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Multi-booting My Way (Not Necessarily the Easy Way)

The following is a brief step-by-step on how I've been multi-booting different operatings systems on my machines for the past few years.

It's not necessarily the easy way to do things. It is the way I first learned and the way that I'm most comfortable with using. I'm posting it here, as I believe it may be helpful to some Linux Explorers out there. This tutorial is based on GRUB Legacy. I do not use the new GRUB2 on my machines.

Here we go...

I have multiple drives on my system, so multi-booting becomes a bit more interesting. Currently, I have three hard drives installed. They are /dev/sda, /dev/sdb, and /dev/sdc. We won't concern ourselves at all with /dev/sdc because it is primarily used as a common storage/backup drive. My operating systems are installed on /dev/sda and /dev/sdb.

I use /dev/sda (1st boot device in my BIOS) as the drive that has my primary operating system and my secondary operating system on it. I break my drives down into numerous partitions because I always install GNU/Linux operating systems on at least two partitions; /(root) and /home. I also have a common /swap partition on each drive that I plan on installing GNU/Linux distributions on.

My /dev/sda partitions look like this:

/dev/sda1   *       16065    51215219    25599577+  83  Linux <-- Slackware /(root)
/dev/sda2        51247350   153645659    51199155   83  Linux <-- Slackware /home
/dev/sda3       153661725   488392064   167365170    5  Extended
/dev/sda5       153661788   204860879    25599546   83  Linux <-- Arch /(root)
/dev/sda6       204877008   307275254    51199123+  83  Linux <-- Arch /home
/dev/sda7       307307448   311403959     2048256   82  Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda8       311420088   488392064    88485988+  83  Linux <-- Archives

My /dev/sdb partitions look like this:

/dev/sdb1   *       16384    51216383    25600000    7  HPFS/NTFS/exFAT <-- MS Windows XP
/dev/sdb2        51232768   102432767    25600000    7  HPFS/NTFS/exFAT <-- MS Windows Programs
/dev/sdb3       102453181   488270159   192908489+   5  Extended
/dev/sdb5       102453183   106550639     2048728+  82  Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sdb6       106565823   137289599    15361888+  83  Linux <-- CentOS tester 1 /(root)
/dev/sdb7       137304783   188501039    25598128+  83  Linux <-- CentOS tester 1 /home
/dev/sdb8       188516223   219239999    15361888+  83  Linux <-- Foresight tester 2 /(root)
/dev/sdb9       219255183   270451439    25598128+  83  Linux <-- Foresight tester 2 /home
/dev/sdb10      270466623   301190399    15361888+  83  Linux <-- Debian tester 3 /(root)
/dev/sdb11      301205583   352401839    25598128+  83  Linux <-- Debian tester 3 /home
/dev/sdb12      352417023   383140799    15361888+  83  Linux <-- vacant tester 4 /(root)
/dev/sdb13      383155983   434352239    25598128+  83  Linux <-- vacant tester 5 /home
/dev/sdb14      434367423   488270159    26951368+  83  Linux <-- common storage

You get the above information on your drives using the fdisk -l command as root from the command line.

Alright then, let's say that I now want to install Fedora Core Linux on my tester 4 partitions of /dev/sdb. Here's how I would do that step-by-step:

1) Begin the Fedora installation setting /dev/sdb5 as swap, /dev/sb12 as /(root), and /dev/sdb13 as the /home partition from Fedora's installer.

2) When the Anaconda installer reaches the point where it asks where I want to install the GRUB bootloader, I choose to SKIP installation of GRUB.

3) Once the install is finished, I reboot my main operating system (Slackware) and from the command line I mount the newly installed Fedora /(root) partition:

root_Slackware/home/vtel57:# mount /dev/sdb12 /mnt/tmp

*Note: I have a /mnt/tmp directory in my Slackware. If you don't have a /mnt/tmp, just mount in /mnt. You'll be fine.

4) I list the contents of the Fedora /boot directory:

root_Slackware/home/vtel57:# ls /mnt/tmp/boot

5) I copy down the vmlinuz and initrd information. You'll be looking for the vmlinuz-<kernel version> and the initrd-<kernel version>.img files specifically. You'll need that information for the next step.

6) I edit my /boot/grub/menu.lst file to add the new Fedora Core entry. Note: my MBR-controlling GRUB is in my secondary OS, Arch Linux. I can still mount and modify it from within Slackware, though.

root_Slackware/home/vtel57:# mount /dev/sda5 /mnt/tmp

root_Slackware/home/vtel57:# vim /mnt/tmp/boot/grub/menu.lst

I'll add this entry to the file:

# Fedora Core

title          fedora (t4)

root         (hd1,11)

kernel     /boot/vmlinuz-<kernel version> root=/dev/sdb12 ro

initrd       /boot/vmlinuz-<kernel version>.img

7) I reboot and choose "fedora (t4)" from the GRUB menu to boot my new Fedora installation.

That's it, folks. Straightforward, but not necessary the easiest way to do this. That's the beauty of GNU/Linux. You can do it your way.

Have fun!


P.S. I'm still working on the next shell scripting lesson. It's going to be about variables and parameters, a necessary lesson for further BASH learning. Unfortunately, it's also kinda' complicated, so it's taking me a bit to figure out how to formulate a lesson and still stay loyal to my primary goal here... keeping it as simple as possible. Stay tuned...

*Originally published on my Nocturnal Slacker v1.0 blog at




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