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This HOWTO explains how to install Gentoo onto a computer which does not have a CD-ROM drive, cannot do a network boot and cannot use a USB mass storage device for booting purposes. This is a bit tricky as Gentoo requires a 2.6 series kernel for installation and there are very few floppy-based rescue disks with 2.6 kernels. Thankfully, I have figured out the tricky parts for you.


What You Need

Preparing The Floppies

First you'll need to download the Debian "testing" installation floppy images to your already-working computer. The Debian "testing" images happen to have an environment suitable for Gentoo installation and a 2.6 kernel. Do not download the "stable" images; their kernel is much too old. You'll need all five images. The US mirror of those images is here.

Now you must write those images to the floppies. On Linux this is easy. Just run this command, substituting the actual image name for image.img and and your actual floppy drive for /dev/fd0:

dd if=image.img of=/dev/fd0

On Windows, you'll need to download Rawrite from Debian's servers (or elsewhere) and use it to write the floppies. I prefer the GUI rwwrtwin.exe over the older command-line rawrite2.exe but you can use what you please. The US Debian mirror for those files is here.

Booting Up The Floppies

Now that you have your floppies made, you need to boot your target machine into Debian's installer. Just insert the disk labeled "boot" (you did label your floppies, didn't you?) and let it start up. At the boot prompt, type "expert" to go into expert mode. The normal installation mode won't work for our purposes. Depending on you're computer, you may need other options. On my laptop, I needed to tell the kernel not to bother with the default high-resolution, so I used this:

Press F1 for help, or ENTER to boot: expert vga=771

When it asks you for to insert the "root" disk, insert it and press enter. After another couple of minutes you should be presented with a nice ncurses-based menu. At this time you may change the language and/or keyboard layout, should you so desire.

Select the "Load drivers from a floppy" option and stick in one of the driver disks. Select "yes" and wait for the drivers to be loaded. Repeat this for the other two driver disks and then hit "no" to go back to the main menu. (FYI: The cd-drivers disk also contains the hard-disk controller drivers, so be sure to load them even though we aren't using a CD.)

Now to detect your network card and hard drive. First select "Detect network hardware". You will be presented with a long list of network card drivers. Only bother deselecting items from that list if you know you need to. You probably don't. Start PC-Card services if you need to. Now select "Configure the network" and follow the directions. Most people can auto-configure. You'll know if you shouldn't. The default hostname and domain name should be fine as well. Select "Detect disks". This should be quick and go off without a hitch.

The last part of booting up is starting a shell. You'd think you could just select the "Execute a shell" option and execute it, but that'd be too easy. If you did then you'd have a terminal type that's incompatible with Gentoo. Instead, hit Alt+F2 to switch to a different virtual terminal and press Enter to start up a shell.

Following The Gentoo Handbook

At this point, you can pretty much follow the Gentoo handbook, with a few exceptions. First, the Debian installer doesn't come with bzip2 (I know that's retarded.). To get it, run the following commands on the console of your target box:

mv bzip2-104-x86-linux24 /bin/bzip2
chmod +x /bin/bzip2

Next, downloading the stage tarball and portage snapshot isn't nearly as straightforward as the handbook. You won't be able to use links to download it. Instead, you'll need to use your other computer to read the handbook and find the URL of the stage tarball and portage snapshot. Then use wget to download the files like this (this is just an example; find your own mirror):


Please also note that the md5sum program from busybox is very weird. When you run it, 3 of the 4 tests should fail. As long as that one test passes, you should be fine.

There is also a difference in extracting the tarballs. This is because the tar that the Debian installer comes with lacks the 'v' and 'j' options. The correct commands for the extractions should look more like this:

bzip2 -cd stage3-i686-2006.1.tar.bz2 | tar xfp -


bzip2 -cd portage-20070209.tar.bz2 | tar xf - -C /mnt/gentoo/usr/

Lastly, the 'cp' command on the Debian installer lacks the '-L' option. It'll work just fine without it, like this:

cp /etc/resolv.conf /mnt/gentoo/etc/resolv.conf


I sincerely hope this was helpful. Remember that I wrote this as I did it, while I figured it out and I (obviously) didn't bother repeating the directions that didn't change from the original handbook. I may check back here from time to time to see if anyone has anything they need clarified, so feel free to drop a line in the discussion area if you have questions.

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Last modified: Sat, 10 Feb 2007 12:32:00 +0000 Hits: 7,308