Updated: September 26, 2009
Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala is going to be released soon. This is a great opportunity to refresh the stock of Linux installation guides available on my site and offer a new, up to date installation guide for the most popular Linux distribution today - Ubuntu.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to install Ubuntu. While the procedure is a fairly simple deal, it may not be trivial to new users or recent Windows converts. Hopefully, this article will help sort things out. Let us begin.
Ubuntu, introduction & reference material
None of the material referenced below is actually necessary to follow this guide. However, it can provide you with a wealth of useful information on Ubuntu, and Linux, in general. I have written extensively about Ubuntu on my website. Thus, you may want to consult some of the existing material to help you get more familiar with the distribution.
This is an older tutorial from 2006, which shows in great detail the installation and configuration of Kubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake. Some of the content is outdated, but the basic principles remain the same.
This article shows the major improvements in Ubuntu 7.10 over previous releases, namely the great step toward hardware and cross-platform support. The article also shows the setup of Compiz on Ubuntu and has two short video demonstrations. Again, this is a somewhat older article, but still might be an interesting read.
This article follows Ubuntu from its beta stage all the way up to a month after the official release. In this long article, you can find out how Ubuntu behaves on two different laptops, as well as the installation procedure and a slew of new features introduced. The article also demonstrates how to setup and configure popular, third-party applications on Ubuntu, including Picasa, Google Earth, Skype, Java, and others.
Like the Intrepid article, this review follows Jaunty from three weeks before the release until today. It shows the hardware support and the ease of use on two laptops, the installation procedure, as well as the setup and configuration of numerous third-party applications. It also highlights the changes and new features introduced. One of the great changes are the significantly reduced boot times.
This review has a separate update page, where different issues raised in the Beta cycle are addressed, along with the solutions and workarounds. I have also recently bought a new laptop and installed no less than FOUR instances of Ubuntu on it. You are most welcome to read this article and see all the sorts of tweaks and configurations I applied.
Additionally, there is a number of other articles you may want to consult before you decide to use Ubuntu. One of them is the Dual boot article, which shows how to setup a side-by-side configuration of Linux and Windows.
Advanced users will also be interested in the GRUB bootloader tutorial, which explains the setup of the boot menu. At the moment, the GRUB tutorial focuses on the currently used GRUB 0.97 version. Karmic Koala is slated to use the next generation of the GRUB bootloader, version 2, so some things may not fully apply, but you should not worry. We will also have a separate, full tutorial on how to configure and use GRUB 2, which should complement this guide quite nicely.
Of course, there are many other articles in the Linux section, demonstrating all sorts of things on Ubuntu, including how to play MP3 files, how to use Flash, how to setup printing over Wireless, etc. You are welcome to peruse them all. I hope you will find them simple to follow, educative and useful. This covers the introduction. We can now focus on the installation procedure itself.
Installing Ubuntu - Step by step
You may be installing Ubuntu on a machine that already has an operating system installed. In that case, you will have to consider what to do with existing data on the disk.
Whatever you decide, it is a good idea to perform a full backup of all critical information to an external media (DVD, USB hard disk). In fact, this applies for all installations of all operating systems.
Ubuntu is a free operating system. Anyone can use it. Ubuntu can be obtained in several ways. You can access the Ubuntu website and download it from there. You can also use the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) sharing applications like BitTorrent to download the image or you can even request a free CD!
Ubuntu is available for download as a CD image (ISO file), which you will have to burn to CD before use.
Downloading Ubuntu is pretty straightforward, just like any other download. However, there are three things you should pay attention to:
Latest edition vs. Long Term Support (LTS) edition
Ubuntu offers two types of Ubuntu to audience: standard edition with 18 months of support and updates and the Long Term Support (LTS) edition with 3 years of support for desktops and 5 years of support for servers. Currently. Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope is the latest edition and will be supported till April 2010. The latest LTS edition is based on the older Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron and will be supported until April 2011. The next LTS edition release will be Ubuntu 10.04, slated for release in April 2010.
