October 3, 2007

So I previously wrote about some issues I was having with my install of Gutsy and X. Today, I decided to just give up on the whole idea and reinstall Feisty. This decision was made easy when my X froze again while I was talking to a friend who is stationed in Iraq.

So, what is the best way to reinstall? I like having all my personal settings but don’t mind setting those back up. How would I transfer my GPG key over? What about my ssh key? I know there is a way to transfer my installed packages over to a text file and have apt install them so I don’t worry about that too much. dpkg -L > installed.txt (iirc). In short, I’d just like to know the best way to reinstall, maybe if that goes smoothly I’ll try Gutsy again.


  1. If your $HOME is on a separate partition (as it really ought to be) then there isn’t an issue. Just tell the installer that this partition should be mounted on /home/ and should NOT be formatted.

    I’m hazy on the details; it’s been a very long time since I reinstalled but I can’t see any mature installer not letting you do that.

  2. Yes, a home partition is something crucial.
    I can’t understand why this is not the standard installation method.
    The installer should motivate you to do it.

  3. And if you don’t have a home partition, you should collect things like your ~/.gnupg directory (and so on) and tar.bz2 (or 7z, or just tar) them up, write those file(s) to a CD (or a stale partition, say, if you dualboot with Windows, its ntfs partition should be sufficiently writeable with ntfs-3g), and once reformatted, copy/unpack/etc. your data back to your new home.

    Why tar or 7z? Not for reasons of saving space or easier file management — but to protect the file permissions. Worst case you’ll have to chown the stuff recursively, should you end up with a different uid and gid in the new installation, but the files will be intact.

  4. I’ve tried sharing a home dir between two distros before… didn’t work well for me (different versions of apps did things sufficiently differently as to be incompatible, Amarok in particular).

    What I do, and what I suggest you do if you have the drive space (which is pretty affordable, IMO) is have two root partitions (one Feisty, one Gutsy… soon to be one Gutsy, one Hardy) and keep all data (documents, music, movies, etc) on a partition shared by both. Things like GPG are easily ported over by copying one ~/.gnupg over another. I keep my RSS feeds on Google Reader, my bookmarks on del.icio.us, and switching from one release to another and back again is painless.

  5. SSH keys are in ~/.ssh/ . I would advise against sharing your home directory the way some have suggested, especially if you are going from a *newer* distro to an *older* distro. Some stuff might not work! 🙂

  6. I have a machine that has a separate home, and I have gone from Feisty -> Gutsy -> Feisty -> Gutsy -> Feisty and had no issues at all.

  7. AFAIK, if you want to backup/restore the packages, the command is not dpkg -l > packages but:
    dpkg –get-selections > packages
    and to restore:
    dpkg –set-selections < packages

  8. Just a few suggestions, hoping you didn’t re-install yet. I’m running Ubuntu Gutsy and it’s been very stable for me so far. Though I recall a time when I had similar problem like you (with earlier ubuntu versions). If you’re using compiz you might like to try to disable it and use metacity instead and see if that fixes your problem. Another quick shot would be using “noapic nolapic” as kernel parameters if you’ve got a laptop – those helped me to get rid of quite a few nuisances in earlier ubuntu versions. Back then I also found the bcm43xx module for my wireless card to be quite unstable and causing problems. I don’t know if that is still the case though (as I use a LAN connection now) but you might want to try ndiswrapper instead.

    Best regards,

  9. I’ve written an article on restoring apt packages here:

  10. Separate /home isn’t the standard installation method because there is no obvious way to decide how much space should be allocated for it. We could ask a question with a slider or something, but the problem is that a novice user will not have the remotest clue how to answer that question, and if they get it wrong it will be extremely difficult to change their mind later because repartitioning and especially shrinking partitions on the fly is not at all trivial. LVM helps with the former, but not the latter, and doesn’t have good graphical tools yet to my knowledge.

    In this respect I happen to think that Windows got it right (even though generally speaking its partition handling is dreadful): give them a single big filesystem by default and advanced users can rearrange it if they so choose. Then novices don’t have to suddenly find that they’ve run out of space on /home, there’s 4GB free on /, but they can’t use it for their home directory and get horribly frustrated.

  11. I dual boot feisty / gutsy with a shared home. It’s passable, but not every program is smart enough. The wallpaper config setting, for example isn’t versioned, so if I use an Ubuntu wallpaper straight from gutsy, like the elephant skin, feisty shows up with just a brown background.

    A slightly bigger problem is that the update manager will get confused, and sometimes feisty decides its time to present an upgrade to 7.10 option. Granted, this is a rather obvious landmine to step around, but it does exist. But for the most part, it’s highly usable.

    As for the process:
    1. Back up critical, unrecoverable data.
    2. Resize the FS to make room for /home
    3. transfer /home
    4. reinstall into the original partition, and set up /home as a mount point.
    5. Double check your userid is the same as it used to be; if not fix it in /etc/passwd.
    6. Celebrate!

  12. I’m told Linux volume management can solve the out of disk space problem. It’s more complicated, but perhaps it’s worth investigating?

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