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PPC Handbook
About the installation
Choosing the media
Configuring the network
Preparing the disks
Installing stage3
Installing base system
Configuring the kernel
Configuring the system
Installing tools
Configuring the bootloader
Working with Gentoo
Portage introduction
USE flags
Portage features
Initscript system
Environment variables
Working with Portage
Files and directories
Mixing software branches
Additional tools
Custom package repository
Advanced features
Network configuration
Getting started
Advanced configuration
Modular networking
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 Linux filesystems, partitions, and block devices. Once the ins and outs of disks and filesystems are understood, partitions and filesystems can be established for the Gentoo Linux installation.

To begin, let's look at block devices. The most famous block device is probably the one that represents the first drive in a Linux system, namely /dev/sda. SCSI and Serial ATA drives are both labeled /dev/sd*; even IDE drives are labeled /dev/sd* with the libata framework in the kernel. When using the old device framework, then the first IDE drive is /dev/hda.

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 IDE, SCSI, or something else. The program can simply address the storage on the disk as a bunch of contiguous, randomly-accessible 512-byte blocks.


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

In the remainder of the installation instructions, we will use the Pegasos example partition layout. Adjust to personal preference.

Designing a partition scheme

How many partitions and how big?

The number of partitions is highly dependent on the environment. For instance, if there are lots of users, then it is advised to have /home/ separate as it increases security and makes backups easier. If Gentoo is being installed to perform as a mail server, then /var/ should be separate as all mails are stored inside /var/. A good choice of filesystem will then maximize the performance. Game servers will have a separate /opt/ as most gaming servers are installed there. The reason is similar for /home/: security and backups. In most situations, /usr/ is to be kept big: not only will it contain the majority of applications, the Gentoo repository alone takes around 500 MB excluding the various sources that are stored in it.

It very much depends on what the administrator wants to achieve. 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 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 disadvantages as well. If not configured properly, the system might have lots of free space on one partition and none on another. Another nuisance is that separate partitions - especially for important mount points like /usr/ or /var/ - often require the administrator to boot with an initramfs to mount the partition before other boot scripts start. This isn't always the case though, so results may vary.

There is also a 15-partition limit for SCSI and SATA unless the disk uses GPT labels.

What about swap space?

There is no perfect value for the swap partition. The purpose of swap 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), freeing memory. Of course, if that memory is suddenly needed, these pages need to be put back in memory (page-in) which will take a while (as disks are very slow compared to internal memory).

When the system is not going to run memory intensive applications or the system has lots of memory available, then it probably does not need much swap space. However, swap space is also used to store the entire memory in case of hibernation. If the system is going to need hibernation, then a bigger swap space is necessary, often at least the amount of memory installed in the system.

Apple New World

Apple New World machines are fairly straightforward to configure. The first partition is always an Apple Partition Map. This partition keeps track of the layout of the disk. It is not possible to remove this partition. The next partition should always be a bootstrap partition. This partition contains a small (800k) HFS filesystem that holds a copy of the bootloader Yaboot and its configuration file. This partition is not the same as a /boot partition as found on other architectures. After the boot partition, the usual Linux filesystems are placed, according to the scheme below. The swap partition is a temporary storage place for when the system runs out of physical memory. The root partition will contain the filesystem that Gentoo is installed on. To dual boot, the OSX partition can go anywhere after the bootstrap partition to insure that yaboot starts first.