Most home users will probably want to run the latest edition. Pay attention to this selection before you download the ISO file.
Desktop edition vs. Server edition
The server edition is designed to run on servers. As such, it is optimized for low footprint use, does not have a live session, does not have a graphical desktop and follows a text installation. Most home users will not want the server edition.
Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR)
This is a special version of Ubuntu optimized for netbooks. This guide does not cover the installation and use of UNR. For updates on how to setup and use UNR, please consult Dedoimedo for updates. We will have a review soon.
32-bit architecture vs. 64-bit architecture
Ubuntu comes in two flavors: 32-bit and 64-bit. If you have a modern computer with a modern processor, you will want to put it to good use. Having a 64-bit processor means better performance. Furthermore, you will not be limited to just 4GB of RAM. Most computers manufactured after 2006 have a 64-bit processor.
After you make your choice, download the file.
To conserve server bandwidth, Ubuntu is also available via BitTorrent downloads. This allows the community of users to share Ubuntu images, without stressing the Ubuntu website.
To use BitTorrent, you will need a BitTorrent client software. There are many good choices. For example, Vuze (formerly Azureus), Miro, Transmission, and many others are all excellent candidates. An alternative way is to use the Opera browser, which comes with a built-in BitTorrent client. This allows you to share via BitTorrent from within the browser itself.
Ubuntu will ship their CDs freely anywhere in the world. This is quite useful for people with very slow Internet or no access to Internet. You can also download or purchase Ubuntu DVDs, which come with numerous additional language packs.
WUBI stands for Windows Ubuntu Installer. This utility is very useful for new Linux users or recent Windows converts, who do not wish to dabble with complicated installations. WUBI allows you to install Ubuntu as just another application inside Windows!
I have already dedicated a tutorial to WUBI, so you're most welcome to read it. Today, we will focus on the classic installation from CD.
Verify the image file integrity
This is an important step. When you download operating system images from the Internet and use your own machine to burn the images to CD, there is a chance the file may be corrupt, your burning software not working properly or the CD/DVD burner being damaged.
Files are identified by hashes. Hashes are one-way functions that uniquely identify files. If the hash of your downloaded image matches that advertised by the download server, this means your download is good. If the two values do not match, your image is corrupt and you will have to download it again. A variety of hash functions are used to check the integrity of files. One such popular function is called MD5.
To verify the downloaded image, you will require a utility that checks the file MD5 checksum. Linux distributions come with build-in hash-check utilities. In Windows, you may want to use a simple, friendly tool called MD5Summer to generate and verify MD5 of your downloaded images.
You can compare the calculated values to the Ubuntu hash table. They should match to the exact version you downloaded.
Burn the ISO image to CD
After verifying the file integrity, the next step is to burn the image to CD. The exact procedure will vary on the specific burning software. However, regardless of the software chosen for the task, you should use high-quality CD discs, burn at slow speed, approx. half the maximum supported by your device, and verify the image burning at the end.
Free burning software available for Windows includes InfraRecorder, ImgBurn, Ashampoo Burning Studio 6, and other programs. Choose whichever suits you best. Now, we are ready. We have everything we need. We can install Ubuntu.
Boot from CD
The first step is to place your Ubuntu CD into the CD/DVD tray and boot the machine. Your computer needs to be configured to boot from DVD. This is done via BIOS. On most computers, the BIOS menu can be accessed by pressing either the F2 or Del keys while the machine is booting.
Once you have completed this stage, your machine should boot from the CD. The first step will be to choose your language.
The next step is to choose what to do. One of the great characteristics of most Linux distributions is the live CD feature. You can boot into a fully featured, fully operational live session and test the operating system before deciding whether to commit it to the hard disk.
This allows you to familiarize with the desktop, testdrive a variety of applications, and most importantly, examine the support for your hardware.
But let us review the boot menu:
Try Ubuntu - the first option is exactly what we want, boot into live CD without touching the hard disk. This will let us get the feel of Ubuntu and see how well it works with our hardware, including the wired and Wireless networking, Bluetooth, Web camera, and other devices.
