How to install a minimal server based on Debian 10
How to install a minimal server based on Debian 10
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Learn how to install a GUI-less, minimal server based on Debian 10.

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Image: Debian

If you’re looking to bolster your data center with a few Linux servers, why not add Debian into the mix? After all, you probably already have a few Ubuntu servers working non-stop for you, so why not include the mothership distribution?

SEE: Hiring kit: Database administrator (TechRepublic Premium)

Why Debian?

With Debian as your server-based distribution, you’ll be getting a stability and reliability that you might not experience with any other platform. Considering uptime and reliability are the goals with data center servers, it makes for a pretty simple answer to the question, “why?” Debian is also less bulky compared to similar platforms, and often Debian will have bugs fixed before many of the derivative distributions.

With that said, I’m going to walk you through the process of installing a minimal server. The end result will have no desktop environment and a basic web and SSH server. From that foundation, nearly anything can be added.

How to download the ISO

The first thing that must be done is downloading the ISO image of the latest Debian version. I’m going to use the CD image as that installation only requires a single image file and will be installing it as a VirtualBox VM. To get that file, head over to the Debian CD ISO download page and grab the latest release.

Once you have the ISO downloaded, either burn it to a USB drive using a tool like uNetbootin or Popcicle, or create a VirtualBox VM for the Debian guest. 

The installation

During the installation, you’ll interact with about 24 ncurses screens. That might sound like a lot of hoops to jump through, but the questions asked are incredibly easy to answer. I won’t show screenshots of each window (only the more important ones), but any IT admin, no matter the experience level, should be able to breeze through this installation.

The first screen you’ll see is the Installer Menu (Figure A). In this screen, select Install (not Graphical Install, as there are certain options to be had in the standard installation that you’ll want). 

Figure A

The non-GUI installer option.

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The non-GUI installer option.

The next set of screens are:

  • Language
  • Locale
  • Keyboard

As this installer is ncurses based (Figure B), you’ll use your keyboard cursor keys to move up and down a selection list, your space bar to select an option, and the Tab key to switch from selection list to the OK/Go Back/Yes/No options.

Figure B

The Language selection window.

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The Language selection window.

The next window that will require your interaction is the hostname configuration (Figure C). 

Figure C

Setting the machine’s hostname.

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Setting the machine’s hostname.

Type the hostname for the system, hit the Tab key to Continue, and hit Enter on your keyboard.

From this, the next screens you’ll interact with are:

Once you have the time zone configured, you’ll be presented with the disk partition tool (Figure D).

Figure D

Partitioning your disk.

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Partitioning your disk.

Select the type of partitioning you want to use and hit Enter. Next you’ll select the disk to be partitioned (Figure E).

Figure E

Selecting your disk to partition.

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Selecting your disk to partition.

Once you’ve selected your disk, the next screens require you to:

Next comes the package management section of the installation. For this you’ll be required to:

  • Select whether you want to use a network mirror (select Yes)

  • Select your mirror country

  • Select your mirror (Figure F)

Figure F

Selecting your mirror.

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Selecting your mirror.

In the next window, configure your network proxy. If you don’t need a proxy, leave it blank, tab to Continue and hit Enter.

Next you can opt in to the package survey feature. If you’d rather not participate, tab to No and hit Enter.

Package Selection

We finally reach the package selection window (Figure G). 

Figure G

Selecting your packages for installation.

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Selecting your packages for installation.

There aren’t many options here. This is intentional, as this is the more minimal ISO image. For the minimal installation, deselect any desktop environment, select web server, print server, SSH server, and standard system utilities. Once you’ve made the selections, tab to Continue and hit Enter. 

The final two screens ask if you want to install the GRUB boot loader (you do) and where to install it (most likely /dev/sda). Once you’ve taken care of this, you will be informed that the installation is complete. Tab to Continue and hit Enter. Your Debian minimal server will reboot and you can log in to start working.

And that’s all there is to installing a minimal Debian 10 server. Use this as a foundation to build your ideal Linux data center server and it won’t let you down.

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