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Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

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Gordon Cooper
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions


Post by Gordon Cooper » Sun Jan 07, 2018 11:08 pm

Thanks for the replies and suggestions, will be working on it. There appear to be some variations, found one reference where each OS retains a home partition, but
it is very small, only containing things particular to that OS. All the common items, pictures etc, go into a shared data.
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions


Post by tascoast » Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:12 am

I've gone from Mepis and chain-loading Grub to now relying upon Grub Customizer to tidy up a simple grub menu and default boot, occasionally changing the background image when the fancy takes me.

I do try to install grub to root with a new install, something I can trust to go smoothly with MX and AntiX (but not all other Linux distros), leaving me to return to my 'primary' system to boot into, making changes to my Grub at MBR to update after a new install. I'm currently using MX-17 as the default Grub manager, since I allowed it to do so once the final release came out. I was confident it would be as familiar and reliable as previously, but have previously held back installing Grub to MBR on a newer version of MX until I have set up things a bit more.

I typically use separate root and home partitions but have one larger partition I now use for testing as a shared root/home install. Migrating between systems is effectively deciding which system I want to update Grub and contain my primary Firefox email profile. A 'Data' and other common partitions make migrating or backing up quite simple, with an established strategy in place.
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions


Post by galen » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:24 am

much wisdom in these posts,
yes place your biggest partition first (since it is easier to resize move smaller partition)
mbr grub will get replaced when you add a distro,

Zorin Linux is optimized for slower machines and in my testing it outperforms antiX, Zorin is light on included packages.
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions


Post by asqwerth » Mon Jan 08, 2018 10:47 am

This setup works for me but may or may not not suit you. I have many Linux distros but no Windows on my PC.

My Setup:

- MBR legacy boot on /dev/sda SSD
- sda SSD has msdos partition table, and is ext4 formatted [holds 2 distros]
- sdb HDD has GPT partition table (because it's bigger than 2TB and msdos will only be able to use the 1st 2TB) and is ext4 formatted [holds the other distros]
- sdc HDD has GPT partition table, ext4 formatted [holds Data partition sdc1 which takes up the whole drive]
- on all my distros I use the same username and password.
- In all my distros except MX16, /home is on the same partition as root. MX16 has a separate /home because I was planning ahead for future MX upgrades and wrongly thought that the "preserve home partition" option in MX's installer works only if the /home is on its own partition.
- I automount sdc1 /Data on all my distros. With MX I can use Disk Manager to do it. With other distros, if Disk Manager isn't in their repos, I use gnome-disks tool, or sometimes I just manually edit the distro's /etc/fstab file. I copy the line for the Data partition from the /etc/fstab files of MX or those distros where I use gnome-disks tool.

No symlinking of /home folders to /Data partition folders:

- I don't bother to share config files amongst all my distros because they may have different setups, desktop environments, etc.
- my web browsers are set to have its Download dialogue window open at /Data and then to ask to confirm download location. That way I can point to whichever subfolder in /Data I wish to download the stuff.
- browser bookmarks are backed up to /Data and can be imported into the browser of the new distro.
- Navigation to /Data in file managers is quick. Accessing the folders in /Data takes about the same time as accessing folders in Home in my eyes.

Issues if /Data partition is ext4-formatted:
My main issue was making the /Data partition Read/Write rather than Read-only, when accessed from distros other than the one on which I first formatted and created said /Data partition. It looks as if Write permissions for non-"/home" ext4 partitions are usually owned by root. So even if you automount an ext4 partition, you might be able to view its contents easily but not write to it.

I had to change sdc1's permissions to allow R/W by user as well as root, in order that I could access it from another distro (using the same username). I permitted other usernames to view sdc1 files but not write to it.

Grub, bootloaders:

With regard to which distro's grub is the main bootloader on MBR, it's Manjaro, because Manjaro's grub entry requires an additional line of text to load their Intel microcode, and other distros' grub do not generate Manjaro's grub entry correctly. For the other distros, I either install grub to root partition, or, for the rare distro whose installer makes things difficult to install grub on anything other than MBR, I just choose not to install grub at all.