There may be "Disk Driver" partitions on the disk such as Apple_Driver63, Apple_Driver_ATA, Apple_FWDriver, Apple_Driver_IOKit, and Apple_Patches. These are used to boot MacOS, so if there is no need for this, they can be removed by initializing the disk with mac-fdisk's i option. This will completely erase the disk! If in doubt, just let them be.
If the disk is partitioned with Apple's Disk Utility, there may be 128 MB spaces between partitions which Apple reserves for "future use". These can be safely removed.
Partition Size Filesystem Description
/dev/sda1 32k None Apple Partition Map
/dev/sda2 800k HFS Apple Bootstrap
/dev/sda3 512 MB Swap Linux Swap
/dev/sda4 Rest of disk ext3, ext4, reiserfs, xfs, etc. Linux Root

Apple Old World

Apple Old World machines are a bit more complicated to configure. The first partition is always an Apple Partition Map. This partition keeps track of the layout of the disk. It is not possible to remove this partition. When using BootX, the configuration below assumes that MacOS is installed on a seperate disk. If this is not the case, there will be additional partitions for "Apple Disk Drivers" such as Apple_Driver63, Apple_Driver_ATA, Apple_FWDriver, Apple_Driver_IOKit, Apple_Patches and the MacOS install. When using Quik, it is necessary to create a boot partition to hold the kernel, unlike other Apple boot methods. After the boot partition, the usual Linux filesystems are placed, according to the scheme below. The swap partition is a temporary storage place for when the system runs out of physical memory. The root partition will contain the filesystem that Gentoo is installed on.

When using an OldWorld machine, it is necessary to keep MacOS available. The layout here assumes MacOS is installed on a separate drive.
CodeExample partition layout for Old World

Partition 	Size 	Filesystem 	Description
/dev/sda1 	32k 	None 	Apple Partition Map
/dev/sda2 	32Mb 	ext2 	Quik Boot Partition (quik only)
/dev/sda3 	512Mb 	Swap 	Linux Swap
/dev/sda4 	Rest of Disk 	ext3, ext4, reiserfs, xfs 	Linux Root

This is a deprecated template. Help us update this template!


The Pegasos partition layout is quite simple compared to the Apple layouts. The first partition is a Boot Partition, which contains kernels to be booted, along with an Open Firmware script that presents a menu on boot. After the boot partition, the usual Linux filesystems are placed, according to the scheme below. The swap partition is a temporary storage place for when the system runs out of physical memory. The root partition will contain the filesystem that Gentoo is installed on.

CodeExample partition layout for Pegasos systems

Partition 	Size 	Filesystem 	Description
/dev/sda1 	32Mb 	affs1 or ext2 	Boot Partition
/dev/sda2 	512Mb 	Swap 	Linux Swap
/dev/sda3 	Rest of Disk 	ext3, ext4, reiserfs, xfs 	Linux Root

This is a deprecated template. Help us update this template!

IBM PReP (RS/6000)

The IBM PowerPC Reference Platform (PReP) requires a small PReP boot partition on the disk's first partition, followed by the swap and root partitions.

CodeExample partition layout for the IBM PReP

Partition 	Size 	Filesystem 	Description
/dev/sda1 	800k 	None 	PReP Boot Partition (Type 0x41)
/dev/sda2 	512Mb 	Swap 	Linux Swap (Type 0x82)
/dev/sda3 	Rest of Disk 	ext3, ext4, reiserfs, xfs 	Linux Root (Type 0x83)

This is a deprecated template. Help us update this template!

parted is able to resize partitions including HFS+. Unfortunately there may be issues with resizing HFS+ journaled filesystems, so, for the best results, switch off journaling in Mac OS X before resizing. Remember that any resizing operation is dangerous, so attempt at own risk! Be sure to always have a backup of all data before resizing!

Using mac-fdisk (Apple)

At this point, create the partitions using mac-fdisk:

root #mac-fdisk /dev/sda

If Apple's Disk Utility was used prior to leave space for Linux, first delete the partitions that might have been created previously to make room for the new install. Use d in mac-fdisk to delete those partition(s). It will ask for the partition number to delete. Usually the first partition on NewWorld machines (Apple_partition_map) cannot be deleted. To start with a clean disk, simply initialize the disk by pressing i. This will completely erase the disk, so use this with caution.

Second, create an Apple_Bootstrap partition by using b. It will ask for what block to start. Enter the number of the first free partition, followed by a p. For instance this is 2p.

