Debian Ports Installation

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Installation of PA-RISC Linux

In the middle you see our HP C8000 machine (sibaris) which acts as Debian buildd server and currently builds most of the hppa packages. An overview of all our build servers is at

HPPA became an officially supported Debian architecture in release 3.0 (woody), 3.1 (sarge), 4.0 (etch) and 5.0 (lenny) releases. In July 2011, PA-RISC Linux was dropped as an officially supported platform from Debian 6.0 (squeeze). That's the reason that the latest available official installation CDs are available for Debian 5.0 (lenny) only.

Subsequently, it became a non-release architecture in the Debian Ports project. Helge Deller and John David Anglin set up several package build servers for Debian Ports. Overtime, this infrastructure has been improved and it now uses the same wanna-build system as the release architectures. Kernel and tool chain support was also improved with the transition to Debian Ports.

Today the recommended installation of a new parisc machine is via the debian-ports unstable respository at as described in the following section. An install image can be downloaded from this list:

If you want to install debian the hard way with many manual steps, you can read the instructions at Debian_Ports_Installation_Manual.

Installation of Debian unstable via debian-ports repository

The latest installation medias for Debian unstable is available at either one of the following locations:

  4. (Debian 9 & 10 NZ mirror)
  5. (latest Netboot images)

In those directories you find (you need to download only one of those):

  • lifimage file, used for tftp/netbooting the installation
  • debian-8.0-hppa-NETINST-1.iso, ISO image to burn to a CD/DVD for booting
  • debian-8.0-hppa-CD-1.iso, full ISO image with all packages for booting via CD/DVD

Installation instructions

  • Instructions to burn the ISO image on a Mac:
  • IMPORTANT: If your machine has a DVD-drive, you should better burn the image to a DVD disc. The first-generation DVD-drives in some older PA-RISC machines may have problems booting from e.g. a CD-RW so you may get this error message: IPL error: bad LIF magic.
  • Those images should work on all machines, with 32- and 64bit kernels. Installation of a C8000 workstation needs to happen via serial console since the install image will not activate the ATI graphics card. After installation the ATI cards will work in non-accelerated mode though.
  • If your machine is behind a firewall, enter the proxy at the IPL command line the Linux kernel command line (change parameter 7):
  mirror/http/proxy=http://proxy:8080   (adjust the proxy settings to your need and drop the underscores)
  • Choose the automatic disc partitioning, unless you know all details about disc partitions for PA-RISC (e.g. PALO bootloader needs ext2).
  • The palo bootloader needs to reside on a SCSI disc. The installer will detect SATA discs and will not complain if you install to a SATA disc!
  • At the "Software selection" screen,
    • for the debian 7.0 disc: do not enable any software other than "SSH server" . You can install additional software later!
    • for the debian 8.0 disc: You can choose to install the KDE-, LXDE-, MATE- or Xfce desktops, SSH, web- and print server. Do not choose to install the GNOME desktop since it will fail (we are still having problems to compile a recent-enough iceweasel on hppa!).
  • for the debian 7.0 disc:
    • When the installation finished, do not press "Continue" to reboot the machine, but instead choose "Go Back" and then in the main menu choose to execute a shell. In the shell type the following command to enable serial console (needed e.g. for boot console on GSP):
  echo "T0:23:respawn:/sbin/getty -L ttyS0 9600 vt100" >> /target/etc/inittab
    • Type "exit" to quit the shell and return to the main menu.
    • In the main menu choose to "Finish the installation" and let it reboot the machine.


  • Debian installer seem to use the well-known screen utility to implement multiple tabs on a serial console, so use its key combinations to switch tabs: Ctrl+A, then 1-4
  • When asked for Network mirror with the 10.0 installer, give and /debian-ports/. (Avoidable when this Bug gets resolved:
  • After reboot add this line to /etc/apt/sources.list and run apt-get update:
  deb unstable main
  • After reboot the sshd daemon will not accept password-logins for root. You need to log in as the user which you created during installation and then become root via "su -". To change this sshd behaviour, edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config file and change the value of PermitRootLogin to yes (not recommended!).
  • Install latest archive keys, and configure timezone and locales:
    • apt-get install debian-ports-archive-keyring - to receive the latest debian ports archive keys (avoids this warning: W: GPG error: unstable InRelease: The following signatures couldn't be verified because the public key is not available: NO_PUBKEY AA651E74623DB0B8 or A53AB45AC448326E)
    • dpkg-reconfigure locales
    • dpkg-reconfigure tzdata
  • We are happy to hear from you, if you installed PA-RISC Linux on your machine. Please send us a short mail to Thanks!
  • If you install on a HP 712 workstation you may need the kernel option "hp_sdc.no_hpsdc=1" to avoid an endless loop of "HP SDC: Transaction add failed: transaction already queued ?" messages

IMPORTANT NOTE (only for the debian 7.0 installer image)

  • NEVER install the policykit-1 package or another one which will give you the following warning. It will render your machine unbootable!
The following packages will be REMOVED:
  • The debian 8.0 installer image does successfully installs systemd if you like.

How to disable systemd and switch to sysvinit

Debian 8 installs systemd by default. There is no way around it.

So, if you want to switch back to sysvinit, e.g. if you do kernel developement without initrd, then first install Debian as described above. After the first boot follow those steps and finally reboot again.

  1. apt-get install sysvinit-core sysvinit sysvinit-utils
  2. if you are running on serial console, either make sure that a getty gets started on the ttyS0 device in /etc/inittab, or run this command:
echo "T0:23:respawn:/sbin/getty -L ttyS0 9600 vt100" >> /target/etc/inittab

Futher instructions are on this external website: How to remove systemd from a Debian jessie/sid installation

Upgrade the kernel to latest stable kernel

After installation an old Linux kernel like 4.16 is installed. Newer Linux kernels run much more stable and faster.
To upgrade to the latest kernel, make sure you have this additional entry in /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb unstable main

Then follow this steps:

  1. Run "apt update"
  2. You may run "apt search ^linux-image" to find available kernels
  3. Run "apt install linux-image-parisc64/unstable" (or linux-image-parisc/unstable for a 32-bit kernel)
  4. Make sure that /boot/vmlinux and /boot/initrd.img points to the new kernel and initrd
  5. Reboot

Technical background of the install images

The installer images mentioned above pull the debian packages from the repositories at
(for debian-7.0):
(for debian-8.0):
which contains only the minimal set of necessary files for installation.
This is realized by the preseed/url= Linux kernel parameter which is hardcoded in the palo bootloader code in those images.
I would prefer to directly install from the official debian unstable repository at but this is not possible, because:
  1. The debian ports repository is a moving target, which means that the Linux kernel udeb packages which are needed by the kernel on the ISO/liffile may not be available any longer at a later date, and
  2. The debian ports repository is missing the and packages which are needed to install the palo bootloader during installation.
The iso images were created with debian-cd, File:Debian-cd.diff.gz is the diff which was used to build them.
See How to create Debian unstable iso images on how the images were created.
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