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Introduction to Gentoo

Gentoo Linux is a distribution which offers the ability to compile almost every package with the optimizations and options that YOU want. It is sometimes called a hobbyist distro, but has more recently started to take hold in the commercial use community.

What Makes Gentoo Special?

Gentoo provides a unique interface to its package system through the use of Portage and Ebuilds. This system compiles your custom system using your make.conf to provide gcc CFLAGS and USE Flags

What to Expect

With Gentoo you can expect snappier and more customized versions of your linux programs, but this does come at a price. Everything with gentoo is custom, very little beyond compiling will be done for you. Most configuration files will work out of the box, but some will not.

The Install

The install is done by you, there is no "automatic" installer. The LiveCD will boot to a console and you're off, see the handbook for install instructions.

Note: There is now a graphical "automatic" installer on the livecd. However, I would still recommend installing Gentoo from the console, since this way you will learn far more about your system and the way Gentoo works.

Choosing Your CDs

Choosing your CDs is simple if you know what you're looking for. First you will need a LiveCD for the x86 platform (this is probably what you have). Choose the x86 Universal CD, this is the CD you will boot. If you are doing a GRP Install you will need a package CD. This is based more on your hardware. If you do not see one for your architecture you're out of luck. Check the mirror list for your CDs


The /etc/make.conf is THE config file for compiling gentoo. What you put in it and how you set it up is a fundamental part to how the system will run. The single most important thing you can do to having a successful Gentoo built is providing as complete a make.conf as possible. Choose carefully and take your time. Gentoo is a slow install and requires patience.

To check it out:

nano /etc/make.conf 


CHOST defines the architecture of your PC. Be sure your CHOST is set right - its a lot of work and dangerous to try and fix this later in the build. Do some research and be sure that it is right one.


Find the right CFLAGS for your computer:

LDFLAGS (Optional)

I use tip save LDFLAGS. These are usually safe and provide additional performance.

USE Flags

It's best to know all the USE flags you need before starting emerges. The USE flags can be key to your system running faster or slower than you're used to. They control what options get compiled into your programs, so why have DVD if you dont even have a DVD rom?
USE Flags Details


The ACCEPT_KEYWORDS variable defines what software branch you use on your system. For example, ACCEPT_KEYWORD="x86" will use the stable branch. If you want to use more recent software, you can consider using the unstable branch instead. To have Portage use the unstable branch, add a tilde (~) in front of your architecture.
Gentoo Handbook

Portage Overlays

portage overlay

Portage Niceness

portage niceness


Which stage tarball to use is often one of the most confusing choices for people new to Gentoo. Choose the stage number from the list below, but be aware that each processor architecture has its own corresponding set of the three pre-compiled stages, so settling on the general stage number is only half the decision. You need to make certain you download the one that corresponds to your particular processor architecture.

  • Stage1 - Compile EVERYTHING. This takes a long time, and is only worthwhile if you are going to choose specially optimized CFLAGS.
  • Stage2 - Includes a working compiler and everything you need to start an emerge system (as if you had just done a bootstrap and completed Stage1)
  • Stage3 - Provides you with a complete pre-built system (as if you had just run emerge system and completed Stage2)

The difference between a stage 1 and a stage 3 install is only 2 commands, but will amount to several hours of waiting for things to compile, depending on the speed of your system. If in doubt, do a Stage3 install. Contrary to what some 'extreme' Gentoo users may tell you, there are no good reasons for a beginner to do a Stage1 install the first time around unless one is already familiar with CFLAGS.

Need Help

Need help? the LiveCD has irssi(an irc client) installed. Run it and join #gentoo on for help.

Key Terms

Key Commands

  • emerge - Gentoo's master command, use the power it gives you wisely
  • Gentoolkit - A group of useful tools

Advanced Topics

More Information

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Last modified: Fri, 05 Sep 2008 22:22:00 +0000 Hits: 25,473