This partition is not a /boot partition. It is not used by Linux at all; there is no need to place any filesystem on it and it should never be mounted. Apple users don't need an extra partition for /boot.

Now create a swap partition by pressing c. Again mac-fdisk will ask for what block to start this partition from. As we used 2 before to create the Apple_Bootstrap partition, now enter 3p. When sked for the size, enter 512M (or whatever size needed -- a minimum of 512MB is recommended, but 2 times the physical memory is the generally accepted size). When asked for a name, enter swap.

To create the root partition, enter c, followed by 4p to select from what block the root partition should start. When asked for the size, enter 4p again. mac-fdisk will interpret this as "Use all available space". When asked for the name, enter root.

To finish up, write the partition to the disk using w and q to quit mac-fdisk.

To make sure everything is ok, run mac-fdisk -l and check whether all the partitions are there. If not all partitions created previously are shown, or the changes made are not reflected in the output, reinitialize the partitions by pressing i in mac-fdisk. Note that this will recreate the partition map and thus remove all existing partitions.

Using parted (Pegasos and RS/6000)

parted, the Partition Editor, can now handle HFS+ partitions used by Mac OS and Mac OS X. With this tool it is possible to resize the Mac partitions and create space for the Linux partitions. Nevertheless, the example below describes partitioning for Pegasos machines only.

To begin let's fire up parted:

root #parted /dev/sda

If the drive is unpartitioned, run mklabel amiga to create a new disklabel for the drive.

It is possible to type print at any time in parted to display the current partition table. To abort parted, press Ctrl+C.

If next to Linux, the system is also meant to have MorphOS installed, then create an affs1 filesystem at the start of the drive. 32MB should be more than enough to store the MorphOS kernel. With a Pegasos I, or when Linux will use any filesystem besides ext2 or ext3, then it is necessary to also store the Linux kernel on this partition (the Pegasos II can only boot from ext2/ext3 or affs1 partitions). To create the partition run mkpart primary affs1 START END where START and END should be replaced with the megabyte range (e.g. 0 32) which creates a 32 MB partition starting at 0MB and ending at 32MB. When creating an ext2 or ext3 partition instead, substitute ext2 or ext3 for affs1 in the mkpart command.

Create two partitions for Linux, one root filesystem and one swap partition. Run mkpart primary START END to create each partition, replacing START and END with the desired megabyte boundries.

It is generally recommended to create a swap partition that is two times bigger than the amount of RAM in the computer, but at least 512Mb is recommended. To create the swap partition, run mkpart primary linux-swap START END with START and END again denoting the partition boundries.

When done in parted simply type quit.

Creating file systems


Now that the partitions are 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...


Several filesystems are available. Some of them are found stable on the ppc architecture - it is advised to read up on the filesystems and their support state before selecting a more experimental one for important partitions.

