Minimal Debian

  Last modified on Sunday 16 July 2017

Debian Vader

PROJECT: The Lifecycle of Debian Objects .: Debian 9 "Stretch" is the latest stable release of the popular Linux operating system. I use Debian's minimal network install image to create a console-only base configuration that can be customized for various tasks and alternate desktops. [1]

Let's go!

Debian GNU/Linux is an operating system created by volunteers of one of the largest and longest-running free software projects in the world. There are 3 release branches: stretch/stable, buster/testing, and sid/unstable.

Below is a visual walk-through of a sample workstation setup that makes use of the entire disk divided into 2 partitions: a boot partition, [2] and an encrypted partition used by the Logical Volume Manager (LVM) to create "virtual partitions" (Logical Volumes). Installing LVM on top of the encrypted partition allows:

0. Prepare install media

Download the (unofficial with firmware) 64bit firmware-9.0.0-amd64-netinst.iso (SHA512, sig, torrent) or the 32bit firmware-9.0.0-i386-netinst.iso (SHA512, sig, torrent) for older machines. Verify the PGP signature and flash the image to a USB stick. [4]

Minimal installer (requires network connection) downloads all the latest packages during setup.

1. Launch

Install Select Language Select Location Configure Keyboard Hostname Domain Root password Verify password Full Name Username User password Verify password Select time zone

2. Partitions

Sample layout:

  • sda1 is a 512MB boot partition
  • sda2 uses the remaining storage as a LUKS encrypted partition
  • LVM is installed on the encrypted partition, and contains a volume group with the 3 logical volumes root + swap + home
Partitioning method Partition disks Partition table Free space New partition Partition size Primary partition Beginning

Modify the default mount options ... [5]

Mount point: /boot
Mount options: relatime
Bootable flag: on
Boot Free space New partition

Assign the remaining storage to the encrypted partition ...

Partition size Primary partition

Modify the default mount options ...

Use as: physical volume for encryption
Erase data: no

If the hard disk has not been securely wiped prior to installing Debian you may want to configure Erase data: yes. Note, however, depending on the size of the disk this operation can last several hours.

Physical volume for encryption Configure encrypted volumes Write changes Create encrypted Devices to encrypt Finish Passphrase Verify passphrase Partition disks

Modify the default mount options ...

Use as: physical volume for LVM
Physical volume for LVM Configure LVM Write changes Create volume group Vg name Device for vg Create lv Vg Lv root Lv root size Create lv Vg Lv swap Lv swap size Create lv Vg Lv home

Set aside some unused space for future requirements. LVM makes it easy to expand or create new filesystems as needed ...

Lv home size Finish lvm Select lv root

Modify the default mount options ...

Use as: Ext4
Mount point: /
Mount options: relatime
Lv root config Select lv swap

Modify the default mount options ...

Use as: swap area
Lv swap config Select lv home

Modify the default mount options ... [6]

Use as: Ext4
Mount point: /home
Mount options: relatime
Reserved blocks: 1%
Lv home config Finish partitioning Write changes

3. Install packages and finish up

Configure package manager

Use the Debian global mirrors service ...

Mirror hostname Mirror directory Proxy Popularity contest

Select only [*] standard system utilities and leave the remaining tasks [7] unmarked ...

Software selection

Packages are downloaded and the installer makes its finishing touches ...

Downloading Install GRUB to MBR GRUB device Finish

4. First boot

GRUB menu

User is prompted for the passphrase to unlock the encrypted partition ...

Unlock passphrase Login

Login and run timedatectl to confirm system date+time is properly configured.


After running a minimal install on my Acer C720 Chromebook with encrypted swap + home partitions I ran into this issue: "Black screen instead of password prompt for boot encryption".

I had to enter my passphrase blind and ALT+F1 to console. When I tried removing the GRUB options splash and/or quiet I lost the ability to enter the passphrase at all and a hard reset was required.

Fix: Modify /etc/default/grub ...

## Force the kernel to boot in normal text mode with '=text'

... and update ...

# update-grub

Now it works! My chromebook is currently the only device I have run into this issue.

See: GNU gfxpayload

6. Network

Check which network interfaces are detected and settings ...

$ ip a

Wired interfaces are usually auto-configured by default and assigned an IP address courtesy of DHCP.

To assign a static address, deactivate the wired interface and create a new entry in /etc/network/interfaces. [8] Sample entry for enp3s0 ...

# The primary network interface
auto enp3s0
iface enp3s0 inet static

Bring up|down interface with if{up,down} enp3s0.

Create a temporary wireless interface connection to WPA2 encrypted access points manually using wpa_supplicant + wpa_passphrase + dhclinet. Sample setup of wlp1s0 ...