I then boot back into Manjaro after installing a new distro, in order to run the update-grub command as root. That will enable Manjaro's grub to detect new distros and any updated/new kernels in existing distros, and then generate a new boot menu reflecting the new status of the multiboot machine.

However, to enable me to be able to boot back into an existing distro which has had a kernel update/upgrade without first going into Manjaro to update-grub, I have a custom.cfg file in Manjaro's /boot/grub folder , which contains a series of chainloader entries for all the other distros which have grub installed in root. The chainloader entries point to the root partition of each distro where their grub menu resides, so that I can jump from the main boot menu to the updated boot menu of the distro with the new/updated kernel.

The only inconvenience relates to the distros without grub, because there is no grub menu I can chainload from the main boot menu. For these, I can't access the new kernels without first updating Manjaro grub.

However, since Manjaro often has kernel updates as part of its regular upgrade pack, its grub will usually just be updated as a normal part of my installing the upgrades. So I don't often have to go out of my way to update Manjaro grub.
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions


Post by br1anstorm » Mon Jan 08, 2018 2:15 pm

As others like galen have said, there is a lot of wisdom in the posts in this thread.

The descriptions of various different setups also illustrate how versatile Linux is, and how things can be configured differently to suit individual preferences. That's a blessing, if you know what you want and how to do it. But it can also be a curse if - like me - you're not sure what arrangement you want, or how to decide between different possible installations!

As I started this discussion, I ought to give an update on how far I have got with my own efforts. One guiding principle has been to keep it as simple as possible, since I've been setting up multibooting on an old-ish computer with a single 160GB hard drive (no SSDs or other drives, no Windows OSs, no UEFI complexity). I hope my experience will help others like Gordon Cooper who appear to want to do something similar.

Thanks to advice earlier in this thread especially from Gaer Boy, entropyfoe and asqwerth, I designed and installed my setup as follows, starting with a blank drive and using GParted to prepare all the partitions first:

sda MBR Grub2 bootloader, installed with first distro, which is......
sda1 15GB SolydX (for explanation see below)
sda2 extended partition containing....
sda5 2GB swap
sda6 15GB MX-16 with its grub
sda7 15GB Mint with its grub
sda8 15GB currently unused, earmarked for Linux Lite
sda9 15GB currently unused, earmarked for maybe antiX, or maybe Zorin;
and then
sda3 40GB DATA partition
and the rest unallocated.

I chose to put Solydx as first distro only because it's (so far) the only rolling release. Its Grub2 went into the MBR. I had toyed with including PCLinux OS, another rolling release, but 32-bit is no longer supported.

Thereafter I installed two other distros (MX and Mint), with their grubs, in their respective partitions. Then did 'update-grub' as root in Solydx to get the grub in the MBR to see the two additional distros. Booting works just fine. I aim to add a couple more distros in due course, in the same way.

The configuration and use of the DATA partition has been an interesting exercise. The best step-by-step guide I found was a tutorial in the Mint community at https://community.linuxmint.com/tutorial/view/1609. It needs more than just symlinking. Detailed advice and precise commands are in that tutorial, but the essential steps are

1. Create DATA partition using GParted
2. Start (any) distro, and create mount point using terminal
3. Mount DATA partition
4. Take ownership (the "chown" command)
5. Navigate to DATA partition
6. Create appropriate folders (Documents, Pictures, etc)
7. Find UUID of DATA partition (using "blkid")
8. Open fstab to add instruction to automount DATA partition at boot. This requires using the text editor to prepare and insert two extra lines into fstab
9. Then create symlinks either using relevant terminal commands, or by the cut-and-paste process described in the MX Manual section 3.5.1.

Having done all that in one - the first - distro, then in each of the other distros it is necessary to do steps 2, 3 and 4 and then steps 8 and 9. The set of folders in the Data partition (steps 5 and 6) only needs to be created once, and the UUID (step 7) stays the same. The only tricky point is amending the terminal command when seeking to edit each distro's fstab so that it correctly refers to whichever text editor each distro uses.

For what it's worth, I did the symlinking as per the MX manual, not via the terminal, since it was easier to see what I was doing!

There are doubtless other ways of skinning the cat - but I post this in case it is useful to others who want a Linux multiboot setup with all distros sharing a common DATA partition.

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