Debian PPC Starters Manual

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Get inspiration and information from keep this guide simple, in the form of:
Title / Why would you want to do that / tasks and commands to do it


Why would you want to contribute to Debian powerpc?
- FREE software and DFSG
- PowerPC
- all the existing G3 G4 and G5 machines
- diversity, freedom and choice
- learning
- the PowerPCNotebook project
- saving the world :-)

The Debian Bug submission / testing / integration process

Simple description (graphical diagram) of content from

Installation of Debian powerpc

First things first: check if your computer is present in the supported list:

Now that you are ready to install Debian powerpc, you still have two more questions to answer:

Which Installation Media do you want to use?
USB stick: Very convenient - but not really straightforward. Becomes easy when you get the hang of it.
CD : The easiest - if you still have some CD-R / CD-RW around, and your CD writer is still working :-)
hard drive : Cannot see any real advantage over using USB stick - but you can do this if you want to.
debootstrap : Very easy - almost magical - if you already have a running Debian installation on your target machine.
Which Target Partitioning Scheme to use?
Debian alone on target disk - with one or several partitions - the most straightforward.
Debian sharing the disk with other OSes (MacOSX or others) - you will need to partition your disk, and move things around. Can be (is) worth it.
Debian alone on an external "firewire" disk - Haven't tested this. Could be interesting if you want to keep your internal disk as is, or if your internal disk is dead, and you do not have a replacement or you do not want to open your machine.

The rest of this section will describe an installation using a USB stick, on a supported machine - in my case, a venerable G4 PowerBook Aluminum. Debian is alone on the disk.
(I also have an iMac G5 MacOSX / Debian stable / Debian unstable installation - where unstable was installed using debootstrap)

Download ISO image

Normally, I would install Debian stable first, then upgrade to Debian unstable. But we are not in a normal situation anymore, so we'll install unstable directly.

For G4 and earlier (32-bits disk image):

For G5 and later (64-bits disk image):

The one I used is from the 04/07/2017 (7th of April 2017).

Write ISO image on USB stick

If you wanted to write the boot image on CD-ROM (CD-R or CD-RW) you would use a software like brasero.

For the USB stick, the easiest (only) way to do this is using the dd command (on linux or MacOSX).
One thing to know about the dd command is that you need to be careful when using it - do not use it as root - unless you know what you're doing.
Now the thing is, we need to use it as root to write the ISO image on the stick...

First, cd to the directory containing the disk image.
Then you need to get the device name for your USB stick. Plug it in and type:



diskutil list

Or you can just list the mounted filesystems:


On my computer the USB stick is /dev/sdb. There is a partition on it, and it is mounted on /dev/sdb1.

Second, you need to unmount the mounted partition:

sudo umount /dev/sdb1

Finally, write the image:

sudo dd if=mini.iso of=/dev/sdb

Boot on USB stick

If you were using a CD-ROM, you would just boot while holding the c button.

To boot on the USB stick, you'll need to invoke Open Firmware (equivalent of BIOS / EFI).
WARNING: This is command line wizardry!

Here goes:

Plug the USB stick then Boot your computer - while pressing on the <Command> + <Option> + o + f buttons.
If you're not using an apple keyboard, you'll need to use <Windows> + <Alt> + o + f.

(if you're using a G5 machine - get earplugs or something - and do not do this at night in your room - the fans will run at maximum speed - and that's very noisy).

First you need to identify your USB stick (in Open Firmware terminology - and this depends on your computer and the USB port you're using):

dev / ls

Scroll down (<Space>) until you get something like:


Now we know our USB stick is on usb@1b and is known as disk@1.

We still need to find the alias of usb@1b:


You need to look for the usb0, usb1 etc... corresponding to usb@1b:
On my computer it was usb1.

Finally, boot your computer using:

boot usb1/disk@1:2,\\yaboot

(This means we are booting on partition 2 of disk@1 which is connected on usb1.)

You're ready to start the installation if you get the yaboot prompt:

Welcome to yaboot version 1.3.17
Enter "help" to get some basic usage information

Base Installation

You need to be somehow familiar with the Debian Installer to consider it easy...
It is not difficult, really, but it might get intimidating if you're doing this for the first time...

To cut this short:

- plug in your ethernet cable (wireless networking will not work during installation).
- follow the installer steps - selecting the default options (if you're going to use the full disk - no manual partitioning).

To give you a better idea, here is an overview of the main steps - with some comments where appropriate:

Starting with the yaboot prompt, type expert or install:

boot: expert

You'll get to the "familiar" red / grey / blue Debian installer main menu:

Choose language
Access software for a blind person using a braille display
Configure the keyboard
Detect network hardware
Configure the network
Choose a mirror of the Debian archive
Download installer components

All goes smoothly until you start Choose a mirror of the Debian archive.
It seems the installer is still looking for stretch - and as you know, err, it has been killed.
So, after selecting your mirror, you'll get a warning telling you:

The specified (default) Debian version (stretch) is not available from the selected mirror. It is possible to continue and select a different release for your installation, but normally you should go back and select a different mirror that does support the correct version.
Go back and try a different mirror?

You should select No This will allow you later to choose sid (unstable).

Then, after completing Download installer components, you get back the Debian installer main menu, with some additional steps to execute:

Set up users and passwords
- disable root login (I do this for security - and use sudo or Root Terminal for administration)
configure the clock
Detect disks
Partition disks
- use the Guided partitioning + ext3 filesystem (I've had issues with yaboot and ext4).
Install the base system
- I have used the linux-image-powerpc kernel + targeted initrd.
Configure the package manager
- do not use non-free and contrib software. We'll later use contrib for wireless - but in a controlled way.
Select and install software
- please do configure the popularity-contest package. This will help Debian powerpc by showing the community people are still using it!
- You'd also want to install LXDE - it is great!
Install yaboot on a hard disk
Continue without a boot loader
Finish the installation
- this will allow you to reboot into your new system!

Additional Components

- sound setup
- compositing – how to prevent windows remanence
- 2d accelerat- 2d acceleration – without changing the ROM of ATI card
- changing the ROM of ATI card

When things go wrong (and they will)

Debian GNU/Linux Installation Guide (powerpc).
Debian powerpc port FAQ.
Debian powerpc mailing list.
Debian powerpc IRC channel (#debianppc) on OFTC IRC network.

Installation of tools

tools used for development, debugging etc...

popcon: show Debian community that powerpc is still actively used!

this can help bringing back Debian powerpc as a release architecture

Getting source code and Compiling it



Making Patches, sharing and applying them


Creating Debian packages - Conditions and rules to follow for packages to be included in Debian

Creating ISO Images


Debugging and Profiling


64bits / 32bits


Kernel modification/reconfiguration/recompilation


Altivec - the PowerPC secret weapon