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Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

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br1anstorm
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Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#1 Postby br1anstorm » Thu Jan 04, 2018 6:25 pm

This is the sort of situation in which - even as a relative newbie - I feel I ought to know the answer. But I'd like confirmation, or reassurance, before I start.....

For reasons mentioned elsewhere (death of HDD on an older computer) I want to do a "clean install" on the replacement HDD. More than that, I want to install two or three Linux distros. There was, and is, no Windows on the drive. The computer hardware is old and so has the traditional or 'legacy' MBR and partition system, no UEFI.

Obviously I plan to partition the drive so as to put each distro on a separate partition. I aim to do manual installs, rather than the automatic options. I do not (yet) want to set up a common, shared, Data partition, though I may do so in due course. My questions are mainly about Grub(s) and where to put it/them. I note that the MX-16 installer gives three options (MBR, /root, or not at all). Other installers are less clear and usually only offer the MBR as default....

1) Grub2 v Grub Legacy. As a general principle, I understand that Grub2 automatically 'sees' when any additional OS is added, and updates itself, but that Grub Legacy (still used by, for example, PCLinuxOS) does not and has to be manually edited. Is this so? If true, it makes Grub Legacy much less user-friendly as a bootloader for multiple distros.

2) Installation sequence. When installing - as I plan to - three or four distros (MX-16, Mint and Lite, and probably PCLinuxOS too) in what order or sequence should I do so, assuming MX-16 will be my preferred main daily-usage one? Do I install my preferred distro first, or last? I ask because I have seen different advice. Some say install your main distro first, put its Grub into the MBR, then make space for the other distros, install them and either don't install their Grubs, or put their Grubs on to the same partition(s) as their respective parent distro's /root. Others say that if you install your first distro and put its Grub in the MBR, then each successive additional distro will 'overwrite' and/or replace that Grub with its own..... so you should install your main/preferred distro, and its Grub, last....

3) Updating Grub. In either scenario, it appears (but I'd like confirmation) that the grub-updating to include additional OSs happens automatically. Is this so, or is it necessary to resort to the terminal and the command to "update-grub" after installing each successive distro?

4) There is an obvious connection with the first question about Grub2 v Grub Legacy. If Grub Legacy files have to be manually edited before it can see other installed distros, then that's a good reason not to have it as the main or only Grub!

5) MBR v dedicated 'boot' partition. I have seen some descriptions of multiboot setups which refer to the idea of creating a dedicated "boot" partition, putting the Grub bootloader there rather than in the MBR, and then installing however many distros you want each on its own partition with its Grub also in each case on that partition. Is this otherwise known as chainloading? That's perhaps a step beyond what I was thinking of doing (I was reckoning that I would need to have a Grub in the MBR).

That's probably enough questions! Any comments and advice would be welcome. I'm still on the learning curve, trying to be systematic and logical, and I am very aware of the limits to my existing knowledge....

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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#2 Postby asqwerth » Thu Jan 04, 2018 8:16 pm

3) no. New partitions are not automatically detected by grub2, nor does updating of grub menu take place automatically in the case of grub2.

However you do not need to manually edit a grub.cfg. file (akin to menu.lst) before initiating an update-grub command.
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#3 Postby entropyfoe » Thu Jan 04, 2018 8:51 pm

I usually install the first distro(I would pick MX17 or antix17 of course) to the first partition on the disk, and put grub on the mbr. (In gparted set that partition with a boot flag) This is the master distro with the grub that controls the booting.

For later distros, put the grub on the root of those partitions.
Then go back to the master distro , and as root run update-grub.

Grub will say found such and such distro on sda3 or wherever it is.
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#4 Postby Gaer Boy » Fri Jan 05, 2018 8:29 am

I'm assuming that Windows is not involved. It depends how many, and which, distros you might install. If it's more than 2 or 3 (I currently have 7) then I strongly recommend a separate data partition - it's easy to symlink it to /home in each distro and have access to all your files. I don't have separate /home partitions - it gets unwieldy with more than a couple of distros. I also recommend a single swap partition.

Initially, partition your disk with a data partition (or two) and a swap partition, plus as many OS partitions as you think you need. Install MX and put grub on the MBR. Then proceed as @entropyfoe suggests. You can also choose no grub for the later distros - the only reason for having grub on root of those is to use if your main grub fails totally. I've never seen that happen.

