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Although it is theoretically possible to use a full disk to house your Linux system, this is almost never done in practice. Instead, full disk block devices are split up in smaller, more manageable block devices. On IA64 systems, these are called partitions.

Itanium systems use EFI, the Extensible Firmware Interface, for booting. The partition table format that EFI understands is called GPT, or GUID Partition Table. The partitioning program that understands GPT is called "parted", so that is the tool used below. Additionally, EFI can only read FAT filesystems, so that is the format to use for the EFI boot partition, where the kernel will be installed by "elilo".

Advanced storage

The IA64 Installation CDs provide support for LVM2. LVM2 increases the flexibility offered by the partitioning setup. During the installation instructions, we will focus on "regular" partitions, but it is still good to know LVM2 is supported as well.

Designing a partition scheme

How many partitions and how big?

The design of disk partition layout is highly dependent on the demands of the system and the file system(s) applied to the device. If there are lots of users, then it is advised to have /home on a separate partition which will increase security and make backups and other types of maintenance easier. If Gentoo is being installed to perform as a mail server, then /var should be a separate partition as all mails are stored inside the /var directory. Game servers may have a separate /opt partition since most gaming server software is installed therein. The reason for these recommendations is similar to the /home directory: security, backups, and maintenance.

In most situations on Gentoo, /usr and /var should be kept relatively large in size. /usr hosts the majority of applications available on the system and the Linux kernel sources (under /usr/src). By default, /var hosts the Gentoo ebuild repository (located at /var/db/repos/gentoo) which, depending on the file system, generally consumes around 650 MiB of disk space. This space estimate excludes the /var/cache/distfiles and /var/cache/binpkgs directories, which will gradually fill with source files and (optionally) binary packages respectively as they are added to the system.

How many partitions and how big very much depends on considering the trade-offs and choosing the best option for the circumstance. Separate partitions or volumes have the following advantages:

  • Choose the best performing filesystem for each partition or volume.
  • The entire system cannot run out of free space if one defunct tool is continuously writing files to a partition or volume.
  • If necessary, file system checks are reduced in time, as multiple checks can be done in parallel (although this advantage is realized more with multiple disks than it is with multiple partitions).
  • Security can be enhanced by mounting some partitions or volumes read-only, nosuid (setuid bits are ignored), noexec (executable bits are ignored), etc.

However, multiple partitions have certain disadvantages as well:

  • If not configured properly, the system might have lots of free space on one partition and little free space on another.
  • A separate partition for /usr/ may require the administrator to boot with an initramfs to mount the partition before other boot scripts start. Since the generation and maintenance of an initramfs is beyond the scope of this handbook, we recommend that newcomers do not use a separate partition for /usr/.
  • There is also a 15-partition limit for SCSI and SATA unless the disk uses GPT labels.
If you intend to uses Systemd, /usr/ must be available on boot, either as part of the root filesystem or mounted via an initramfs.

What about swap space?

There is no perfect value for swap space size. The purpose of the space is to provide disk storage to the kernel when internal memory (RAM) is under pressure. A swap space allows for the kernel to move memory pages that are not likely to be accessed soon to disk (swap or page-out), which will free memory in RAM for the current task. Of course, if the pages swapped to disk are suddenly needed, they will need to be put back in memory (page-in) which will take considerably longer than reading from RAM (as disks are very slow compared to internal memory).

When a system is not going to run memory intensive applications or has lots of RAM available, then it probably does not need much swap space. However do note in case of hibernation that swap space is used to store the entire contents of memory (likely on desktop and laptop systems rather than on server systems). If the system requires support for hibernation, then swap space larger than or equal to the amount of memory is necessary.

As a general rule, the swap space size is recommended to be twice the internal memory (RAM). For systems with multiple hard disks, it is wise to create one swap partition on each disk so that they can be utilized for parallel read/write operations. The faster a disk can swap, the faster the system will run when data in swap space must be accessed. When choosing between rotational and solid state disks, it is better for performance to put swap on the SSD. Also, swap files can be used as an alternative to swap partitions; this is mostly interesting for systems with very limited disk space.

