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Chapter 752.   Installation of a Slackware distribution


The Slackware GNU/Linux distribution is still active in spite of its age and its rather spartan format. The installation of this distribution requires some confidence with the Unix systems; in this chapter we present the process without going into too many details, in order to provide of general view of its approach.

Generally, we refer to a computer with an ATAPI CD-ROM reader, which is used to make the intsllation from a CD.

752.1   Diskettes organisation

With the Slackware distribution you should prepare a couple of diskettes, the first on, defined boot disk, is used for the start up, whereas the second one, the root disk, contains a minimum system for the installation or to solve emergency problems.

The diskettes to be used for the installation must have been formatted (there is no need for a file system, the low level formatting is sufficient) and especially must be without defects. Even if the diskette formatting has not reported any error or damaged sectors, you cannot be sure yet that they are perfect. During their use in the installation phase, there might be error messages or the system might just stop during the start up. If this happens, you should try again with other diskettes.

The diskettes must be prepared from the image files, without decompression, even if the names of these files have special extensions, such as .gz.

An important characterirstic of the Slackware distribution is that is has prepared a large quantity of image files for the start-up diskettes, each of them with a different kernel, adapted to one or another physical device. In this way it does not use modules and, at most, it is possible to add start-up parameters if the hardware is not detected automatically. Generally, the image contained in the bootdsks.144/bare.i file is the more suitable one for 'normal' situations, if you use ATA storage devices, including the ATAPI CD-ROM readers. Anyway, the directory which contains the image files for the start-up diskettes, contains also text files which describe clearly the characteristics of the kernel therewith contained.

The diskette containing the minimum operating system is found in the rootdsks/color.gz file, unless you are involved in a special installation, for which a specific file with another name might be required. Also in this instance there are text files that help to decide.

752.2   Start up from the diskettes and preparation of the installation

After having prepared a sufficient space on the disk to store GNU/Linux and after having prepared the couple of diskette required to start, you can reboot the computer from the boot diskette, which is the one containing the kernel.

We assume that the computer has at least 16 Mbytes of RAM.

After the diagnostic phase activated by the BIOS, the boot diskette is read and loaded and then an introductory message is displayed. Finally the system presents a prompt which allows to enter special instructions for the kernel. Some device types require this type of instructions in order for the kernel to recognise them. In this phase it might be necessary to enter some instructions to recognise a special CD-ROM, or an SCSI hard disks. The correct way to enter these instructions is described by the following message.

DON'T SWITCH ANY DISKS YET! This prompt is just for entering extra parameters.
If you don't need to enter any parameters, hit ENTER to continue.


Usually you can just press the [Enter] key without any additional special parameters. The kernel contained in the diskette is then loaded and various diagnostic messages are displayed in this phase on the hardware devices that are or are not recognised. These messages allow to understand whether the storage units and the network interfaces have been recognised as expected according to the chosen start-up image.

Finally, the following message is displayed to invite the replacement of the boot diskette with that which contains the minimum system (i.e. the diskette obtained from the color.gz file).

VFS: Insert root floppy disk to be loaded into ramdisk and press ENTER

As soon as the diskette has been replaced you should press the [Enter] key.

- You will need one or more partitions of type 'Linux native'.  It is 
  also recommended that you create a swap partition (type 'Linux swap') before 
  the installation.  For more information, run 'setup' and read the help file.

- If you're having problems that you think might be related to low memory (this
  is possible on machines with 8 or less megabytes of system memory), you can
  try activating a swap partition before you run setup.  After making a swap
  partition (type 82) with cfdisk or fdisk, activate it like this:
    mkswap /dev/<partition> ; swapon /dev/<partition>

- Once you have prepared the disk partitions for Linux, type 'setup' to begin
  the installation process.  

- If you do not have a color monitor, type:  TERM=vt100
  before you start 'setup'.

You may now login as 'root'.

After a list of other information messages which summarise the operations required for special situations during the installation, the system displays the following message to invite the user to access the mini system that has just been started, by using the root user name, for whom no password is requested.

You may now login as "root"

slakware login: root[Enter]

After having entered the root user name (and [Enter]), the system presents the prompt of the shell, represented by the following symbol:


The introductory message which precedes the request of the user name, provides some instructions on what you can do before starting the setup script to perform the installation procedure. It is necesssary to use fdisk, or cfdisk, to define the disk partitions; eventually, it is possible to avtivate the virtual memory.

