Installing Debian using network booting

Reasons

In some conditions it is not possible to install Debian from a CD (as described in DebianInstall or DebianNetworkInstall), because the hardware that is needed for installation is not supported by the kernels supplied with the installation CDs. Example: the harddisks, CD-/DVD-Rom device/interface or network cards are not supported.

Highly experimental and not official supported

The state of the method described here is 'WFM' (Works For Me). It is not an official supported way to install Debian.

Howto

Preconditions

For this kind of installation CD1 from the Debian distribution (http://www.debian.org/CD/) is needed - chose the testing one. Download it, burn it. Also a second computer is needed - should already run Debian.

Install DHCP

On the already installed computer, set up a DHCP server. Used configuration:

 allow bootp;
 allow booting;

 option domain-name "installation.local";
 option subnet-mask 255.255.255.0;

 subnet 10.0.0.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 {
   range 10.0.0.100 10.0.0.150;
   option broadcast-address 10.0.0.255;
 }

 host kreon {
   hardware ethernet 00:18:f3:90:14:51;
   filename "pxelinux.0";
}

This must adapted to your needs, especially the MAC address. kreon is the hostname of the new computer.

Install TFTP

On the already installed computer, set up a tftp server. Use the tftpd-hpa and not the atftp (the later did not work for me): apt-get install tftpd-hpa.

In the tftp directory create a directory named pxelinux.cfg and create a default file there:

mkdir /var/lib/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg
printf "label linuxboot\n\tKERNEL pxeboot\n" >/var/lib/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default

Configure BIOS

On the new to install computer, enter BIOS setup and chose network boot (PXE boot) - sometimes before it is possible to chose network booting only if also some boot rom is enabled.

Compile Kernel

Grab a kernel from ftp://ftp.kernel.org, unpack and configure it for the new computer, compile it. (Note: Do not use modules.) Be sure to add all the device drivers needed for installation. Especially the CD-/DVD-Rom and harddisk interface driver are needed.

After compiling copy the kernel image to the tftp server directory /var/lib/tftpboot. Name it pxeboot.

Install pxelinux.0

Do a

apt-get install syslinux 
cp /usr/lib/syslinux/pxelinux.0 /var/lib/tftpboot

Install initrd.gz

Mount the CD, copy over the initrd.gz to /var/lib/tftpboot.

Status

The tftp dir should now looks like:

/var/lib/tftpboot/
/var/lib/tftpboot/pxelinux.0
/var/lib/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg
/var/lib/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default
/var/lib/tftpboot/pxeboot
/var/lib/tftpboot/initrd.gz

Boot

Put the CD in the new computer. Boot the new computer via network. It should get the IP address from the DHCP server and also the pxelinux.0 file from the tftp server. The bootloader prints some lines concering some non existing files which can be ignored and than displays a boot prompt. On the command line enter:

pxeboot initrd=initrd.gz

Install Debian

At this point, all the drivers that are needed to install Debian on the new system are available and the normal installtion procedure can be used to install the whole Debian system to the new computer.