Non-default example partition scheme

An example partitioning for a 20GB disk is shown below, used as a demonstration laptop (containing webserver, mailserver, gnome, ...):

root #df -h
Filesystem    Type    Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda5     ext4    509M  132M  351M  28% /
/dev/sda2     ext4    5.0G  3.0G  1.8G  63% /home
/dev/sda7     ext4    7.9G  6.2G  1.3G  83% /usr
/dev/sda8     ext4   1011M  483M  477M  51% /opt
/dev/sda9     ext4    2.0G  607M  1.3G  32% /var
/dev/sda1     ext2     51M   17M   31M  36% /boot
/dev/sda6     swap    516M   12M  504M   2% <not mounted>
(Unpartitioned space for future usage: 2 GB)

/usr/ is rather full (83% used) here, but once all software is installed, /usr/ doesn't tend to grow that much. Although allocating a few gigabytes of disk space for /var/ may seem excessive, remember that portage uses this partition by default for compiling packages. To keep /var/ at a more reasonable size, such as 1GB, alter the PORTAGE_TMPDIR variable in /etc/portage/make.conf to point to the partition with enough free space for compiling extremely large packages such as LibreOffice.

Using parted to partition the disk

The following parts explain how to create the example partition layout used in the remainder of the installation instructions, namely:

Partition Description
/dev/sda1 EFI Boot partition
/dev/sda2 Swap partition
/dev/sda3 Root partition

Change the partition layout according to personal preference.

Viewing the current partition layout

parted is the GNU partition editor. Fire up parted on the disk (in our example, we use /dev/sda):

root #parted /dev/sda

Once in parted, a prompt that looks like this shows up:


At this point one of the available commands is help, to see the other available commands. Another command is print to display the disk's current partition configuration:

Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes
Disk label type: gpt
Minor    Start       End     Filesystem  Name                  Flags
1          0.017    203.938  fat32                             boot
2        203.938   4243.468  linux-swap
3       4243.469  34724.281  ext4

This particular configuration is very similar to the one recommended above. Note on the second line that the partition table is type is GPT. If it is different, then the ia64 system will not be able to boot from this disk. To explain how partitions are created, let's first remove the partitions and recreate them.

Removing all partitions

Unlike fdisk and some other partitioning programs which postpone committing changes until the write instruction is given, parted commands take effect immediately. So once partitions are added or removed, there is no undo.

The easy way to remove all partitions and start fresh, which guarantees that we are using the correct partition type, is to make a new partition table using the mklabel command. This results in an empty GPT partition table.

(parted) mklabelgpt
(parted) mklabelprint
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes
Disk label type: gpt
Minor    Start       End     Filesystem  Name                  Flags

Now that the partition table is empty, we're ready to create the partitions. We will use a default partitioning scheme as discussed previously. Of course, don't follow these instructions to the letter but adjust to personal preference.

Creating the EFI boot partition

First create a small EFI boot partition. This is required to be a FAT filesystem in order for the IA64 firmware to read it. Our example makes this 32 MB, which is appropriate for storing kernels and elilo configuration. Expect each IA64 kernel to be around 5 MB, so this configuration leaves some room to grow and experiment.

(parted)mkpart primary fat32 0 32
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes
Disk label type: gpt
Minor    Start       End     Filesystem  Name                  Flags
1          0.017     32.000  fat32

Creating the swap partition

Let's now create the swap partition. The classic size to make the swap partition was twice the amount of RAM in the system. In modern systems with lots of RAM, this is no longer necessary. For most desktop systems, a 512 megabyte swap partition is sufficient. For a server, consider something larger to reflect the anticipated needs of the server.

(parted)mkpart primary linux-swap 32 544
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes
Disk label type: gpt
Minor    Start       End     Filesystem  Name                  Flags
1          0.017     32.000  fat32
2         32.000    544.000

Creating the root partition

Finally, create the root partition. Our configuration will make the root partition to occupy the rest of the disk. We default to ext4, but it is possible to use ext2, jfs, reiserfs or xfs. The actual filesystem is not created in this step, but the partition table contains an indication of what kind of filesystem is stored on each partition, and it's a good idea to make the table match the intentions.

(parted)mkpart primary ext4 544 34732.890
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes
Disk label type: gpt
Minor    Start       End     Filesystem  Name                  Flags
1          0.017     32.000  fat32
2         32.000    544.000
3        544.000  34732.874

Exiting parted

To quit from parted, type quit. There's no need to take a separate step to save the partition layout since parted has been saving it all along. Parted will give a reminder to update the /etc/fstab file, which is done later in the installation instructions.

Information: Don't forget to update /etc/fstab, if necessary.