Debian "Sid" (unstable) stopped working on my Thinkpad X201 as of the
last upgrade -- it's dropping mouse and keyboard events. With any luck
that'll get straightened out soon -- I hear I'm not the only one
having USB problems with recent Sid updates. But meanwhile,
fortunately, I keep a couple of spare root partitions so I can
try out different Linux distros. So I decided to switch to the
current Debian stable version, "Jessie".
The mouse and keyboard worked fine there. Except it turned out I had
never fully upgraded that partition to the "Jessie"; it was still on
"Wheezy". So, with much trepidation, I attempted an
apt-get update; apt-get dist-upgrade
After an interminable wait for everything to download, though, I was
faced with a blue screen asking this:
No bootloader integration code anymore.
The extlinux package does not ship bootloader integration anymore.
If you are upgrading to this version of EXTLINUX your system will not boot any longer if EXTLINUX was the only configured bootloader.
Please install GRUB.
No -- it's not okay! I have
reasons for not using grub2 -- besides which, extlinux on
exact machine has been working fine for years under Debian Sid.
If it worked on Wheezy and works on Sid, why wouldn't it work on
the version in between, Jessie?
And what does it mean not to ship "bootloader integration", anyway?
That term is completely unclear, and googling was no help.
There have been various Debian bugs filed but of course, no
explanation from the developers for exactly what does and doesn't work.
My best guess is that what Debian means by "bootloader integration"
is that there's a script that looks at /boot/extlinux/extlinux.conf,
figures out which stanza corresponds to the current system,
figures out whether there's a new kernel being installed that's
different from the one in extlinux.conf, and updates the
appropriate kernel and initrd lines to point to the new kernel.
If so, that's something I can do myself easily enough. But what if
there's more to it? What would actually happen if I upgraded the
Of course, there's zero documentation on this. I found plenty of
questions from people who had hit this warning, but most were from
newbies who had no idea what extlinux was or why their systems were
using it, and they were advised to install grub. I only found one hit
from someone who was intentionally using extlinux. That person aborted
the install, held back the package so the potentially nonbooting new
version of extlinux wouldn't be installed, then updated extlinux.conf
by hand, and apparently that worked fine.
It sounded like a reasonable bet. So here's what I did (as root, of course):
- Open another terminal window and run
ps aux | grep apt
to find the apt-get dist-upgrade process and kill it.
sudo pkill apt-get is probably an easier approach.)
Ensure that apt has exited and there's a shell prompt in the window
where the scary blue extlinux warning was.
echo "extlinux hold" | dpkg --set-selections
apt-get dist-upgrade and wait forever for all the
packages to install
aptitude search linux-image | grep '^i' to find out
what kernel versions are installed. Pick one. I picked 3.14-2-686-pae
because that happened to be the same kernel I was already running,
ls -l /boot and make sure that kernel is there,
along with an initrd.img of the same version.
- Edit /boot/extlinux/extlinux.conf and find the stanza
for the Jessie boot. Edit the kernel and append initrd
lines to use the right kernel version.
It worked fine. I booted into jessie with the kernel I had specified.
And hooray -- my keyboard and mouse work, so I can continue to use my
system until Sid becomes usable again.
[ 17:28 Dec 27, 2015
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A few days ago, I wrote about
set up and configure extlinux (syslinux) as a bootloader.
But on Debian or Ubuntu,
if you make changes to files like /boot/extlinux/extlinux.conf
directly, they'll be overwritten.
The configuration files are regenerated by a program
called extlinux-update, which runs automatically every time you
update your kernel. (Specifically, it runs from the postinst script of
the linux-base package:
you can see it in /var/lib/dpkg/info/linux-base.postinst.)
So what's a Debian user to do if she wants to customize the menus,
add a splash image or boot other operating systems?
First, if you decide you really don't want Debian overwriting your
configuration files, you can change disable updates
by editing /etc/default/extlinux.
Just be aware you won't get your boot menu updated when you install new
kernels -- you'll have to remember to update them by hand.