752.3   Starting the installation procedure

After the preparation of the partitions, the more important work has already been done and you are ready to start the installation of GNU/Linux by using the setup script. However before doing that you should check the screen: if you have a monochromatic monitor, you should change the content of the variable TERM, e.g. as follows:


The installation script can be started without any option:


The program presents the general installation menu, as you can see from the following picture 752.6.

Picture 752.6. General installation Menu.

.------------------------ Slackware Linux Setup -----------------------.
| Welcome to Slackware Linux Setup.                                    |
| Select an option below using the UP/DOWN keys and SPACE or ENTER.    |
| Alternate keys may also be used: '+', '-', and TAB.                  |
| .------------------------------------------------------------------. |
| |   HELP       Read the Slackware Setup HELP file                  | |
| |   KEYMAP     Remap your keyboard if you're not using a US one    | |
| |   ADDSWAP    Set up your swap partition(s)                       | |
| |   TARGET     Set up your target partitions                       | |
| |   SOURCE     Select source media                                 | |
| |   SELECT     Select categories of software to install            | |
| |   INSTALL    Install selected software                           | |
| |   CONFIGURE  Reconfigure your Linux system                       | |
| |   EXIT       Exit Slackware Linux Setup                          | |
| `------------------------------------------------------------------' |
|                        <  OK  >      <Cancel>                        |

To interact with the user, the setup script uses the dialog program, that allows to easily create dialog windows, even if they are only for a character screen. Genarally a cursor or an emphasised zone appears to represent an active option or simply the current position referred to by the keyboard commands. You can use the usual approaches to interact with this program: the arrows keys move the cursor in the direction of the arrow; the [Tab] key allows to move across elements; to select a graphical button you can position the cursor on the button and then press [Enter]; to select an item from a list, you can position the cursor on the selected item and then press [Enter]; to select or deselect a (check box), you can position the cursor on the box and press the [space bar].

This script can be used also within an already installed and working GNU/Linux system. In this instance, the menu changes slightly and some options have a slightly different behaviour.

The initial sequence of the menu items suggest the order in which the operations should be carried out. You should start by reading the help , corresponding to the {HELP} item, to be informed about the latest additions and on the points that require special attention; then it is wise to configure immediately the keyboard with the help of the {KEYMAP} menu item.

752.3.1   Configuration of the swap partition

We assume that the swap partitions has already been created before starting the installation procedure. In this phase it is important to define its usage and activation. This can be done by selecting the {ADDSWAP} option of the initial menu (just move the cursor there and select the <ok> graphical button).

The procedure shows the list of the swap partitions that have been found, as you can see from the example below:

Slackware setup has detected a swap partition:

   Device Boot   Begin    Start      End   Blocks   Id  System
/dev/hda2           83       83      148    33264   82  Linux swap

Do you wish to install this as your swap partition?

The answer to the above question is yes.


The procedure advises to avoid initialising or activating an already activated swap partition, with or without the help of the same procedure.

IMPORTANT NOTE: if you have already made any of your swap
partitions active (using the swapon command), then you
should not allow Setup to use mkswap on your swap partitions,
because it may corrupt memory pages that are currently
swapped out. Instead, you will have to make shure that your
swap partitions have been prepared (with mkswap) before they
will work. You might want to do this to any inactive swap
partitions before you reboot.


The installation procedure, after the above message, asks if you want to initialise the partitions by using mkswap.

Do you want Setup to use mkswap on your swap partitions?


Your swapspace has been configured. This information will
be added to your /etc/fstab:

/dev/hda2      swap        swap        defaults   1   1


Finally, the installation procedure proposes to continue with the following phase, which corresponds to the {TARGET} option of the initial menu.

752.3.2   Selection of the Linux-native partitions

When you select the {TARGET} option from the general installation menu, the system presents all partions of Linux-native type i.e those that correspond to the 8316 code. In our example, it is a single primary partition.

Please select a partition from the following list to use for
your root (/) Linux partition.