# ip link set wlp1s0 up             ## bring up interface
# iw dev wlp1s0 link                ## get link status
# iw dev wlp1s0 scan | grep SSID    ## scan for access points
# wpa_supplicant -i wlp1s0 -c<(wpa_passphrase "MY_SSID" "MY_PASSPHRASE")   ## connect to WPA/WPA2 ... add '-B' to background process
# dhclient wlp1s0                   ## obtain IP address

More permanent configurations may be set in interfaces. Sample setup [9] with a static IP address ...

iface wlp1s0 inet static
    wpa-ssid MY_SSID
    wpa-psk MY_PASSPHRASE

Alternative setup using DHCP ...

allow-hotplug wlp1s0
iface wlp1s0 inet dhcp
    wpa-ssid MY_SSID
    wpa-psk MY_PASSPHRASE

Once a link is established install an (optional) network manager utility. Packages network-manager and network-manager-gnome provide the console nmcli and graphical nm-applet clients respectively . Comment out (deactivate) any entries in interfaces that will be managed by network-manager.

8. Main, non-free, contrib, and backports

Debian uses three archives to distinguish between software packages based on their licenses. Main is enabled by default and includes everything that satisfies the conditions of the Debian Free Software Guidelines. Non-free contains packages that do not meet all the conditions of the DFSG but can be freely distributed, and contrib packages are open-source themselves but rely on software in non-free to work.

Backports contains packages drawn from the testing (and sometimes unstable) archive and modified to work in the current stable release. All backports are disabled by default (to prevent unintended system upgrades) and are installed on a per PACKAGE basis by running ...

# apt -t stretch-backports install PACKAGE

Modify /etc/apt/sources.list to add contrib, non-free, and backports ...

# Base repository
deb stretch main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch main contrib non-free

# Security updates
deb stretch/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch/updates main contrib non-free

# Stable updates
deb stretch-updates main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch-updates main contrib non-free

# Stable backports
deb stretch-backports main contrib non-free
deb-src stretch-backports main contrib non-free

Any time sources.list is modified be sure to update the package database ...

# apt update

9. Automatic security updates

Fetch and install the latest fixes courtesy of unattended upgrades.

10. Sudo

Install sudo to temporarily provide your USER (example: foo) account with root privileges ...

# apt install sudo
# adduser foo sudo

To allow foo to shutdown or reboot the system, first create the file /etc/sudoers.d/00-alias containing ...

# Cmnd alias specification
Cmnd_Alias SHUTDOWN_CMDS = /sbin/poweroff, /sbin/reboot, /sbin/shutdown

Starting with Stretch, if you run as USER the command dmesg to read the contents of the kernel message buffer you will see ...

dmesg: read kernel buffer failed: Operation not permitted

Turns out it is a (security) feature not a bug!

To allow foo to read the kernel log without being prompted for a password - and use our newly-created Cmnd_Alias SHUTDOWN_CMDS - create the file /etc/sudoers.d/01-nopasswd containg the NOPASSWD option ...

# Allow specified users to execute these commands without password

I add aliases for the commands in my ~/.bashrc to auto-include sudo ...

alias dmesg='sudo dmesg'
alias poweroff='sudo /sbin/poweroff'
alias reboot='sudo /sbin/reboot'
alias shutdown='sudo /sbin/shutdown'

11. Where to go next ...

... is up to YOU. I created a post-install configuration script that builds on a minimal install towards a more complete console setup, and can also install the i3 tiling window manager plus a packages collection suitable for a workstation.

Happy hacking!


[1]Image courtesy of jschild.
[2]Note that encrypted root requires an unencrypted boot.
[3]Very helpful! LVM post on the Arch Wiki.
[4]An alternative is adding the image to a USB stick with multiple Linux installers.
[5]Mount options: relatime decreases write operations and boosts drive speed.
[6]Reserved blocks can be used by privileged system processes to write to disk - useful if a full filesystem blocks users from writing - and reduce disk fragmentation. On large non-root partitions extra space can be gained by reducing the default 5% reserve set aside by Debian to 1%.
[7]Task selection menu can be used post-install by running (as root) tasksel.
[8]Problem: setting the network interface to static address can result in /etc/resolv.conf being overwritten every few minutes with an IPv6 address that breaks DNS. The "fix" is to maually set nameserver in resolv.conf and install the resolvconf package. Note that dns-nameservers entries are ignored if resolvconf is not installed.
[9]Multiple wireless static IP address setups can be created with iface wlp1s0_NAME inet static and [de]activated with if{up.down} wlp1s0=wlp1s0_NAME.

More • debianlinuxcryptolvm