Install Ubuntu - the second option takes you directly to the installation menu, without the live CD session. This is useful for users who know what they want and do not need to play with Ubuntu first.
Check disc for defects - this option allows you to check your freshly burned CD for defect. This is a recommended step. You may discover errors that your burning software did not spot.
Test memory - Ubuntu disc comes with a memory test utility. This can check your physical RAM for problems. Using this utility is not necessary for the installation, but it can be useful on older machines or machines known to have hardware issues.
Boot from first hard disk - Only users who have other operating systems installed on their machine will see this option. This means another operating system is present at the disk and you can boot it instead of trying Ubuntu.
As said, we want the first option. After you select it, Ubuntu will start loading. Depending on your hardware, it will take a minute or two.
Eventually, you will be logged into the default Ubuntu desktop.
The purpose of this guide is not to familiarize you with the Ubuntu desktop. To this end, you should refer to my extensive reviews linked at the beginning of this guide. Here, we will focus on the installation itself.
To start the installation, double-click on the Install icon on the desktop. This will open a wizard-like utility, which will guide you through the entire process, a total of seven easy steps.
In this first step, you will have to choose your language. Once satisfied, click Forward. Do not worry if you make a mistake, you can always go back.
In the following screenshots, for the sake of visual clarify, I have moved and hidden the two icons from the desktop, so you won't be seeing them till the end of this tutorial.
The next step is to choose the time zone.
The third step is to choose the keyboard.
Prepare Disk Space (Partitioning)
Partitioning is the fourth step. This is the most important step of the entire installation process, as it determines what will happen with the data on your hard disks. For experienced users, this stage is no different than any other. However, new or less savvy users, especially Windows users, may find partitioning somewhat frightening. Do not worry. We will try to make this step as simple and friendly as possible.
What you need to know ...
This installation guide cannot possibly encompass everything there is to know about hard disk management. I beg you invest some time and read other articles, like my Dual boot and GParted tutorials, which explain the fundamental concepts of disk management and particular nuances between Windows and Linux in great detail.
Nevertheless, to make this installation guide complete and self-contained, we must elaborate somewhat on the very basics of hard disk management. So let us deviate from the installation for 5 minutes and have a short partitioning 101 crash course.
Partitioning crash course
Operating systems do not use hard disks directly. Hard disks are managed by creating logical space containers above the physical space. These containers are known as partitions.
To be useful, partitions must store data in a certain way. The set of rules that determines how the data is used on each and every partition is called the filesystem. When we say that a certain partition is formatted as XYZ, this means that we are using a specific format, i.e. a specific set of rules, to manage the space. So we have hard disks, which contain partitions, which are formatted with filesystem. Remember these basic concepts.
Windows vs. Linux
Windows users rarely encounter these terms, because most Windows machines come pre-installed, so the user is spared the administration of the hard disk. But the things are the same, regardless. If you open the Explorer and navigate to My Computer, what do you see? You see drive letters, like C:, D:. In Windows, partitions are marked with letters!
In most cases, with Windows preinstalled, partitions span the entire disk, so most Windows users only use one and only partition (C:), which they call drive C. This partition is usually formatted with the NTFS filesystem.
Linux partitioning vocabulary
In Linux, the same rules apply, except the partitions are used slightly differently, they use different names and different filesystems. In Linux, partitions are marked by a series of letters AND numbers. Example: /dev/hda3.
What do we have here? /dev/ is a generic prefix for device. All Linux devices are stored under /dev, including hard disks. hda3 stands for third partition on hard drive a, which is the first physical device detected by BIOS.
SATA devices are marked sdX, IDE devices are marked hdX. Disk letters start with a. Partition numbers start with 1.
There are two types of partitions: primary and logical. There can only be up to four primary partitions on any disk - this is a physical limitation. Primary partitions are marked 1-4. Logical partitions are a secondary type of partitions. They cannot exist on their own and are placed inside one of the primary ones. If there is a primary partition that contains logical partitions inside it, it is called the Extended partition. When a primary partition is turned into Extended, it cannot be used directly any more. Therefore, logical partitions reside inside a primary partition called the Extended partition and are marked with numbers 5 and higher.
