -y install kdm kde-full

#--ACCESS THE NETWORK--------------------------------------------------------
# network manager for kde
sudo aptitude -y install network-manager-kde
# access wpa hot spots
sudo aptitude -y install wpasupplicant

#--INSTALL THEM--------------------------------------------------------------
sudo aptitude -y install sun-java6-bin
sudo aptitude -y install sun-java6-jdk sun-java6-jre
# headers for the linux kernel
sudo aptitude -y install linux-headers-$(uname -r)

#--MUST HAVE (FOR ALMOST EVERYONE)-------------------------------------------
# drivers for the audio card
sudo aptitude -y install alsa-base alsamixergui
# movie and audio players
sudo aptitude -y install mplayer smplayer amarok
# openoffice, kate: editor, okular: pdf viewer, dia: make diagrams
# aspell-el: spelling checker for greek
sudo aptitude -y install openoffice.org kate okular lsb dia aspell-el
# pidgin, kmess: IM client, icedove: mail client(thunderbird)
# iceweasel: broswer(firefox), deluge: torrent client
# choqok: twitter client
sudo aptitude -y install pidgin kmess icedove iceweasel deluge-torrent choqok
# make the firefox the default browser of the system
sudo update-alternatives --set x-www-browser /usr/bin/iceweasel
# mplayer plugin for browsers in order to access radio stations and others...
sudo aptitude -y install gecko-mediaplayer
# silverlight for linux
sudo aptitude -y install moonlight-plugin-mozilla
# skype
sudo aptitude -y install skype
# cd/dvd burner
sudo aptitude -y install k3b
# to run .exe
sudo aptitude -y install wine
# gwenview: image viewer, ksnapshot: print screen, gimp: image editing
sudo aptitude -y install gwenview ksnapshot gimp
# decompressing - compressing
sudo aptitude -y install ark
# unrar
sudo aptitude -y install unrar
# access ntfs filesystems
sudo aptitude -y install ntfsprogs libntfs-dev libntfs-3g54 libntfs-3g-dev
sudo aptitude -y install libntfs10
# for kdenlive mpeg-4
# http://tinyurl.com/2334yr4
sudo aptitude -y install libavcodec-dev libavdevice-dev libavfilter-dev
sudo aptitude -y install libavformat-dev libavutil-dev libpostproc-dev
sudo aptitude -y install libswscale-dev
# movie maker
sudo aptitude -y install kdenlive
# kde chm(format) viewer
sudo aptitude -y install kchmviewer

#--DEVELOPING TOOLS----------------------------------------------------------
# latex, kile is an ide for *tex
sudo aptitude -y install kile texlive-full
# code development tools
sudo aptitude -y install manpages-dev kompozer kdevelop eclipse subversion
sudo aptitude -y install build-essential valgrind mercurial python-wxglade
sudo aptitude -y install kdiff3 kompare
# produce code documentation
sudo aptitude -y install doxygen doxygen-gui
# emacs editor
sudo aptitude -y install emacs
# yakuake: console, wireshark, nmap: network tools
sudo aptitude -y install yakuake kdesdk wireshark nmap
# ssh server
sudo aptitude -y install openssh-server
# ssh client
sudo aptitude -y install openssh-client
# virtual machine
sudo aptitude -y install virtualbox-ose virtualbox-ose-modules-$(uname -r)

#--CHECK WHAT U WANT---------------------------------------------------------
# common unix printing system
sudo aptitude -y install cups
# drivers for hp printers
sudo aptitude -y install hplip
# boinc: volunteer computing
sudo aptitude -y install boinc-manager
# checking for cpu/gpu temps, battery level and other
sudo aptitude -y install acpi
# disk partitioning system
sudo aptitude -y install gparted
# similar to more
sudo aptitude -y install less
sudo aptitude -y install libxp6
# for pdfnup
sudo aptitude -y install pdfjam
# typing tutor
sudo aptitude -y install gtypist
# chm to pdf converter
sudo aptitude -y install chm2pdf
# samba
sudo aptitude -y install samba samba-client

So you can do the same and have this file to a USB flash drive and just mount it and run the script by typing:


If the file isn’t executable and you can’t run the previous command, you can change the script’s permissions by typing:

chmod +x path_to_the_script

And now you must have your Debian OS up and running! :P

Note that you may need to download and install some drivers too, like one for your GPU.

