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Still not tested nor finished

A much easier way of installing with floppies can be found at SmartBootManager.

The idea is to install on a system with no (working) CD-ROM drive, but a system that does have a floppy drive. You'll need a network connection for it, too.


The plan is to:

  1. Boot from Debian Etch install floppies
  2. Get far enough to have network access
  3. Use the Debian Etch installer to partition the hard drive
  4. Use debootstrap from gNewSense to put gNewSense there instead

    # Grab the latest debootstrap_*.tar.gz from http://archive.gnewsense.org/gnewsense/pool/main/d/debootstrap/ and tar -zxvf debootstrap_*.tar.gz and follow directions to make and install the application. The pre-packaged deb binary will probably not work with dpkg -i because the Debian boot floppy may not meet gNewSense's dependencies. See "Getting debootstrap" below.

  5. Reboot, crossing some fingers.

STEP 1: Prepare the Etch installer

Download these floppy images http://ftp.nl.debian.org/debian/dists/etch/main/installer-i386/current/images/floppy/ :

Put them on floppies:

  dd if=/path/to/floppy/images/boot.img of=/dev/fd0

STEP 2: Start the etch installer


... would be to make boot floppies for Knoppix.

This works only if you have a CD-ROM but you can't boot on it (old BIOS, non bootable SCSI adapter).

 * Boot knoppix on another computer.

 * K Menu --> KNOPPIX --> Utilities --> Create bootfloppies for KNOPPIX.

Then put the first floppy in the computer to install, KNOPPIX CD-ROM in the player, start the computer, put the second floppy when asked and you will be in KDE.


... would be using a Smart Boot Manager floppy to boot the system. For more information take a look at the SmartBootManager

Q & A

Would be a bit rude of me to modify someone elses nicely built wiki page, but heres something that came to my attention:

"4. Use debootstrap from gNewSense to put gNewSense there instead"

Ok, I've created the Debian Etch installer floppies and booted, created partitions etc. But exactly -how- would I "Use debootstrap from gNewSense to put gNewSense there instead"?

 Grab the latest debootstrap_*.tar.gz from http://archive.gnewsense.org/gnewsense/pool/main/d/debootstrap/ and tar -zxvf debootstrap_*.tar.gz and follow directions to make and install the application.  The pre-packaged deb binary will probably not work with Debian because of the gNewSense dependencies.  Anybody try this?

I don't know much about this but I have ideas: see http://archive.ubuntulinux.org/ubuntu/dists/warty/main/installer-i386/current/doc/manual/en/apcs03.html

Before you start

I have used the Debian GNU/Linux floppies to install the system I'm currently typing from. Sidenote: working with floppies almost always means one of them is broken and you might want to keep a backup computer with rawwrite/ dd ready. I took notes of what I did, but I might have made mistakes writing things down. This worked for *me* on a i386 laptop without a cdrom. My editor of choice was vim, you can replace those commands with nano or some other available editor). I used http://archive.ubuntulinux.org/ubuntu/dists/warty/main/installer-i386/current/doc/manual/en/apcs03.html

 and http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i386/ch-preparing.en.html (paragraph 3.7) as my guides. 

be warned: I am absolutely no expert and some steps may be either way off, plain wrong or much more complicated than needed.

getting ready

I used the boot.img, root.img and net-drivers.img files from Debian GNU/Linux Etch. Be advised! Internet access is badly needed every step of the way. I got the floppies from: http://ftp.debian.org/debian/dists/etch/main/installer-i386/current/images/floppy.

To create the boot, root and driver floppies, I used dd (windows users should use rawrite, explained in great detail in many places on the internet).

I put in the boot disk, made sure my networkcable was connected and at the "Enter to  boot:" prompt, typed:

"Enter to  boot:expert <Enter>

The "expert" setting gave the amount of control over the installation-process I needed. Next I was asked for the root disk and prompted for a language and a location. A correct language/location safed some time downloading. Then, when asked for it, I loaded the net-drivers from the floppy.

keyboard layout and detecting network hardware came next. pressing Enter a few times was my solution. My network is configured with DHCP. If yours is not, you probably know what to fill in. (ps, I always have to run "network autoconfiguration" twice).