Your only problem would be if any distro insisted on a grub install to MBR - that would overwrite your chosen grub. This could be repaired by booting MX and using MX Grub Repair.

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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#5 Postby br1anstorm » Fri Jan 05, 2018 9:46 am

Thanks for all three of those replies - each very helpful.

Just to confirm: Windows is not involved at all - it's not on the blank replacement HDD and I have no plans to install it.

@asqwerth - thanks for that clarification on Grub. I'm OK running "grub-update" in the terminal, but not as confident about manually editing a grub.cfg file.

@entropyfoe - that's a nice straightforward guide to what I need to do.

@Gaer Boy/Phil - we're on the same wavelength. I probably won't exceed 3 or 4 distros, but I can see the benefit of a separate Data partition. Might need to seek more advice in due course on the precise steps involved in symlinking. I hope none of the distros I choose will insist on putting their Grub on the MBR (but thanks for the advice on what to do if it happens).

Just for info and interest, this older computer is in part an experimental/learning exercise for me. The distros I currently plan to install are MX-16.1 - obviously; Linux Mint - which is the distro on my main daily laptop; PCLinuxOS -because it's a rolling distro built on a different base; and Linux Lite - because it's fairly lightweight and I want to compare it to the others.

Now I'm rolling up my sleeves to get down to the task....

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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#6 Postby anticapitalista » Fri Jan 05, 2018 9:52 am

br1anstorm wrote:The distros I currently plan to install are MX-16.1 - obviously;


You do know that the latest version of MX is MX-17?
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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#7 Postby br1anstorm » Fri Jan 05, 2018 11:52 am

anticapitalista wrote:
br1anstorm wrote:The distros I currently plan to install are MX-16.1 - obviously;


You do know that the latest version of MX is MX-17?


Yup.... it's just that I have a liveUSB of 16.1 already (and have used that to get familiar with MX as a distro) so was simply planning to install from that.

One reason is that because this older computer is indeed pretty ancient (32-bit, modest CPU) I'm being conservative and going for older but still-supported versions rather than the latest cutting-edge one. But I will have a quick look at the blog-description of the changes/improvements in MX-17 to see if I'm tempted!

EDIT: Not trying to provoke a debate or discourage the dev team (who do a great job) but there's also these comments in a recent forum thread about upgrading...

xfrank wrote:
whell wrote:On the other hand, if MX16 is doing everything you need it to, why "upgrade" to 17? 16 is stable as heck and will continue to receive package updates.


good point. Debian 8 will be supported until 2020 (see https://wiki.debian.org/LTS), so it's plenty of time to work with MX16 ;)

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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#8 Postby Fornhamfred » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:01 pm

For 32bit you can forget PcLinuxOS as it only supports 64 bit.

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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#9 Postby br1anstorm » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:22 pm

Fornhamfred wrote:For 32bit you can forget PcLinuxOS as it only supports 64 bit.


Yes - I already have PCLinuxOS 32-bit on another separate hard drive, and found out a month or two ago that the dev team had recently decided to cease supporting/updating 32-bit. A pity, though I understand the reasons. I think I might look around for another 'rolling release' (if there are any still available in 32-bit) just for interest. But maybe the technology is just moving on...

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Re: Multi-boot Linux installation - some questions

#10 Postby asqwerth » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:40 pm

...@asqwerth - thanks for that clarification on Grub. I'm OK running "grub-update" in the terminal, but not as confident about manually editing a grub.cfg file.


That's why I said you don't need to, because you really don't. The update grub process will:

- check through your current distro's /etc/grub.d folder to generate all the grub entries for your current distro/partition from all the scripts there, and
- also search all other partitions that have different OSes and kernels,

and then generate a new grub.cfg file with a consolidated grub menu made up of all the above.

If you manually edited the cfg file, a future update-grub (which happens, say, if there is a kernel update) will write a new grub.cfg file over your manual changes anyway.

The way to edit your distro's grub2 menu permanently is to edit the scripts in the /etc/grub.d folder. They are numbered and the later/bigger-numbered scripts are blank-form scripts intended for you to add your custom entries (or you could create a fresh custom.cfg script in /boot/grub folder, which is also detected). I do that for Solus and Manjaro, because these 2 have problematic grub entries that don't get generated correctly by other distros' grub apart from their own.
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