Linux filesystems are many: Ext2, Ext3, Ext4, ReiserFS, JFS, etc. For all practical purposes, the differences between are not important for the average user. Default selections offered by the installer software are usually sufficient.
In Linux, partitions are used inside the system via mount points. Mount points are identical to Windows drive letters. You access the hard disk space via mount points that hold partitions.
Mount points in Linux have rather logical names, like root, home, swap, etc. These names tell us what sort of data will go there. We will refer to these names in the sub-section below.
Windows usually comes with one disk, one partition (drive C). However, users who install Windows by themselves usually create additional partitions, where they keep their data.
In Linux, the idea is the same. You can have a single partition, which contains the entire system. This partition is known as root and is marked by slash (/). In other words, everything goes under this slash - /home, /usr, /var, etc. Do not mind the actual names, they are not important at the moment.
If you want more flexibility, you can create a separate data partition that will hold all your documents apart from the system, so if you reinstall or change the Linux distribution, your data will be preserved. Usually, the separate partition is called home and marked as /home. The name stems from the fact that this is the user's home directory, sort of like My Documents, except that it holds all files and configurations.
There is one more partition you may want to account for - swap. This is equivalent to Windows pagefile, i.e. this is a portion of the disk that your operating system can use as extra memory, in case it runs out of physical one. It does not hurt to have swap, as it offers you to increase the computing capacity of your system beyond physical RAM limitations, although the performance will be reduced.
The most basic Linux setup is root only. A more flexible solution includes separate home and swap partitions. You can go wild and dedicate separate partitions for other parts of the system, like /tmp, /usr, /var or even create your own, like /data, /videos, etc.
What did we learn in this short course?
We learned how to identify partitions in Linux, using its own particular notation. The rules are the same as in Windows, we are only using a different language. Now, we are ready to go back to our installation and complete the partitioning step.
Prepare Disk Space (Partitioning), continued
Of course, one of the first things we did was backup our data. This is the single most critical part of our preparations. Now that we know our important things are safely backed up, we can work on installing Ubuntu with confidence.
There are three scenarios you may encounter:
1. There is nothing on the disk
The disk is empty. This is a very simple scenario, because you need not worry about potentially messing up any existing data. In this case, setting Ubuntu on the disk is an easy task.
2. There is another Linux installed
You may already be running Linux on your machine. This probably means you are familiar with Linux notation and the way Linux is installed, which should make accommodating the new Ubuntu installation a fairly simple job.Nevertheless, you need to pay attention in order to make sure nothing goes wrong.
3. There is Windows installed
This is a scenario that many Windows users will encounter. Their machine will already contain an existing Windows installed, with at least one partition occupied and formatted with NTFS filesystem. Installing Ubuntu alongside the existing Windows setup is not difficult, but you need to pay attention in order to make sure nothing goes wrong.
For this guide, I have purposefully chosen to install Ubuntu on a machine that already has an operating system on the hard disk. This is closer to reality than scenario 1, as most people are running one or another operating system on their machines.
In this installation guide, we will discuss scenario 2: a setup where Linux is installed on the disk. To setup Windows XP and Ubuntu together, please refer to my Dual boot tutorial.
I promise you a separate, dedicated tutorial on configuring Windows 7 and Ubuntu side by side on a later occasion. We will have it soon, so stay tuned! Let us see what the installer offers us in step 4 (Prepare disk space):
What do we see here?
In the first option, Ubuntu installer tells us there is already a Linux distribution installed on the disk. The default choice is to install the new Ubuntu side by side with the existing one, letting you choose between them on each startup. This is the recommended choice for most people.
In this case, the Ubuntu installer will automatically resize existing partitions to free space for the new installation. It will then create a new partition for Ubuntu and place it there. The upper color bar shows you the existing setup. You can see the suggested new layout in the bottom color bar.