It asked for a hostname, I went with the default: debian (you can change this later), next the domain name: (you decide, I did <Enter>)

I chose a mirror close to me, which ment just pressing <Enter> a couple of times. I didn't bother with the extra installer components and chose to continue. Next, I let debian detect my computers hardware. I again ignored the prompting about modules and declined to be asked for module parameters. Then, I partitioned the disk, a simple task with guided partitioning. I chose to erase the entire disk and put everything in one partition. The end result (using Default options):

#1 primary      9.6 GB ext3     /
#5 logical      444.1 MB        swap swap

If I were not running in expert mode, the installer would now go and install the base system. This is where the document about debian on an existing unix/linux system and the gnewsense from floppy installation start to merge.

To get to a real console (the "exit to shell from the debian GNU/Linux installation menu has problems with vim) type:


A df -h  told me the harddisk was at: /dev/ide/host0/bus0/target0/lun0/part1, and mounted on /target. /target sounded like a good place to put gnewsense into.

Getting debootstrap

mkdir work
cd work
wget http://archive.gnewsense.org/gnewsense/pool/main/d/debootstrap/debootstrap_1.0.13~hardy1_all.deb
cd /
zcat < /work/data.tar.gz | tar xv
/usr/sbin/debootstrap --arch i386 deltah /target http://archive.gnewsense.org/gnewsense/

This retrieves and validates the files into /target, then it starts to install them.

configuring the basics

chroot /target /bin/bash
mount -t proc proc /proc

(Mounting the /proc is VERY IMPORTANT. Trust me, I had a fubar-ed installation (well, three) because I failed to do this correctly. mounting the sys as suggested in the guides wouldn't work and didn't matter). I did not have to edit the /etc/fstab file. It looked correct already. (I edited the /etc/network/interfaces, because it had no local loopback, for starters):

vim /etc/network/interfaces

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp

my /etc/resolv.conf looked correct (nameserver:

In honour of the floppy install, I chose "debian" as my hostname:

echo debian > /etc/hostname

I forgot this, but editing /etc/hosts at this point might be a good idea... (yet by mistake I proved that it works by doing this afterwards, see the Post Scriptum for more). I added the following, simply by looking at the /etc/hosts from a working gnewsense deltah install:

vim /etc/hosts       localhost.localdomain   locahost        debian

setting up the gnewsense system

base-config new

It prompted me for some things: I added a user, I chose http for mirror-type, Netherlands for a country,

And then off it went, retrieving, verifying, selecting, unpacking and setting up. Powernowd (?) gave errors, because I used the incorrect kernel (~gosh~). Did not seem to matter though. I initially got some errors about my fonts, but they seemed to solve themselves. Registering documentation took forever, so don't be alarmed.

Finishing up (important)

Language settings might be a good idea:

dpkg-reconfigure locales 

This way of installing doesn't come with a kernel, so I needed one:

apt-cache search linux-image
apt-get install linux-image-2.6.10-5-686

The "do you want to stop now" prompt when installing the kernel should be answered with "no". The suggested link from initrd.img sounded like a good idea to me: "Y".

Next, I really needed a bootloader:

apt-get install grub
grub-install /dev/hda
would you like menu.lst generated? "Y"

All seemed well, so it was time for a reboot:

ctrl+d (get out of the chroot)

Post Scriptum:

It worked, although as I stated above, one last thing needed to be done. A hostname line in /etc/hosts, to be exact. I forgot this and as a result my USB mouse, network interface, and gdm login failed. So, after I tried to fix it with a reboot yet again (and I arrived at the graphical login):

sudo -s 
(I got an error about gethostname() or something alike. No, really!?)
vim /etc/hosts
(I added the following, taken from a working gnewsense deltah install:)       localhost.localdomain   locahost        debian

Then, I did the windows thingy yet again: reboot.

This ended all of my problems. I am finishing this document from a working gnewsense desktop!


Documentation/BootingFromFloppy (last edited 2013-08-30 14:20:56 by FelipeLopez)