Upgrade to Debian 4.0 (Etch)

Some of this information may be obsolete!

We are currently upgrading to Debian Etch. Large portions of the BatchFarm are already running with Debian Etch. We are running both 32bit i386 (aka. ia32) and 64bit amd64 (aka. x86_64) flavors. 64bit will be the major direction as it can utilize more than 4GB RAM and runs 64bit as well as 32bit code.

Upgrading Desktops to amd64 is yet still troublesome: 32bit and 64bit code cannot be mixed in the context of one process, i.e. dynamically linked 32bit software needs 32bit dynamic libraries. This also applies to Iceweasel and its plugins (see below). Unfortunately Debian provides only a very basic set of 32bit library packages on amd64.

Upgrade notes

Iceweasel, Icedove and Iceape

Due to the different update policies of Debian and Mozilla.org and resulting trademark issues, Debian's version of Firefox, Thunderbird and Seamonkey (the successor of Mozilla) had to be renamed to Iceweasel (Firefox), Icedove (Thunderbird) and Iceape (Seamonkey). Apart from the different name these apps are considered to be functionally identical.

Iceweasel and Icedove are browser and mail reader recommended by the LinuxGroup, though other browsers like Iceape and Konqueror and other mail readers like Evolution, Kmail and Mutt are also installed. Pine has been replaced by Alpine.

Open issues

These problems are still work in progress:

Hard Disk Configuration

In some cases the device names of the hard disks changes from /dev/hdX to /dev/sdX and vice versa. This will cause the machine to start the system without access to the local disk, which produces side effects like a missing graphical surface. Please create a trouble ticket in this case so that we can fix the problem manually.

USB hotplug

Due to an unsolved permission problem KDEs hotplug subsystem is currently unavailable. The previous solution using dedicated entries in /etc/fstab also doesn't fit any more.

Meanwhile USB storage devices can be mounted with pmount instead:

First of all you'll have to figure out the device name. There are multiple ways to do this. Here are two:

  • Use the command lsblk -f to list all bulk devices (storage devices). You can find your device by its FSTYPE (probably VFAT or FAT32), its LABEL or the fact, that it has no MOUNTPOINT.
└─sdb1 vfat   FAT32 usbstick XXXX-XXXX

  • Study the output of the command dmesg. Near the end it should show you your device, e.g.:
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Assuming drive cache: write through
sdb: sdb1
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Attached SCSI removable disk

In both examples the corresponding device is sdb1, in general this should be the case for computers with one built-in hard drive.

Now pmount /dev/sdb1 should mount the stick as /media/sdb1/. pumount /dev/sdb1 will unmount the device again.


Though KDE is the recommended desktop environment, XFCE is also available on a best effort basis (installed and working but no further support). If you already used XFCE on Sarge, your XFCE session might crash on Etch. We have not figured out which part of the Sarge XFCE user profile actually causes the crash. Deleting the ~/.xfce4 folder does not help in all cases.

Icewm, another lightweight desktop environment, is also to be installed later on - also on a best effort basis. Anyhow the Gnome desktop environment will not be installed.

64bit problems

In general only newer PCs support the x86_64 instruction set and may be upgraded to a 64bit OS. In general this is indicated by the processors 'lm' flag (see /proc/cpuinfo) - the box is 64bit capable when 'lm' is present in the list of flags, otherwise it is not.

Iceweasel and proprietary plugins

There are still some problems when running 64bit Etch, mainly related to Iceweasel and some of its plugins that are available 32bit only. AcrobatReader and FlashPlayer can be "persuaded" to work with 64bit Iceweasel by the nspluginwrapper tool.

Unfortunately there's no way to get the 32bit JavaPlugin running inside 64bit Iceweasel at the moment. Nevertheless standalone Java and JavaWebStart_ applications (like Evo) are working.

In the future these problems may be solved by native 64bit releases of the named apps.

Acrobat reader

Standalone AcrobatReader (call acroread in a xterm or konsole) might fail with this error message: Gtk-WARNING **: /usr/lib/gtk-2.0/2.4.0/engines/libqtengine.so: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory. This can be cured by deleting the file ~/.gtkrc-2.0, but it will keep all other GTK-Apps (e.g. Iceweasel and Icedove) from adopting KDEs default font and color settings.

Citrix ICA client (win2k)

The Citrix ICA client (connection to the Windows Terminal Server) is currently inoperable on 64bit systems as it requires a 32bit library that is currently unavailable on 64bit Etch.
Workaround: ssh to a 32bit machine and run win2k there.

-- ChristopherHuhn - 2008
Topic revision: r9 - 2013-10-08, StefanHaller