Gentoo on SPARC

Note: This post was originally part of my LinuxWorld blog; now migrated here after my resignation.I’ve tried a number of times to get gentoo to work, but somehow I could never get the final stages of the installation to complete properly and I’d invariably end up with a corrupt or simply not working sytem. Now Gentoo 2005.0 is out and I’ve managed to get everything working first time. I have to say I’m impressed. I’d always liked the idea of a system that was easier to upgrade and manage, and the emerge system on Gentoo is brilliant. It also means that I can choose my own optimizations and configurations for some of the options and build the binaries actually on the system they will be used on – a huge bonus for those of us with many different systems to manage. The whole thing is exceedingly slick and easy to use, and the ability to just type emerge emacs and have it compile everything it needs to is enough to give you goosebumps if for the last 20 years you’ve been doing those things by hand. It’s much better than RPMs. Gentoo downloads the source and builds it right there, including downloading any other required packages. No more downloading and installing RPMs to find what you want.

For CPAN users, think CPAN but for your whole machine.Now I’ve got the main box running Gentoo (on x86), I’m now looking at Gentoo for a new SMTP server (as part of the latest network optimization). That box will be based on a solid, but old, SPARCserver 10 with dual hypersparc CPUs. Getting Gentoo onto this box wasn’t going to be easy – I have a CD-ROM drive, but I know from past experience that it doesn’t like CD-Rs and that would make booting the OS interesting. However, there is a network boot image available and if there’s one thing that Sun desktop kit does well is boot over a network. You can use the basic information given in the HOWTO, with a few additional tips:

  1. The notes work on the basis of a Linux (preferably Gentoo) source, but I did mine fine on a Solaris 8 x86 box
  2. Make absolute sure that your links to the TFTP boot image are upper case. Suns don’t use lowercase when looking for a boot image
  3. It’ll take a while to load – it’s only just over 3MB, but it does take a while
  4. Remember that you will be in a somewhat minimized environment. Some of the tools that it says to use even in the instructions are simply not there. Don’t expect, for example, links2, ftp, any ssh clients (and sshd is available) or the mirrorselect tool. Most annoying though is no decent editor. You don’t need to do much in the early stages that can’t be handled through cat > myfile, but be warned.

That last point can make some operations tricky, but just the fact that it works at all is a testament to the dedication of those people over at Gentoo and elsewhere who made it happen. Once in, you can follow the instructions in the main installation guide. But make absolutely sure you have enough diskspace. My box has 1.8GB and it’s not quite enough by the time I’ve unpacked a fairly hefty portage and stage3 package. I’m now waiting for a 4.2GB disk to help out with the space issue. I will, of course update you with my progress.