Installing the Debian X32 port on a VM or real machine
X32 is an ABI for Linux that uses the x86-64 instruction set but 32-bit longs and pointers (this is called ILP32), thereby limiting the memory for a single process to 4 GiB. Compared to amd64 it offers significant memory savings and unlike plain i386 it can make use of all registers and extensions also available to 64-bit code.
A Debian netinst CD for the amd64 architecture: https://www.debian.org/CD/netinst/
A computer or VM with x86-64 compatible CPU
An internet connection on the machine you are installing
Booting into rescue mode
In the boot menu, choose "Advanced Options" and select the "Rescue Mode" option.
Press TAB to edit the kernel command line and append the following
option before booting:
Follow the menus until you're dropped to a shell ("Execute shell in installer environment").
Inside the shell run
This starts the usual partitioning setup seen during Debian installation. Once it's done you will be dropped to the shell again.
Installing the system
Debootstrap will install the system for us, but unfortunately there is no convenient way to get the debian-ports GPG keys into the rescue environment, so we'll just run with disabled signature checks.
debootstrap --no-check-gpg --arch=x32 unstable /target http://ftp.ports.debian.org/debian-ports/
You might notice that
isc-dhcp-client fails to install at this step, this is
not critical and will be dealt with later.
The next step is to enter the target system in a chroot:
mount --bind /dev /target/dev mount --bind /proc /target/proc mount --bind /sys /target/sys chroot /target
First we'll do some basic system configuration.
The fstab you write needs to match the configured partition layout, in this example
the layout is a single root partition (no /boot, no swap space).
UUID=... notation here is also advisable but not fun to type out
by hand (and irrelevant for a single-disk VM).
Here you should also uninstall the package that failed to install earlier.
The X32 repository does not include a Linux kernel package. This requires us to
add the amd64 repository so we can install a kernel, but we need to make sure
linux-image but nothing else is pulled from there (via APT pinning).
Configure APT as follows:
apt install -y debian-ports-archive-keyring cat >/etc/apt/sources.list deb [arch=x32] http://ftp.ports.debian.org/debian-ports unstable main deb [arch=amd64] http://deb.debian.org/debian unstable main ^D cat >/etc/apt/preferences.d/amd64 Package: linux-image*:amd64 Pin: release b=amd64 Pin-Priority: 500 Package: * Pin: release b=amd64 Pin-Priority: -1 ^D dpkg --add-architecture amd64 apt update
Kernel & Bootloader
apt install -y linux-image-amd64 grub-pc
When asked by GRUB, select your primary hard drive (here:
/dev/sda) as installation device.
GRUB will ask for the Linux command line, which needs to be
The installation failure during debootstrap has left some files misconfigured.
The purpose of
policy-rc.d and the modification to
that services are not started up during package installation.
Since we're finished installing, these need to be undone:
mv /usr/sbin/start-stop-daemon.REAL /usr/sbin/start-stop-daemon
Lastly exit the chroot, umount the partitions and reboot:
umount /target/dev /target/proc /target/sys
Why does isc-dhcp-client fail to install?
isc-dhcp-clienttransitively depends on
libmaxminddb, which requires
pandoc itself is not available on x32 since one of its dependencies is also missing.
This is tracked as Debian bug #956041 and has been solved in February 2021.
Quick DHCP setup using systemd-networkd
isc-dhcp-client would provide the DHCP client we have a problem when
we want to connect our freshly installed system to a network.
Fortunately, setting up DHCP with systemd-networkd is quite easy:
Installing standard system software
tasksel can take care of installing software you'd usually find on a standard
Debian installation (man pages, locale support, Perl, ...).
Same issue as before:
are uninstallable, so that requires some manual working around:
Most parts of this guide are based on either of these two pages: