Debian Linux Web Install II: Partioning and Formatting the Hard Drive

This is where experienced Windows users can find themselves on foreign territory. The phrases “C drive” or “harddisk 0” mean nothing to . can read and write to Windows file systems (FAT, FAT32, and NTFS) but cannot run on them.

Accordingly, the hard disk must be set up in a way that Linux understands. Almost all the distros I’ve tried walk you through it very gently; my personal favorite, Slackware, does not. It asks you to use either Linux fdisk or Linux cfdisk to do it manually. Being used to DOS fdisk, that bothered me not.

Now, if you are installing Windows from scratch, it also asks you to and the hard disk. But the closest most persons get to installing Windows from scratch is running one of the lame “recovery CDs” (I say “lame” because they blow away all your data–they do not recover; they restore the to its “out-of-the-box” state).

In Windows, the first hard disk is “harddisk0”; the second one is “harddisk1”: and so on. In Linux, the first IDE hard disk is “hda” (hard disk a); the second one is “hdb.” The first SCSI or SATA drive is “sda.” And so one. (In the past few years, SATA drives have been overtaking IDE drives; SCSI drives have never been popular in the home market).

A hard disk may contain one or more partitions; the partition is what you see in a file manager program, such as Windows Explorer or Konqueror. In the Windows world, they are referred to by letters: “C:\,” “D:\,” and so on. In the Linux world, they are “hda1” or “sdb1” or the like.

Step 2: Partioning and Formatting the Hard Drive

The next questions the installer asks have to do with setting up your hard drive.

First it asks whether you want to do this step manually or allow Debian to walk you through the process. I chose “Guided Partitioning.”

Choose Partitioning Method

Then it asks you which disk you want to use (most persons will only have one to choose from).

Choose Partitioning Style

With older, smaller harddrives, it was sometimes useful to put certain directories on other partitions. It can still be useful to put the “home” directory on a separate partition, though I have never done that. I have always put everything on the same partition.

Guided or Manual Partitioning

In the next screen, Debian tells you how it intends to set up the . If you have second thoughts, you can go back and change it.

Partition Style

(Aside: Note that Linux “swaps” to a separate partition which is dedicated to that purpose. Linux handles swapping differently from Windows; it swaps only when it has too. I just checked my laptop; the swap partition is not being used right now. Windows, on the other hand, always swaps. If you are a Windows user, you have lurking on your harddrive somewhere a huge hidden file called “pagefile.sys” that never goes away. Memory is wasted in maintaining this file when it’s not needed. I have actually filled up my main Linux partition–hda1–with a download that was bigger than I expected; the computer keep working; I was able delete the excess files, reboot, and be right back to normal after the reboot.)

Since reformatting a drive destroys its contents, Debian gives you one more chance to back out:

Partition Confirmation

If you select “Yes,” it’s off and running to set up your hard disk.

Next: Installing and Configuring the System.

From here on, it’s easy.

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