The existing installation (blue) will be made smaller (shrunk). The free space (orange) will be populated by the new Ubuntu installation. The swap partition (green) will be left untouched. It will be used by both operating systems. Pay attention to the disk notation - /dev/sda1, /dev/sda2. Now that we know what we're talking about, things do not seem so frightening! Similarly, if we had a Windows partition present, Ubuntu would try to do the same thing.
There is no guarantee that the resizing/moving attempt will work. Ubuntu may succeed in changing the configuration, but it also may not. If you are unsure or do not wish to risk automatic changes to your existing setup, then you should not use the default option.
The second option in the partitioning menu is to use the entire disk. This is identical to scenario 1, as we do not care what exists on the disk and what to use it all for our new installation. Existing partitioning layout will be erased and replaced with a new one.
The third option in the menu offers a custom layout. We will use this one. While the most difficult in technical terms, it is the safest and offers the highest level of control and flexibility to the user. Let us create a custom setup. Select Specify partitions manually (advanced).
This choice will open a table-like menu where you will be able to work on your partitions, including changing their size, filesystem, mount point, or maybe even delete them.
Let us first examine what we have here. We have two partitions on our disk. Our disk is called /dev/sda. It is the first SATA disk, as recognized by the computer BIOS. It has two partitions on it, /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda2. The two partitions are both primary. How do I know that? Well, the convention says the primary partitions are marked 1-4.
So we have a large partition that used to hold another Linux, formatted as Ext3 and we have a swap partition. Just as we've discussed under Recommended layout a few paragraphs above.
Now, we need to decide what we want to do here. To make things simple, we will use the existing partitions. But we do need to edit them to make them usable by our new Ubuntu installation. Highlight the larger partition and then click Edit partition.
We will now format this partition and use the new Ext4 filesystem. We will then mount the partition as root (/). In Ubuntu Karmic Koala coming in October, the Ext4 filesystem is going to be the default choice.
This is our final layout:
What we did was reuse the existing partitions, but we changed the filesystem and formatted them, deleting the current installation.
What if you did not want to replace the existing filesystem?
Let us go back to scenario 3. Windows users might want to dual-boot their machines and not necessarily replace Windows with Ubuntu. Therefore, what we did above is not a good solution for these users.
In this case, we will need additional partitions. Explaining in detail how to change the disk layout using partition software is beyond the scope of this guide. Once again, you should refer to the long, dedicated GParted tutorial to learn how to do that.
Fortunately, Ubuntu also comes with the GParted partitioning software included on the disc. You are welcome to use this program to create your own setup before invoking the installer.
Ubuntu requires very little space to install. You just need 4GB of free space. Ubuntu does not require a separate /home partition or the swap partition, although it is recommended that you create them.
Let us sum up the partitioning stage:
To make things clearer, here's a summary of what we did so far, plus the recommended settings. There are three major scenarios for installation:
- Single Ubuntu installation on the entire disk
- Ubuntu installed side-by-side with another Linux.
- Ubuntu installed side-by-side with Windows.
Side-by-side installations require that you have at least one 4GB partition for Ubuntu use. This can be an existing Windows or Linux partition that you will dedicate for Ubuntu or an empty partition created beforehand specifically for this task. The recommendation is to have three partitions - root (/), home (/home) and swap.
Having a separate home partition lets you keep your documents apart from the system, so they do not get overwritten when you upgrade or install a new operating system.
You need at least one, but preferably three partitions for Ubuntu. If you do not have existing partitions available, you will have to create some. The best way to do that is to use a dedicated partitioning software like GParted.
The creation of extra partitions for Ubuntu will require either free, unused space on the disk or resizing of existing partitions to create free space. You will then create the new partitions for Ubuntu in the unallocated space.
In order to understand more deeply the terminology used, the notation, and the purpose of different components in the Partitioning setup, I warmly recommended you refer to my other articles mentioned earlier, most notably the Dual boot and GParted tutorials.
OK, we are ready to move to step 5. We have the partitioning layout configured as we want it. Our new Ubuntu will use the root (/) and swap partitions. The root partition will be formatted with Ext4.
