I'm not a distro-hopper by any means, but even so I have tested/tasted a number of Linux distributions. Primarily, these have been in the Debian family: X/K/Ubuntu, Debian itself, Raspbian and likely more that I'm forgetting. I was recommended and used very happily for a good while Arch Linux (experiments with GNU Guix on it notwithstanding), until my hard drive began dying one day. I had heard that Tumbleweed was also rolling-release, and provided interesting rollback functionality out of the box using BTRFS and Snapper, so I installed it on a spare USB stick. Recently, I was thinking about Gentoo Linux. I was mainly thinking of the perhaps not-entirely-accurate idea that it would take substantial time to install due to the requisite amounts of compiling I also thought that the difficulty level of the installation was roughly equivalent to that of Arch,. I wanted to see if my thoughts/perceptions were right, so I planned to install and migrate to Gentoo. This led to a sequence of events that can be divided into approximately 3 parts.
Part I: The actual installation of Gentoo
Much like Arch Linux, Gentoo has a comprehensive wiki filled with documentation about not only the installation procedures but also a large number of other things that are needed post-install. This is a very good thing, because documentation is very useful when installing either distribution (especially if you haven't done it before). As such, I mostly ended up following the Gentoo Handbook which provides a well-written resource much like Arch's own installation guide (except it seemed more organized and structured into steps). Seeing as I was going to install Gentoo onto an existing filesystem (as a BTRFS subvolume) and was installing from an existing Linux rather than a CD, I could ignore 3 segments of the first part. The remaining installation steps looked like this:
- Download (and extract) a precompiled base system (a stage3 tarball) This stage was very easy, only a couple of commands to execute with no decisions to make.
- Set appropriate compiliation settings
At this point I needed to select what compiliation flags I would be using as well as decide how many parallel jobs
makeshould be running. I decided to go with the default set of flags, only tweaking it to target GCC towards my specific CPU type (
-march=amdfam10) and to also follow the recommendation for job count so that
makecould run up to 5 tasks in parallel. This was a very good decision - for one thing it made sure that compiling felt very fast and also ensured that all of my CPU's capacity could be used by the process if needed.
- Enter the installed base system and configure/update Portage (Gentoo's package manager) This step was also rather easy, a bit of copying files around and a few commands. I selected the generic 'desktop' profile, not seeing one more accurate.
- Rebuild the world Now that I had selected my profile, I needed to update my system to include the changed settings/flags that came with the new profile. Additionally, I needed to install the additional software selected to my profile. In short, what I (or Gentoo's portage) actually did could be succinctly explained with this image:
I expected that this would be the longest part of the installation, and that was a correct expectation. Compiling 164 packages does take some time.
However, it didn't take as much time as I imagined it to, things felt pretty fast actually. Building a generic linux kernel from scratch and installing it only took ~1h.
I attribute this unexpected speediness to the benefits of passing
-j5 to make - Allowing 4 files to be compiled at once while using an entire CPU core speeded things up very nicely, while a 5th task meant there was almost always something to do when it was otherwise idle.
5. Configuration of USE flags/locale/timezone
At the present time, I decided to not really touch the USE flags immediately as they could be easily modified later as an when I needed to.
I set the locale & timezone in accordance with my physical location (the UK).
6. Compiling and installation of the kernel
I decided that rather than start with a custom kernel configuration that may or may not boot, I would instead start with Genkernel, which would provide me a base from which to customise my own kernel.
Considering that the result was a rather generic kernel, it was a bit surprising that it only took an hour or so to compile and install the kernel from scratch.
7. General system configuration
In this stage, I wrote /etc/fstab as well as configuring the network (simply automatically running DHCP on the only ethernet interface).
I also assigned the system a hostname, and made sure that OpenRC used the correct keymap and started the network at boot-time.
Before moving on to bootloader configuration, I selected what initial optional services I wanted installed and running at boot. These included a system logger, a cron daemon as well as
The next stage was bootloader configuration, but I think discussion of that would fit better in Part II. This post is getting somewhat long, so that'll be in another post in a short while.