A next generation filesystem that provides many advanced features such as snapshotting, self-healing through checksums, transparent compression, subvolumes and integrated RAID. A few distributions have begun to ship it as an out-of-the-box option, but it is not production ready. Reports of filesystem corruption are common. Its developers urge people to run the latest kernel version for safety because the older ones have known problems. This has been the case for years and it is too early to tell if things have changed. Fixes for corruption issues are rarely backported to older kernels. Proceed with caution when using this filesystem!
This is the tried and true Linux filesystem but doesn't have metadata journaling, which means that routine ext2 filesystem checks at startup time can be quite time-consuming. There is now quite a selection of newer-generation journaled filesystems that can be checked for consistency very quickly and are thus generally preferred over their non-journaled counterparts. Journaled filesystems prevent long delays when the system is booted and the filesystem happens to be in an inconsistent state.
The journaled version of the ext2 filesystem, providing metadata journaling for fast recovery in addition to other enhanced journaling modes like full data and ordered data journaling. It uses an HTree index that enables high performance in almost all situations. In short, ext3 is a very good and reliable filesystem.
Initially created as a fork of ext3, ext4 brings new features, performance improvements, and removal of size limits with moderate changes to the on-disk format. It can span volumes up to 1 EB and with maximum file size of 16TB. Instead of the classic ext2/3 bitmap block allocation ext4 uses extents, which improve large file performance and reduce fragmentation. Ext4 also provides more sophisticated block allocation algorithms (delayed allocation and multiblock allocation) giving the filesystem driver more ways to optimize the layout of data on the disk. Ext4 is the recommended all-purpose all-platform filesystem.
The Flash-Friendly File System was originally created by Samsung for the use with NAND flash memory. As of Q2, 2016, this filesystem is still considered immature, but it is a decent choice when installing Gentoo to microSD cards, USB drives, or other flash-based storage devices.
IBM's high-performance journaling filesystem. JFS is a light, fast and reliable B+tree-based filesystem with good performance in various conditions.
A B+tree-based journaled filesystem that has good overall performance, especially when dealing with many tiny files at the cost of more CPU cycles. ReiserFS appears to be less maintained than other filesystems.
A filesystem with metadata journaling which comes with a robust feature-set and is optimized for scalability. XFS seems to be less forgiving to various hardware problems.
Also known as FAT32, is supported by Linux but does not support any permission settings. It is mostly used for interoperability with other operating systems (mainly Microsoft Windows) but is also a necessity for some system firmware (like UEFI).
This "New Technology" filesystem is the flagship filesystem of Microsoft Windows. Similar to vfat above it does not store permission settings or extended attributes necessary for BSD or Linux to function properly, therefore it cannot be used as a root filesystem. It should only be used for interoperability with Microsoft Windows systems (note the emphasis on only).

When using ext2, ext3, or ext4 on a small partition (less than 8GB), then the file system must be created with the proper options to reserve enough inodes. The mke2fs (mkfs.ext2) application uses the "bytes-per-inode" setting to calculate how many inodes a file system should have. On smaller partitions, it is advised to increase the calculated number of inodes.

On ext2, this can be done using the following command:

root #mkfs.ext2 -T small /dev/<device>

On ext3 and ext4, add the -j option to enable journaling:

root #mkfs.ext2 -j -T small /dev/<device>

This will generally quadruple the number of inodes for a given file system as its "bytes-per-inode" reduces from one every 16kB to one every 4kB. This can be tuned even further by providing the ratio:

root #mkfs.ext2 -i <ratio> /dev/<device>

Applying a filesystem to a partition

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 On minimal CD? Package
btrfs mkfs.btrfs Yes sys-fs/btrfs-progs
ext2 mkfs.ext2 Yes sys-fs/e2fsprogs
ext3 mkfs.ext3 Yes sys-fs/e2fsprogs
ext4 mkfs.ext4 Yes sys-fs/e2fsprogs
f2fs mkfs.f2fs Yes sys-fs/f2fs-tools
jfs mkfs.jfs Yes sys-fs/jfsutils
reiserfs mkfs.reiserfs Yes sys-fs/reiserfsprogs
xfs mkfs.xfs Yes sys-fs/xfsprogs
vfat mkfs.vfat Yes sys-fs/dosfstools
NTFS mkfs.ntfs Yes sys-fs/ntfs3g

For instance, to have the boot partition (/dev/sda1) in ext2 and the root partition (/dev/sda3) in ext4 as used in the example partition structure, the following commands would be used:

root #mkfs.ext2 /dev/sda1
root #mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda3

Now create the filesystems on the newly created partitions (or logical volumes).

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

Create and activate the swap with the commands mentioned above.

Mounting the root partition

Now that the partitions are initialized and are housing a filesystem, it is time to mount those partitions. Use the mount command, but don't forget to create the necessary mount directories for every partition created. As an example we mount the root partition:

root #mount /dev/sda3 /mnt/gentoo
If /tmp/ needs to reside on a separate partition, be sure to change its permissions after mounting:
root #chmod 1777 /mnt/gentoo/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 we install the Gentoo installation files.