Posted by: Diabolic Preacher | November 11, 2007

linux installation revisited: migrating distros, keeping home

Fooling windows to believe its on the first partition in order to setup a dual boot system is just one of the many hindrances to the utopian user-friendly installation that many a reviewers have experienced

This experience is very specific to people who plan to try a new distro, given that they have settled down with one distro or were helped to install a certain distro but have got a different distro (not an upgrade of the same one) that promised better features out of the box. This experience is for those who have prepared for such a scenario keeping their /home on a separate partition. In case you had everything on a single partition and have space to add a new partition, you could follow this article.

Let us assume that all your applications are installed system-wide i.e. they are available to be used by all users on your system and not only to you. These are the steps that you go through when you are trying out the second distro (called distro2 from here onwards to save my fingers from overtyping) : –

  1. Reboot with distro2 in the CD/DVD drive and follow the installation steps as usual till you get to the disk partition management section.
  2. Choose to setup disk partitioning manually.
  3. You would see your existing linux partitions among others. Assuming that you had paid attention to your disk partition setup during the installation of the former distro you can make out the partitions that are / and /home of your old distro. If like me, if you have a single boot Linux system, then the identification becomes far easier.
  4. Depending on the distro, the partition tool may present the options in various ways but what you need to do is :
    1. format the partition that was / and choose to set the mount point as /
    2. make sure to uncheck/deselect any option to format the partition that was and is to remain your /home and set the mount point as /home
    3. You may choose any different filesystem for the new / partition but don’t change the filesystem set for your /home partition
  5. Now after the system files have been copied over to the freshly formatted / partition, I had created a new non-root user with the same username as the one I used for my former distro
  6. You got to be careful and read through still more carefully from here onwards.
  7. Reboot once you completed the post-installation steps.
  8. You will be greeted with the graphical login screen. Press Ctrl-Alt-F1 to get into a text login console.
  9. Login as root. Type the following at the shell prompt (All lines preceded with # or $ are commands you type at the shell prompt. Exclude the # or $ while typing):
    1. #cd /home/username
    2. username is the non-root user that you created with the same name as that which you used in your last distro
    3. #chown -R username *
    4. #chown -R username .*
    5. In my experience I had to do the second chown command to change the ownership of the . files or the hidden files to the non-root user
  10. Logout from root account. Login as the non-root user
  11. $ls -a
  12. This will show the hidden files. Many of the per-user basis personalizations including any application customizations that are user specific are saved in hidden configuration files whose filenames start with a ‘.’ (dot/full stop/point). These are however distro specific as well and despite you not migrating from Gnome to KDE or vice versa, there are distro specific differences that could cause incorrect (as per new distro) configuration files to mess up the whole look and feel and behavior of the new system.

Phew!! 😀 Well that’s few of the details that were specifically necessary for you to know if you are specifically moving to a newer distro with your /home intact. I migrated from Vector Linux SOHO to Kubuntu gutsy (both KDE) and I literally had to go through a lot of manual repairing till I got things right. I still do have my /home intact, but I miss JuK. I don’t like Amarok.

Did I miss anything? Is there anything more you would like to know. Share your disastrous experiences.


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