Handbook:IA64/Installation/Disks

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IA64 Handbook
Installation
About the installation
Choosing the media
Configuring the network
Preparing the disks
The stage file
Installing base system
Configuring the kernel
Configuring the system
Installing tools
Configuring the bootloader
Finalizing
Working with Gentoo
Portage introduction
USE flags
Portage features
Initscript system
Environment variables
Working with Portage
Files and directories
Variables
Mixing software branches
Additional tools
Custom package repository
Advanced features
OpenRC network configuration
Getting started
Advanced configuration
Modular networking
Wireless
Adding functionality
Dynamic management


Introduction to block devices

Block devices

Let's take a good look at disk-oriented aspects of Gentoo Linux and Linux in general, including block devices, partitions, and Linux filesystems. Once the ins and outs of disks are understood, partitions and filesystems can be established for installation.

To begin, let's look at block devices. SCSI and Serial ATA drives are both labeled under device handles such as: /dev/sda, /dev/sdb, /dev/sdc, etc. On more modern machines, PCI Express based NVMe solid state disks have device handles such as /dev/nvme0n1, /dev/nvme0n2, etc.

The following table will help readers determine where to find a certain type of block device on the system:

Type of device Default device handle Editorial notes and considerations
IDE, SATA, SAS, SCSI, or USB flash /dev/sda Found on hardware from roughly 2007 until the present, this device handle is perhaps the most commonly used in Linux. These types of devices can be connected via the SATA bus, SCSI, USB bus as block storage. As example, the first partition on the first SATA device is called /dev/sda1.
NVM Express (NVMe) /dev/nvme0n1 The latest in solid state technology, NVMe drives are connected to the PCI Express bus and have the fastest transfer block speeds on the market. Systems from around 2014 and newer may have support for NVMe hardware. The first partition on the first NVMe device is called /dev/nvme0n1p1.
MMC, eMMC, and SD /dev/mmcblk0 embedded MMC devices, SD cards, and other types of memory cards can be useful for data storage. That said, many systems may not permit booting from these types of devices. It is suggested to not use these devices for active Linux installations; rather consider using them to transfer files, which is their typical design intention. Alternatively this storage type could be useful for short-term file backups or snapshots.

The block devices above represent an abstract interface to the disk. User programs can use these block devices to interact with the disk without worrying about whether the drives are SATA, SCSI, or something else. The program can simply address the storage on the disk as a bunch of contiguous, randomly-accessible 4096-byte (4K) blocks.


Partitions

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.
Note
Installations that intend to use systemd as the service and init system must have the /usr directory available at boot, either as part of the root filesystem or mounted via an initramfs.

What about swap space?

Recommendations for swap space size
RAM size Suspend support? Hibernation support?
2 GB or less 2 * RAM 3 * RAM
2 to 8 GB RAM amount 2 * RAM
8 to 64 GB 8 GB minimum, 16 maximum 1.5 * RAM
64 GB or greater 8 GB minimum Hibernation not recommended! Hibernation is not recommended for systems with very large amounts of memory. While possible, the entire contents of memory must be written to disk in order to successfully hibernate. Writing tens of gigabytes (or worse!) out to disk can can take a considerable amount of time, especially when rotational disks are used. It is best to suspend in this scenario.

There is no perfect value for swap space size. The purpose of the space is to provide disk storage to the kernel when internal dynamic 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 for RAM amounts less than 4 GB, 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 solid state hardware.

It is worth noting that swap files can be used as an alternative to swap partitions; this is mostly helpful 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 web server, mail server, 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:

(parted)

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:

(parted)print
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

Note
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
(parted)print
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
(parted)print
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, 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
(parted)print
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.

(parted)quit
Information: Don't forget to update /etc/fstab, if necessary.


Creating file systems

Warning
When using SSD or NVMe drive, it is wise to check for firmware upgrades. Some Intel SSDs in particular (600p and 6000p) require a firmware upgrade for possible data corruption induced by XFS I/O usage patterns. The problem is at the firmware level and not any fault of the XFS filesystem. The smartctl utility can help check the device model and firmware version.

Introduction

Now that the partitions have been created, it is time to place a filesystem on them. In the next section the various file systems that Linux supports are described. Readers that already know which filesystem to use can continue with Applying a filesystem to a partition. The others should read on to learn about the available filesystems...