        /dev/hda3  Linux native, 441504K
        ---- (add none, continue with setup)
        ---- (add none, continue with setup)
        ---- (add none, continue with setup)

The main partition (root) is that needed to start the system. In most cases it is also the only one. The list of partitions, in this case a list with a single partition, behaves as a menu: you can select the first and single partition by using the [up arrow] or the [down arrow] keys to move the cursor over it and then press the <ok> graphical button.

Eventually, the installation procedure proposes to initialise or check the partition.

Format   Quick format with no bad block checking
Check    Slow format that checks for bad blocks
No       No, do not format this partition

The first choice runs mke2fs, the second one runs mke2fs -c, the third doesn't run any initialisation. If the partition had already been initialised before, maybe in a manual way, the operation doesn't need to be repeated, however there are no problems if it is repeated. You can choose the option by moving the cursor on the selected one and then by selecting the <ok> graphical button.

When you want to subdivide the file system in multiple partitions, they should be connected together , by specifying their various mount points. For this reason, if the installation procedure presents multiple partitions of type Linux-native (8316), after selecting the main partition you should enter a destination directory for the other partitions. Actually, a partition contains all data included in that directory and its subdirectories.

752.3.3   Selection of the GNU/Linux distribution source

In this phase, you inform the installation procedure on the location where it can find the files of the GNU/Linux distribution to be installed. From the general menu you can choose the {SOURCE} option. The program presents a menu to select the source.

1  Install from a Slackware CD-ROM
2  Install from a hard drive partition
3  Install via NFS
4  Install from a pre-mounted directory
5  Install from floppy disks (A and N series only)

As already mentioned, we refer only to the installation from CD-ROM.


The program proposes either to search automatically a CD-ROM device or to manually select where it is:

auto    Scan for the CD-ROM drive automatically
manual  Manually select CD-ROM device

If you select the {manual} option from the proposed list, the program presents another list containing the device file names of the devices that might refer to a CD-ROM.

custom          Type in the CD-ROM device to use
/dev/hdb        CD-ROM slave on first IDE bus
/dev/hda        CD-ROM master on first IDE bus (unlikely)
/dev/hdc        CD-ROM master on second IDE bus
/dev/hdd        CD-ROM slave on second IDE bus
/dev/scd0       First SCSI CD-ROM drive
/dev/scd1       Second SCSI CD-ROM drive
/dev/pcd0       First parallel port ATAPI CD
/dev/pcd1       Second parallel port ATAPI CD
/dev/aztcd      Non-IDE Aztech CD-ROM
/dev/cdu535     Sony CDU-535 CD-ROM
/dev/gscd       Non-IDE GoldStar CD-ROM
/dev/sonycd     Sony CDU-31a CD-ROM

If we assume that the reader is on the third ATA device, you should select the {/dev/hdc} option. After selecting the device, if the CD-ROM of the distribution is actually found there, the program asks to select the way in which the installation should be done.

slakware        Normal installation to hard drive (best performance)
slaktest        Link /usr -> /cdrom/live/usr to run mostly from CD
custom          Install from a custom directory
help            Read the installation method help file

Normally you should select the {slakware} mode, which makes the installation fully on the hard disk.

752.3.4   Selection of the packages to be installed

In this phase, that you can access from the {SELECT} option of the general menu, you can identify the GNU/Linux application categories to be installed on the hard drive. The system proposes a list with some recommended options already selected.

[X] A    Base Linux system
[X] AP   Various Applications that do not need X
[X] D    Program Development (C, C++, Lisp, Perl, etc.)
[X] E    GNU Emacs
[X] F    FAQ lists, HOWTO documentation
[X] K    Linux kernel source
[X] N    Networking (TCP/IP, UUCP, Mail, News)
[X] T    TeX typesetting software
[X] TCL  Tcl/Tk script languages
[X] X    XFree86 X Window System
[X] XAP  X Applications
[ ] XD   X Server development kit
[X] XV   XView (OpenLook Window Manager, apps)
[X] Y    Games (that do not require X)

To select or deselect a category, you can just move the cursor over it and use the [space ber]; once you have selected the groups that you want to install, you should confirm by pressing the <ok> graphical button.(2)

752.3.5   Installation of the packages and of the kernel

After the selection of the categories, you can move to the installation: directly from the selection list or from the general menu by selecting the {INSTALL} option. The program displays another menu which allows to select the way in which the packages of the selected categories should be installed.