It might be worth it: the automatic update is nearly as annoying as
the grub2 updater: it creates two automatic entries for every kernel
you have installed. So if you have several distros installed, each
with a kernel or two in your shared /boot,
you'll get an entry to boot Debian Squeeze with the
Ubuntu Oneiric kernel, one for Squeeze with the Natty kernel,
one for Squeeze with the Fedora 16 kernel ... as well as entries
for every kernel you have that's actually owned by Debian.
And then for each of these, you'll also get a second entry,
to boot in recovery mode. If you have several distros installed,
it makes for a very long and confusing boot menu!
It's a shame that the auto-updater doesn't restrict itself to kernels
managed by the packaging system, which would be easy enough to do.
(Wonder if they would accept a patch?)
You might be able to fudge something that works right by setting up
symlinks so that the only readable kernels actually live on the root
partition, so Debian can't read the kernels from the other
distros. Sounds a bit complicated and I haven't tried it.
For now, I've turned off automatic updating on my system.
But if your setup is simpler --
perhaps just one Debian or one Ubuntu partition plus some non-Linux
entries such as BSD or Windows -- here's how to set up Debian-style
automatic updating and still keep all your non-Linux boot entries
and your nice menu customizations.
Debian automatic updates and themes
First, take a quick look at /etc/default/extlinux and customize
anything there you might need, like the names of the kernels, kernel
boot parameters or timeout.
man extlinux-update for details.
For configuring menu colors, image backgrounds and such, you'll need to
make a theme. You can see a sample theme by installing the package
syslinux-themes-debian -- but watch out.
If you haven't configured apt not to pull in suggested packages, that
may bring back grub or grub-legacy, which you probably don't want.
You can make a theme without needing that package, though.
Create a directory /usr/share/syslinux/themes/mythemename
(the extlinux-update man page claims you can put a theme anywhere and
specify it by its full path, but it lies). Create a directory called
extlinux inside it, and make a file with everything you want
from extlinux.conf. For example:
menu title Welcome to my Linux machine!
menu background mysplash.png
menu color title 1;36 #ffff8888 #00000000 std
menu color unsel 0 #ffffffff #00000000 none
menu color sel 7 #ff000000 #ffffff00 none
Note that last line: you can include other files from your theme.
For instance, you can create a file called other.cfg
with entries for other partitions you want to boot:
menu label Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot
append initrd=/initrd.img-3.0.0-12-generic root=UUID=c332b3e2-5c38-4c50-982a-680af82c00ab ro quiet
menu label Fedora 16
append initrd=/initramfs-3.1.0-7.fc16.i686.img root=UUID=47f6b1fa-eb5d-4254-9fe0-79c8b106f0d9 ro quiet
APPEND hd0 1
Of course, you could have a debian.cfg, an ubuntu.cfg,
a fedora.cfg etc. if you wanted to have multiple distros
all keeping their kernels up-to-date. Or you can keep the whole
thing in one file, theme.cfg. You can make a theme as complex
or as simple as you like.
[ 12:26 Nov 24, 2011
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When my new netbook arrived, I chose Debian Squeeze as the first Linux
distro to install, because I was under the impression it still used grub1,
and I wanted to
I was wrong -- Squeeze uses grub2. Uninstalling grub2, installing grub-legacy
and running grub-install and update-grub didn't help; it turns out
even in Debian's grub-legacy package, those programs come from
grub2's grub-common package.
What a hassle! But maybe it was a blessing in disguise -- I'd been
looking for an excuse to explore extlinux as a bootloader as a way
out of the grub mess.
Extlinux is one of the many spinoffs of syslinux -- the bootloader
used for live CDs and many other applications. It's not as commonly used as
a bootloader for desktops and laptops, but it's perfectly capable of that.
It's simple, well tested and has been around for years. And it supports
the few things I want out of a bootloader: it has a simple
configuration file that lives on the /boot partition;
it can chain-load Windows, on machines with a Windows partition;
it even offers pretty graphical menus with image backgrounds.
Since there isn't much written about how to use extlinux, I wrote up
my experiences along with some tips for configuring it. It came out
too long for a blog article, so instead I've made it its own page:
How to install
extlinux (syslinux) as a bootloader.
[ 16:19 Nov 20, 2011
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