Another day, another debian headache

The case is this, a debian server running Debian 4.0 etch has it’s motherboard broken. We send it for replacement but they don’t have another of the same model to send us so they send us a shiny new model. The new model houses a P35 chipset. The latest Debian 4.0 etch kernel is 2.6.18 which does not support the ICH9 chipset that the motherboard has. The result ? The machine can’t find any sata discs attached to it and it can’t boot. Wonderfull!

Asking around for a possible solution I got two types of answers: a) build a newer kernel on my own b) upgrade the whole system to testing (lenny) instead of stable (etch).
As far as solution (a), I was not willing to build a kernel of my own. It’s not that I can’t, it’s the fact that I find it ridiculous for a debian system to have to build a kernel of my own just like I did when I was using slackware. It’s debian, the distribution thought to be the most stable and well polished and and and…there must be an automated way to run a recent proper kernel.
Regarding solution (b), I was not willing to de-stabilize my system. I want and need to run stable versions of services on that server. A lot of people told me that “testing” is very stable. If debian testing is stable enough then they must mark it as stable and push the previous “stable” into the void. While it’s named “testing” I don’t trust it.

The solve the problem, I booted with a beta of the next version of iloog, mounted the debian partition and chrooted to it. Following some help I was given on IRC I added the testing sources to /etc/apt/sources.list:
deb stable main contrib non-free
deb-src stable main contrib non-free
deb stable/updates main contrib
deb-src stable/updates main contrib
deb testing main contrib non-free
deb-src testing main contrib non-free
deb testing/updates main contrib
deb-src testing/updates main contrib

Reading some stuff about “apt pinning” I added the following in /etc/apt/preferences:
Package: *
Pin: release a=stable
Pin-Priority: 700
---blank line---
Package: *
Pin: release a=testing
Pin-Priority: 650

(that —blank line— mark should really be an empty line. due to theming problems with this blog I can’t make it appear properly inside <code> tags)

Then I issued an: aptitude update
Then I got errors like:

Dynamic MMap ran out of room
Error occurred while processing vdr-plugin-skinenigmang (NewVersion1)
Problem with MergeList /var/lib/apt/lists/ftp.ntua.gr_pub_linux_debian_dists_lenny_main_binary-i386_Packages
The package lists or status file could not be parsed or opened.
Couldn’t rebuild package cache

The solution to those were to create another file named /etc/apt/apt.conf with the following inside it:
APT::Cache-Limit "15388608";

Running aptitude update again was fine. Then an apt-cache search linux-image showed me the list of available kernels. I now had a 2.6.24 kernel available. Finally an aptitude install linux-image-2.6.24-1-686 installed the new kernel.
I had to edit the /etc/grub/menu.conf a bit for it to play nicely (due to the chrooting I guess) but afterwards the server booted just fine.

I don’t know whether what I did is good or bad for a debian system. The fact is that it works and aptitude update does not want to upgrade any of my packages to the testing version.

Please debian maintainers, if you have finished patching your machines due to the recent openssl vulnerability you created, rename your “stable” release to “ancient” and “testing” to “stable” so we have less trouble running your distro on new hardware. Thanks in advance.

9 Responses to “Another day, another debian headache”

  1. May 30th, 2008 | 09:51
    Using Mozilla SeaMonkey Mozilla SeaMonkey 1.1.9 on Windows Windows XP

    confirmed, I came across the same problem (while trying to install a new debian system (probably stable)) – My solution then after plenty of googling was to install with advanced setup – it had some extra options, although I dont remember actually using any of them, I just installed it via “advanced setup”.

    Regardless, on another system I am using testing since day 1 on a production system and it never failed me (so far).

  2. May 30th, 2008 | 11:39
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    (Un)Luckilly I didn’t have to install from scratch, but I had to make an existing installation work again on a new motherboard. If I had to install from scratch and it didn’t work I’d probably dump Debian for good and install CentOS or even Gentoo.

    If I was the only admin in the machines I administer I’d probably install Gentoo to all of them, but I know that many people don’t like it, or simply hate it, so I try to be modest when choosing a distro for a server. Until now my choice for machines I co-administer was Debian. I am starting to revise that thought though.

  3. Costas
    May 30th, 2008 | 13:53
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Windows Windows XP

    You could also use Debian Backports [] to install a 2.6.22 kernel. It would be easier. 🙂

  4. May 30th, 2008 | 14:01
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    Thanks Costats for the tip 🙂
    Backports looks like a nice idea but as far as I can tell it’s not part of the official debian tree, right ? So it looks kinda “unsupported” to me. Can it be trusted for up-to-date security updates ? What’s your experience ?

  5. Debian User
    May 30th, 2008 | 22:39
    Using Debian IceWeasel Debian IceWeasel on Debian GNU/Linux Debian GNU/Linux

    Wow, you are an excellent troll.

    Stable releases and QA are a wonderful thing (TM). Testing is stabler-than-Gentoo-not-stable-enough.

    Go emerge your world now.

  6. May 31st, 2008 | 00:27
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    Well, thanks…You still don’t provide any answers though. Debian’s “stable” is surely a very stable environment to work with, but shouldn’t “stable” be able to run on new machines too ? If “testing” is stable enough why is it called testing ? If by the word stable you include the inability to run on new machines, then I prefer Gentoo’s stable tree which runs just fine. Gentoo might have it’s difficulties but at least the stable kernel it provides is currently 2.6.24.

    You bet I will happily emerge my world 🙂

  7. May 31st, 2008 | 11:24
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox 3.0 on Mac OS X Mac OS X 10

    Well, well! I can see that “kargir” is polite enough to leave trolling comments like these. However it’s true that Debian is harder to use than Gentoo and that apt-get is like a deprecated bad version of gentoo’s emerge. Emerge should be considered as the next generation package manager by Debian users.

    I told you that you should switch to Gentoo the server, but you provided at least one good reason not doing so. Debian is more popular, but it’s surely more difficult to manage.

  8. Debian User
    May 31st, 2008 | 23:08
    Using Debian IceWeasel Debian IceWeasel on Debian GNU/Linux Debian GNU/Linux

    atma, το άλλο με τον Τοτό το ξέρεις;

    kargig, check out “Etch and a Half” (official and supported updated kernel and xorg drivers available soon). The project is addressing the issue of newer hardware support in Etch.

    However, if you find testing stable enough and don’t care that it is a moving target use it and forget about the label. Call it Lenny, “Debian stable-enough” or “Warm and Fuzzy OS”.

    What about your emerge? Was it smooth?

  9. June 1st, 2008 | 15:31
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    When I was looking for a solution I had bumped into It may be an official project but as far as I can tell it’s not “ready” yet.
    I read from that page:
    When will it be shipped
    The current plan for Etch And A Half is to release as part of a point release (4.0r4).

    And since the most recent Debian version is 4.0r3, I consider Etch and a Half as “not ready yet”. Am I wrong about this ?

    Emerge went fine, as always. I appreciate your concern 🙂

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