Filesystems

Linux supports several dozen filesystems, although many of them are only wise to deploy for specific purposes. Only certain filesystems may be found stable on the ia64 architecture - it is advised to read up on the filesystems and their support state before selecting a more experimental one for important partitions. XFS is the recommended all-purpose, all-platform filesystem. The below is a non-exhaustive list:

btrfs
Newer generation filesystem. Provides advanced features like snapshotting, self-healing through checksums, transparent compression, subvolumes, and integrated RAID. Kernels prior to 5.4.y are not guaranteed to be safe to use with btrfs in production because fixes for serious issues are only present in the more recent releases of the LTS kernel branches. RAID 5/6 and quota groups unsafe on all versions of btrfs.
ext4
Ext4 is a reliable, all-purpose all-platform filesystem, although it lacks modern features like reflinks.
f2fs
The Flash-Friendly File System was originally created by Samsung for the use with NAND flash memory. It is a decent choice when installing Gentoo to microSD cards, USB drives, or other flash-based storage devices.
XFS
Filesystem with metadata journaling which comes with a robust feature-set and is optimized for scalability. It has been continuously upgraded to include modern features. The only downside is that XFS partitions cannot yet be shrunk, although this is being worked on. XFS notably supports reflinks and Copy on Write (CoW) which is particularly helpful on Gentoo systems because of the amount of compiles users complete. XFS is the recommended modern all-purpose all-platform filesystem. Requires a partition to be at least 300MB.
VFAT
Also known as FAT32, is supported by Linux but does not support standard UNIX permission settings. It is mostly used for interoperability/interchange with other operating systems (Microsoft Windows or Apple's macOS) but is also a necessity for some system bootloader firmware (like UEFI). Users of UEFI systems will need an EFI System Partition formatted with VFAT in order to boot.
NTFS
This "New Technology" filesystem is the flagship filesystem of Microsoft Windows since Windows NT 3.1. Similarly to VFAT, it does not store UNIX permission settings or extended attributes necessary for BSD or Linux to function properly, therefore it should not be used as a root filesystem for most cases. It should only be used for interoperability or data interchange with Microsoft Windows systems (note the emphasis on only).

More extensive information on filesystems can be found in the community maintained Filesystem article.

Applying a filesystem to a partition

Note
Please make sure to emerge the relevant user space utilities package for the chosen filesystem before rebooting. There will be a reminder to do so near the end of the installation process.

To create a filesystem on a partition or volume, there are user space utilities available for each possible filesystem. Click the filesystem's name in the table below for additional information on each filesystem:

Filesystem Creation command Within the live environment? Package
btrfs mkfs.btrfs Yes sys-fs/btrfs-progs
ext4 mkfs.ext4 Yes sys-fs/e2fsprogs
f2fs mkfs.f2fs Yes sys-fs/f2fs-tools
xfs mkfs.xfs Yes sys-fs/xfsprogs
vfat mkfs.vfat Yes sys-fs/dosfstools
NTFS mkfs.ntfs Yes sys-fs/ntfs3g
Important
The handbook recommends new partitions as part of the installation process, but it is important to note running any mkfs command will erase any data contained within the partition. When necessary, ensure any data that exists within is appropriately backed up before creating a few filesystem.

For instance, to have the root partition (/dev/sda3) as xfs as used in the example partition structure, the following commands would be used:

root #mkfs.xfs /dev/sda3

EFI system partition filesystem

The EFI system partition () must be formatted as FAT32:

root #mkfs.vfat -F 32

Legacy BIOS boot partition filesystem

Systems booting via legacy BIOS with a MBR/DOS disklabel can use any filesystem format supported by the bootloader.

For example, to format with XFS:

root #mkfs.xfs

Small ext4 partitions

When using the ext4 filesystem on a small partition (less than 8 GiB), the filesystem should be created with the proper options to reserve enough inodes. This can specified using the -T small option:

root #mkfs.ext4 -T small /dev/<device>

Doing so will quadruple the number of inodes for a given filesystem, since its "bytes-per-inode" reduces from one every 16kB to one every 4kB.

Activating the swap partition

mkswap is the command that is used to initialize swap partitions:

root #mkswap /dev/sda2

To activate the swap partition, use swapon:

root #swapon /dev/sda2

This 'activation' step is only necessary because the swap partition is newly created within the live environment. Once the system has been rebooted, as long as the swap partition is properly defined within fstab or other mount mechanism, swap space will activate automatically.

Mounting the root partition

Note
Installations which were previously started, but did not finish the installation process can resume the installation from this point in the handbook. Use this link as the permalink: Resumed installations start here.

Certain live environments may be missing the suggested mount point for Gentoo's root partition (), or mount points for additional partitions created in the partitioning section:

root #mkdir --parents

For EFI installs only, the ESP should be mounted under the root partition location:

root #mkdir --parents

Continue creating additional mount points necessary for any additional (custom) partition(s) created during previous steps by using the mkdir command.

With mount points created, it is time to make the partitions accessible via mount command.

Mount the root partition:

root #mount /dev/sda3

Continue mounting additional (custom) partitions as necessary using the mount command.

Note
If /tmp/ needs to reside on a separate partition, be sure to change its permissions after mounting:
root #chmod 1777 /tmp
This also holds for /var/tmp.

Later in the instructions, the proc filesystem (a virtual interface with the kernel) as well as other kernel pseudo-filesystems will be mounted. But first the Gentoo stage file must be extracted.