Jeff Sexton

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My Fedora 6 Installation Nightmare

My efforts to build a working 64-bit Fedora 6 install continue... Here's some highlights of the problems.

1. Fedora 6 is not able to correctly configure even very common graphics cards, nor does Fedora's install offer to configure a text mode boot. If you want to install Fedora 6, expect to do this stuff the hard way.

2. Some important packages are not installed in a typical install. And there is no way to install new packages on a built machine from the discs. It will only install packages using an internet connection.

3. The default install is "secured" to the point of being unusable. No obvious ways of disabling enough security to use the system are provided. It takes research.

4. The installer crashes in a couple of places. When this happens you have to start all over. Believe it or not, this is the most minor problem.

My task is complicated by the fact that I am doing this in order to save a large amount of data from a failing drive. I had to get the new box up, ftp a lot of data around, and build the new system up to the configuration I need.

Fedora reminds me of the earliest days of linux when installs had to be done over and over to get what what you need and there was a huge amount of hands on package building and configuration. It is NOT easy. It has set linux back. It's the only 64-bit distribution I have at hand.

Here's the procedure I've come up with and a few tips. There are three areas I had to work with to get the system at least usable. The video, selinux and vsftp (security).


Fedora will almost certainly not configure its graphics correctly. When this happens, it will not start up correctly.

1. Boot the install disk to "rescue" mode.

2. Change the runlevel to a text boot and reboot.

3. Use system-config-display to create a usable /etc/X11/xorg.conf file. You'll find many forum posts about using "Xorg -configure" to do this. That doesn't work (remarkably it creates a config file different from the one the install creates, but just as wrong). Use the "startx" command to test the configuration out. You can change back to a graphical boot if you like.

Another note on graphics and Fedora's flaws; for whatever reason sometime X11 fails to start correctly on boot. You find yourself with a text login. Running startx will tell you that a lock file already exists (indicating that it thinks X is already running) - and it is. In this case, login, delete the LCK file, find the xorg process and issue a "kill -HUP" on it. I don't know why this happens...

selinux and "Security"

My advise would be that unless you're building a server for the NSA or something, disable selinux completely. Edit /etc/selinux/config and reboot to disable selinux.

I ran into this because I needed to use an ftp server on the box. Fedora comes with vsftpd, which is naturally configured to do pretty much nothing. Which is hard to understand since ftp is not allowed by the default firewall, and ftpd is also not activated (nor is it even installed
in fact) by default. Naturally, you get no choices about these things in the install.

Why on earth do they put up so many obstacles?

But anyway, even if you can get the ftpd configuration file correct for your use (it's in /etc/vsftpd), selinux will still prevent ftp connections from doing anything useful. I spent a lot of time frustrated, thinking my vsftp configuration wasn't working before figuring this out.

Getting Packages

You can't install software on this distribution except via the internet, or completely manually (stunning). I tried to do a re-install without reformatting in hopes that I could get more on there from the CDs. Don't bother trying this. It gets to the package dependency check and fails
claiming that what is already installed conflicts. Whatever... After the initial install, your CDs or DVD are useless.

I'm making some progress with my setup. But it's slow going. My two biggest complaints are the shockingly bad video configuration created by the install and the "security" issues. In the case of the video, there is no reason in the world that a plain-jane driver should be setup by the install if it can't detect the hardware correctly. This distribution does an especially poor job of hardware detection, but I'd except that. The real problem is that it, with no word of warning, builds an unbootable system.

The "security"... I put the word in quotes because what Fedora does for security makes the system unusable - I may as well leave it unplugged, that would be "secure" right? It installs unusable configurations, but also disables those services an two of more ways anyway. This leaves even a relatively sophisticated user with a lot of layers to unravel before being able to do some pretty common tasks (like use ftpd). All this happens with no choices offered during the install process (I can just hear someone saying teh install process should be simple, what? And then require 10 or 20 hours of googling to get NFS working?).


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