I must repeat that the whole process may seem a little difficult, but if you are using Linux for some time, you’ ll probably know the most of the above.

Summarizing the above steps:

  1. Install the standard system from the netinstall CD
  2. Install and configure the sudo command
  3. Change the repositories
  4. Update and upgrade the system
  5. Run the installation script

Fortunately for me and you, this is the END of this article!!!

ps: Seeing the length of this article, I am not sure if anybody will ever read it. If you are the One, please comment (lol)!

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Categories: Debian, Linux Tags: ,
  1. August 1, 2010 at 15:11 | #1

    Isn’t it funny that you made a Freudian slip about “leaving Greece”?
    It’s just where you talk about the localized ftp servers.

    Anyway, a thought:
    On their latest release, Linux Mint has a mintBackup package which is a nice GUI (gnome) application that can also export a list of installed packages and then import them back.
    Haven’t looked in the source code, but I guess there’ll be a simple python script doing all the work.

    Something similar would be a nice addition to your “installation script”, to dynamically install a list of packages (from a text file) instead of hardcoding them on a script and to get rid of those repeating “sudo aptitude -y install” lines.

  2. August 1, 2010 at 16:53 | #2

    @Nick Raptis
    Thanks Nick for reading the article and commenting… :P

    Yes, actually there is a command for this thing… “dpkg -l”, that lists all your installed packages…

    You could write somethng like this:

    dpkg -l | awk '{print $2}' &gt; backup_packages_names.txt
    sudo aptitude -y install $(cat backup_packages_names.txt)

    The problem is when I make a clean install, I don’t want to reinstall every package that I may have installed just for fun!

    Also the “main” packages have “always” the same names, but many of their dependencies change their names over the time…

    Also I had made this little script, not only for personal use… when someone asks me to install Debian I just have to go through a few lines and see what he don’t want to be installed and not through some thousand lines of packages, that I don’t even know what they are about….

    Thanks again for reading the article! :-) :-)

  3. tw
    August 2, 2010 at 12:07 | #3

    Very detailed installation guide. Quite an effort indeed.

    I often install with mini.iso which is about 7MB to download, and use a debfoster keeper file to let it install all the packages I need.

  4. August 2, 2010 at 16:32 | #4

    I had no idea about mini.iso and debfoster!
    I just checked debfoster and it seems a very cool tool…
    I am using Debian for the last two years and this is why I didn’t know about mini.iso. Nevertheless, I found it here and in the next installation I’ ll use it!
    thanks for the tips! :P

  5. August 2, 2010 at 19:03 | #5

    I’ve always thought Debian to be a tricky one to install but your guide made it really easy and I did my first ever Debian install successfully! So thank you!

  6. August 2, 2010 at 19:38 | #6

    @Toms ftp services
    I am glad to hear that! :)
    You will see that Debian is a wonderful distro…

  7. R S Chakravarti
    August 2, 2010 at 20:01 | #7

    Nice guide.

    Note that debian-multimedia now has a non-free section also.
    You probably want to include it.

  8. August 2, 2010 at 20:27 | #8

    @R S Chakravarti
    Thanks! I edited the post!

  9. August 2, 2010 at 21:05 | #9

    Thing is, I’m sure that aptitude knows which packages were installed manually and which as dependencies. I guess there’s no way to just get the former ones huh?

  10. August 2, 2010 at 22:19 | #10

    @Nick Raptis
    There’s may be, with debfoster as tw said here. I haven’t used this tool yet but I will… it seems very nice!

  11. Scott Ferguson
    August 19, 2010 at 13:12 | #11

    Q. Why aptitude? Why not just use apt? eg apt-get install whatever_package_or_packages

  12. August 19, 2010 at 16:36 | #12

    @Scott Ferguson
    For no specific reason… It just seems more user-friendly for me…
    In the past, I used the apt-get…
    Also recently I discovered that aptitude has a beautiful (terminal) interface from which you can administer your packages… I haven’t used it so much yet, but it seems really nice!

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