Network Based Ubuntu Installations

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by Christer Edwards | March 2010 | Linux Servers Open Source

This article by Christer Edwards, outlines how to install Ubuntu using the network installer. This utility allows you to install directly over the network, instead of using a CD or DVD image. It does require a small CD boot image, but beyond that it is entirely network dependent.

These steps can be used to install over the WAN from a public Ubuntu repository, or over the LAN from an exported Ubuntu CD or private repository. Network installations are generally faster than CD based installations, particularly when done over a Local Area Network.

I will first outline the requirements and how to get started with a network installation. Next I will walk through a network installation including screenshots for every step. I will also include text descriptions of each step and screenshot.

Requirements

In order to install a machine over the network you'll need the network installer image. Unfortunately these images are not well publicized, and rarely listed alongside the other .ISO images. For this reason I have included direct download links to the 32bit and 64bit images.

It is important that you download the network installer images from the same mirror that you will be installing from. These images are often bound to the kernel and library versions contained within the repository, and a mismatch will cause a failed installation.

32 bit

http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/dists/karmic/main/installer-i386/current/images/netboot/mini.iso

64bit

http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/dists/karmic/main/installer-amd64/current/images/netboot/mini.iso

If you'd prefer to use a different repository, simply look for the "installer-$arch" folder within the main folder of the version you'd like to install.

Once you've downloaded your preferred image you'll need to write the image to a CD. This can be done from an existing Linux installation (Ubuntu or otherwise), by following the steps below:

  • Navigate to your download location (likely ~/Downloads/)
  • Right-click on the mini.iso file
  • Select Write to Disk...

This will present you with an ISO image burning utility. Simply verify that it recognizes a disk in your CD writer, and that it has selected the mini.iso for writing. An image of this size (~12M) should only take a minute to write.

If possible, you may want to burn this image to a business card CD. Due to the size of the installation image (~12M), you'll have plenty of room on even the smallest media.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Installation

Congratulations. You're now the proud owner of an Ubuntu network installation CD. You can use this small CD to install an Ubuntu machine anywhere you have access to an Ubuntu repository. This can be a public repository or a local repository. If you'd like to create a local repository you may want to read the article on Creating a Local Ubuntu Repository using Apt-Mirror and Apt-Cacher, for additional information on creating a mirror or caching server.

To kick off your installation simply reboot your machine and instruct it to boot off a CD. This is often done by pressing a function key during the initial boot process. On many Dell machines this is the F12 button. Some machines are already configured to boot from a CD if present during the boot process. If this is not the case for you, please consult your BIOS settings for more information.

When the CD boots you'll be presented with a very basic prompt. Simply press ENTER to continue.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

This will then load the Ubuntu specific boot menu. For this article I selected Install from the main menu. The other options are beyond the scope of this tutorial.

This will load some modules and then start the installation program.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

The network installer is purely text based. This may seem like a step backward for those used to the LiveCD graphical installers, but the text based nature allows for greater flexibility and advanced features. During the following screens I will outline what the prompts are asking for, and what additional options (if any) are available at each stage.

The first selection menu that you will be prompted with is the language menu. This should default to "English". Of course you can select your preferred language as needed.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Second, to verify the language variant, you'll need to select your country. Based on your first selection your menu may not appear with the same options as in this screenshot.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Third you'll be asked to select or verify your keyboard layout. The installer will ask you if you'd like to automatically detect the proper keyboard layout. If you select Yes you will be prompted to press specific keys from a displayed list until it has verified your layout.

If you select No you'll be prompted to select your layout from a list.

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For this article I selected the Detect keyboard layout option, and verified my preferred keyboard.

If you select the Detect Keyboard Layout option you'll also be presented with a verification of the detected layout. If you feel the installer has incorrectly detected your layout, select the Back button. If everything looks correct, select Continue.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

We're now making progress and the installer is ready to move on to networking. As you may have guessed, in order to do a network installation you will need access no a high-speed network. This next step will detect your DHCP network settings to try and get the machine online.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

If the installer is unable to detect the network settings using DHCP it will prompt you to try again, or input your network settings manually. This example used DHCP successfully.

Once you are able to get online and the machine has detected network settings you'll need to define a hostname. Every Ubuntu machine needs to have a hostname assigned.

In many cases the hostname will be defined by the DHCP server. If not, simply enter a unique name for your machine here.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

We're getting closer! The next step in the installation is to select the installation mirror that you want to install from. As I mentioned above, it is preferred to install using the same mirror where you downloaded the mini.iso installer image from. Select a mirror from the list and proceed.

Note: if you have a local installation repository, or the repository you'd prefer to use is not in the list, you'll need to enter it manually. Navigate to the top of the mirror list and select the final option. This option allows you to dynamically assign the repository and path information for your installation.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

You will also be prompted regarding any network proxy settings that you might have. If your network requires a proxy for external access, enter that information here.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

The installer will now proceed by downloading the needed components to complete the installation. One of the nice things about the network installer is that it downloads the latest utilities that it needs before it uses them. This way you know that you're using the latest installer, with the fewest bugs.

Once the latest installer components are finished, you'll need to verify your timezone. This is done from a simple list, based on the available time zones in your area (based on your previously selected Country).