full            Install everything (up to 386 MB of software)
newbie          Use verbose prompting (and follow tagfiles)
menu            Choose groups of packages from interactive menus
expert          Choose individual packages from interactive menus
custom          Use custom tagfiles in the package directories
tagpath         Use tagfiles in the subdirectories of a custom path
help            Read the prompt mode help file

The simplest choice, at least for normal users, is the {full} option. Then the program continues with the installation of the packages and finally explicitely requests to specify where the kernel should be installed:

bootdisk        Use the kernel from the installation bootdisk
cdrom           Use a kernel from the Slackware CD
floppy          Install a zImage or bzImage from a DOS floppy
skip            Skip this menu and use the default /vmlinuz

Probably the best choice is the first one, which is provided by the {bootdisk} item, by keeping in mind that eventually it is better to recompile the kernel according to specific requirements. If one selects the {bootdisk} choice, the program requests the user to insert that diskette.

752.4   System configuration

After installing the selected packages, the installation procedure proposes to start the configuration of the system. It is possible to move to the configuration phase also by using the {CONFIGURE} option of the general menu. It is possible to repeat the configuration, if you need to change something, by skipping the entry of the elements that have already been configured correctly.

The following steps of the installation procedure, depend on what has been installed. In the following sections we present just a few important points.

752.4.1   Booting diskette

In the first phase, you should prepare a boot diskette to use if there is an emergency. Actually the program copies on a diskette the chosen kernel (or the last one if one has tried to install more than one). It is better to answer in a positive way to the prompt of the installation procedure. You should then remove from the drive the last diskette (if one had been inserted before) and insert a previously initialised diskette. The program presents a list with three options:

format          format floppy disk in /dev/fd0
simple          make simple vmlinuz > /dev/fd0 bootdisk
lilo            make lilo bootdisk
continue        leave bootdisk menu and continue with the configuration

As you can see, it is possible to initialise a diskette before using it. Generally, to create a boot diskette, it is better to select the {lilo} option. The user is then requested to insert the diskette and to confirm.

752.4.2   LILO

This is a rather delicate phase: the set up of LILO, i.e the system that is in charge of starting the Linux kernel.

In order to start the system, the Master boot record, or MBR, must be changed. Consequently, if there was before another operating system that started automatically, after the configuration of LILO this will start only through LILO. However, if LILO is not configured correctly, then neither GNU/Linux nor the other possible operating system will start any more.

simple  Try to install LILO automatically
expert  Use expert lilo.conf setup menu
skip    Do not install LILO

The initial option proposed above allows to specify whether LILO should be installed to start up the system. Generally it is convenient to select the {simple} option.

MBR     Install to Master Boot Record
Root    Install to superblock (which must be made bootable)
Floppy  Install to a formatted floppy in /dev/fd0 (A:)

The following alternatives above are clear enough: the {MBR} option can be used to install LILO by altering the initial sector of the disk and to control directly the start up of all the operating systems; the {Root} allows to alter only the first sector of a partition, which must be referred to in another way (by using another program); the {Floppy} option allows not to alter anything and to use instead a diskette (which does not contain the kernel, but contains only the start up sector). In normal conditions, if you are not worried about errors, it is better to select the {MBR} option.

752.4.3   Local time

The last configuration element that it is worthwile to consider, is the definition of the local time. The program proposes a very long list of time zones. They are identified by using the most important towns, usually capitals.


If you are in Italy, you should select the {Europe/Rome} option.

752.5   Conclusion

When the configuration is terminated, the general menu of the installation procedure is presented again and you can terminate by selecting the {EXIT} option. The system should display the prompt of the shell, where from the system can be stopped in the usual way.

shutdown -h now[Enter]

752.6   References

Appunti di informatica libera 2006.01.01 --- Copyright © 2000-2006 Daniele Giacomini -- <daniele (ad) swlibero·org>, <daniele·giacomini (ad) poste·it>

1) Translation last update on 2003.09.11 from Mario Pesce <mario (ad) datamission·co·uk>.

2) Initially, while you have not reached a good experience, you should leave the pre-selected choices.

It should be possible to link to this page also with the name installation_of_a_slackware_distribution.htm

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