This article is part of a series dedicated to Debian, a Linux distribution. In this particular ITgirl.tech post, we will take a look at the different ways you can download Debian. You will find the pros and cons of several installer types, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to select an appropriate Debian installer version and release.
- The pre-installation process – Downloading the ISO file (YOU ARE HERE)
If you are already familiar with some of these steps, you can skip ahead to the part more suited to your needs. Otherwise, keep on reading!
Choosing the right Debian installer
There are many installation options available for Debian. The main difference between the different download files is twofold: some require internet connectivity, and some come with additional packages installed.
As such, there are four main ways of choosing how to download Debian. You can opt for the following:
a. A Debian installer that uses the internet (called a “netinst” install) and comes with additional packages readily available within the program.
b. A Debian installer that uses the internet, but that doesn’t include additional packages (as you will fetch them online during the installation).
c. A Debian installation in the form of an ISO file (USB or DVD install) and comes with additional packages.
d. A Debian installer that uses an ISO file but doesn’t include additional packages.
The additional packages are almost a necessity for some laptop and computer brands, as they include proprietary firmware drivers.
As such, if you are unsure if your computer’s firmware requires proprietary drivers, I recommend that you download Debian in a way that includes additional packages. Note that the addition of these extra “non-free” packages means that you will unofficially download Debian. Indeed, the official Debian releases, “netinstall” or otherwise, only contain open-source alternatives; that means that they will not recognize peripherals that require non-free firmware drivers.
What is the best way to download Debian?
From experience, I’d suggest you go with option C: “a Debian installation in the form of an ISO file (USB or DVD install) that comes with additional packages.” Even though its download file is more voluminous than with other alternatives, this option provides you with the most dependable way of installing Debian. In all cases, you can ignore the extra packages if Debian doesn’t prompt you to fetch them for your system built.
Option A: “a Debian installer that uses the internet (called a “netinst” install) and comes with additional packages” is also a good option. However, as wireless compatibility and driver recognition can sometimes be finicky when you use Debian for the first time, internet connectivity is not 100% guaranteed. That is why I strongly recommend having an ethernet cable readily available if you choose this option.
With all that said and done, you will find below a step-by-step guide on how to choose and download the appropriate Debian installer.
For this tutorial, we will focus on the use of a CD or DVD install (disc image) that comes with additional (non-free) packages pre-installed.
Download Debian using the non-free ISO image
Choose the source file
Downloading Debian is pretty straight forward, albeit less so than compared to most Linux distros.
First, go to http://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/unofficial/non-free/cd-including-firmware/. From there, you will see a multitude of options.
When looking at the information above, the important things to consider are the date of modification of the folder and the Debian version it represents.
If you aren’t sure of which Debian version best suits your needs, refer to this ITgirl.tech article. In it, you will find a comparative review of the differences that exist between Debian stable, unstable, and testing.
The date of modification is mostly pertinent to those wanting to download the Bullseye (unstable) version of Debian, as there exist many variations of this Linux flavor, each with a different date.
If you are interested in getting Debian stable (Buster), then choose the variation that you’d prefer. For virtually everyone, the most recent one is the best choice.
The main folders that are of interest to us are:
The folders containing the word “live” are for those wishing to use the live version of Debian, which isn’t something you will need for this installation.
Unless you wish to use the unstable or testing version of Debian, I would strongly suggest that you open the 10.1.0+nonfree folder. In it, you will find Debian Buster (aka Debian 10), the current stable version as of October 2019.
The reason why I include the weekly-builds folder as an option is that the Debian community is regularly finding and fixing issues. As such, if after trying to install Debian using the ISO file from 10.1.0+nonfree you stumble upon incompatibility issues, you might want to give the weekly-build a try.
I know that when I had to install Debian on my old laptop with the wifi firmware issues, the only way to fix it was to get a weekly build. Indeed, that particular compatibility issue had only been recently looked into by a member of the Debian community. As such, only the most recent release versions had had the bug fix integrated within the installer.
Choose the appropriate architecture
Once you click on 10.1.0+nonfree/, you will see the following folders:
amd64, i386, multi-arch, and trace.
The trace folder doesn’t contain any download file and isn’t relevant to this installation guide.
The amd64, i386, and multi-arch folders are pertinent, as they each contain a different version of the ISO file. Each file uses a different architecture, so select the one your computer uses (this is when knowing your computer’s specs comes in handy!). If you do not know which one your computer runs, read this ITgirl.tech guide to learn how to access your architecture on Windows, macOS or Linux.
In brief, Amd64 refers to the 64-bit disc image version and i386 to the 32-bit ISO version for the AMD and Intel processors.
As for the multi-arch option, as per Debian Wiki,
“Multiarch lets you install library packages from multiple architectures on the same machine. This is useful in various ways, but the most common is installing both 64 and 32-bit software on the same machine and having dependencies correctly resolved automatically. […] Note that it does not enable multiple architecture versions of applications to be installed simultaneously.”
I highly suggest sticking to either amd64 or i386, as a multi-arch install is for specialized built and is more complicated to implement and maintain. Unless you know precisely why you need multiple architectures packages on your machine, use amd64 or i386.
As a side note, you might come across a download file intended for the ARM architecture. Not to be confused with AMD, ARM is an architecture designed for mobiles and servers. So unless you are trying Debian on a server, a raspberry pi, or a modified Android phone, don’t choose ARM.
Download Debian using the CD or DVD option
Once you have selected the folder that applies to your machine’s architecture, you will find the sub-folders. From there, choose between “ISO-cd” or “ISO-dvd.”
We are selecting the ISO option as it allows us to boot Debian from a pen drive. As for CD or DVD, the main difference is the size: the CD is 375 MB, whereas the DVD is 3.6 GB. The reason for such a difference is that the DVD contains way more packages.
The choice of a CD or DVD is entirely up to you. Note that by using the CD ISO, the download will be quicker, but you might want a working internet connection when installing Debian to fetch additional packages as needed.
If you are unsure of the availability or speed of your internet bandwidth, you might want to play it safe and download Debian through the DVD ISO.
Once you selected which type of ISO you want, click on the subfolder and scroll to the bottom of the page. You will see a file that ends in “.iso”.
Click on it, and the download will start immediately. Make sure that your internet connection is uninterrupted and your computer powered on the whole time the file is loading, as otherwise, you will have to start over.
Note that you can circumvent this by choosing a torrent version of the ISO file instead of a direct download. To do so, select the “bt-cd” or “bt-dvd” sub-folder instead of the “ISO-CD” or “ISO-DVD” in the folder of your architecture of choice.
Now that you have downloaded Debian, you can start reading part 4: The pre-installation process – formatting your pen drive and burning the ISO file.