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

The installer will then load the components needed for the next step, and display a progress bar for its activity. This step should finish relatively quickly.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Now we get to some of the meat of the installer. Partitioning. The network installer will present you with a partitioning menu at this point in the installation allowing you to select one of four options. These options are:

  • Guided - use entire disk
  • Guided - use entire disk and set up LVM
  • Guided - use entire disk and setup encrypted LVM
  • Manual

If you are simply wanting to get the machine installed, and don't care at all about the partitioning, the first option is likely safe.

If you anticipate needing to add or remove storage space in the future, an LVM is a nice setup to provide you that flexibility.

Lastly, if you want a fully encrypted storage you'll want to select the encrypted LVM option. This will encrypt your root partition as well as your swap, only leaving /boot unencrypted. (Unencrypted boot is a requirement of the boot loader). This is the best option for full privacy and security, and should add little noticeable overhead to your machines performance.

Once you make your selection you'll be asked to verify that you want to make the changes to your partition table. If you select the LVM or encrypted LVM options you may be prompted a few additional times, as this requires a few additional steps for the installer. In this article I simply chose the basic option of using the entire disk.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

You should be prompted to verify which disk you're applying these changes to. In this case I only have one drive, but for those with multiple disks or removable media, this will verify that you're only writing to the drive you expect to write to.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Finally, one last verification that you are going to update the partition table and write the changes to the disk. The installer includes this number of warnings and notifications because this step will wipe all data from your existing drive. If you do not have it backed up it will be lost!

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Now that we've partitioned the machine and created a functional environment to lay down our installation, the installer will install the base packages and utilities.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

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You should be prompted for your username. This will be the first user on the machine, and also the Administrator.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Provide the preferred login username that you'd like to use. The installer should try to auto-populate this field based on the input from the last screen, but feel free to change this to your preference.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

You'll need to provide a secure password for the account. Remember, this account is also the Administrator account so you'll want to define a strong password at this step.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Verify your password.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Ubuntu also provides a feature wherein you can encrypt just the users home folder. If you selected not to encrypt the entire drive, but would like to encrypt the contents of your home folder, you can select to do so here. If you did elect to encrypt the entire drive, you likely don't need this added layer of encryption.

At this point the installer will contact the Ubuntu repository and retrieve additional packages. This may take some time, depending on your network or internet connection.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

The next step in the installation is to prompt you regarding management of updates. The installer provides three options for managing security and errata updates to your machine.

  • Disable automatic updates
  • Install security updates automatically
  • Manage system with Landscape

I'll leave this step up to the reader's preference, but I generally select the option to "Install security updates automatically". By selecting this option your machine will automatically apply security updates, but will avoid updating other packages on your system. You won't need to worry about logging in one day and finding yourself completely upgraded. You'll merely have the benefit of having security patches applied automatically, under the hood.

If you are familiar with Landscape, the web-based management system, you can also select to manage your machine that way. This option is generally used in Enterprise environments, as Landscape is usually tied-in with the support contracts.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

The next step is one of the biggest benefits of using the network installer. Because the network installer is downloading all of its options from the repository, it also allows you to install your machine to any number of profiles. Whether you prefer KDE or GNOME, or perhaps you are looking for a simple server. The possibilities abound! You can select any option from this list (even multiple options!) to install your machine to your preference. Some of the popular items from the list are:

  • Basic Ubuntu server
  • Kubuntu Desktop (KDE)
  • Mythbuntu
  • Ubuntu Netbook Remix
  • Ubuntu Desktop
  • Xubuntu Desktop

As you can see, the list provides a wide range of options. This flexibility is due to the fact that each of these Ubunut variants shares the same central repository to host its packages. Because we are installing directly from this repository we can select any of these pre-defined profiles and install exactly the setup we want.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

This sure beats carrying around an installation CD for each Desktop environment!

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Once you've made your selection and moved to the next step, you might want to grab yourself a cup of coffee or go make a sandwich. This step constitutes the bulk of the time required for the installation, as each of the required packages needs to be downloaded and installed. If you have a local repository and are downloading over the LAN, this should go faster. If you are downloading over the WAN it may take some time. Get comfortable, and just let the installer do its thing!

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

There is one final step in the installation, and that is defining how the machine should handle its system time. The suggested option here is UTC, unless you have a good reason to select otherwise. As the installer suggests, UTC is suggested unless you have another operating system installed that expects its time in something other than UTC.

Unless you have variated greatly from the steps outlined in this article, UTC is the correct choice here.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Finally, the installation is done and the installer prompts you to reboot your machine. You may now safely remove your installation CD and boot into your new system.

Network Based Ubuntu Installations

Summary

Congratulations! You've finished an Ubuntu network installation. That wasn't so hard, was it!

For best results, you'll likely want to combine these steps with another similar article I've written. Please see:

* create a repository mirror / apt-cacher


If you have read this article you may be interested to view :


About the Author :


Christer Edwards currently works for a US Department of Defense Contractor maintaining Linux and FreeBSD Systems. In a previous life he was a Technical Instructor developing and teaching courseware for Red Hat Enterprise. While it is the Enterprise  that pays the bills, his real passion is in the Linux community trenches. He has been a long-time contributor to Ubuntu where he has maintained a technical blog on the Ubuntu Planet for over three years. He was also key in organizing the Ubuntu LoCo project throughout the US. An ideal day for him is one spent quietly writing documentation and articles.

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