Who are you (user configuration)
The fifth step is to configure your username and password. You should choose a username without spaces or special characters. You should also create a strong password that is not based on dictionary words and contains both lower and uppercase letters, numbers and maybe even alphanumeric characters.
You can also choose a name for your computer, so it is easily recognized over network, for example, when sharing files with friends and family. You can also configure your Ubuntu to login automatically or require a password from the user.
You are ready to install Ubuntu. Please review the settings before you begin the installation. If you are unhappy with any one selection, you can go back and change them.
Be aware that formatting the partitions will irrecoverably erase the existing data on your disk. Make sure that you have safely backed up any data that resides on the marked partitions before proceeding.
Basically, we're ready. But just before we click Install, let's take a look at two more things.
One step we did not see here is that of the Migration Assistant. If you have additional operating systems installed, which you wish to keep and use side-by-side with Ubuntu, the installer will activate the Migration Assistant to help you transfer user data from existing accounts in these other operating systems to your new Ubuntu.
This is something you may or may not want to do. I do not have the Migration Assistant example in this guide, but I promise you a separate tutorial that will demonstrate the use thereof.
Migration Assistant can import all sorts of user settings from other systems, including browser settings, cookies and bookmarks, email and calendar data from Outlook and Thunderbird, fonts, instant messenger settings, files from the desktop, and more. For more information, please refer to Migration Assistance Ubuntu documentation.
Most users will not need bother with the Advanced button, but more experienced users may want to see what additional settings can be configured there.
Advanced Options let you configure the boot loader and the network proxy. Most people will want to leave the default choices selected. If you do not intend to let Ubuntu be in charge of the boot sequence, you can deselect the installation of the bootloader. In this case, another operating system will control the boot sequence.
Please note that if Ubuntu is the only operating system on the disk, you do require the boot loader to be installed. Without it, the system will not be able to boot.
Note: the default boot loader used in Ubuntu 9.04 (and before) is GRUB 0.97, known also as Legacy GRUB. Ubuntu Karmic Koala should feature the new GRUB2. We will discuss the configuration of the new GRUB in a separate tutorial once GRUB2 becomes production and reaches mass usage.
Installation in progress
Click Install. The installation will now begin. Depending on your hardware, it should not take very long. My experience shows an average of 15 minutes for the installation to complete.
You can use the live CD while installing and even continue using it after the installation is complete.
After the installation finishes, you will have the choice of restarting the machine and booting into your newly installed operating system or continue working in the live CD for a while longer.
Once you decide to reboot, you will be asked to eject the CD from the tray.
Boot into installed system
It's time to boot into our newly installed Ubuntu!
If you did not configure your user to boot automatically, you will reach the login screen where you will have to identify yourself with the correct username and password before reaching the desktop.
And after a few moments, you will reach the desktop. Congratulations, you have just successfully installed Ubuntu!
This guide is as complete as sanely possible. But it does not cover everything. For example, we did not install Ubuntu side by side with Windows. But I won't leave you hanging out to dry.
Very soon, we will have a Windows 7 installation guide. Once this is published, we will get back to Ubuntu once again and see a side-by-side installation of Windows 7 and Ubuntu in a typical dual-boot configuration. We will also create an improved partitioning layout with a separate home partition. Stay tuned for updates.
The installation of Ubuntu is not a difficult task. However, like any operating system, it requires some patience and attention to certain details. The most important step is the partitioning. If you manage this step, you will be fine.
For most Windows users, partitioning is something they have never done. Combined with the different use and notation of hard disk space, it is understandable why this step can provoke so much frustration and fear.
Other than that, Ubuntu is really simple to install. You just need to follow seven easy steps. A great part of the entire procedure is the live CD session, which gives an excellent opportunity to test Ubuntu before you decide whether you want to install it.
But that's it. You are now ready to start using Ubuntu. It's a lovely, friendly operating system, with tons of great applications, excellent stability and great support. If you need some help making your first baby steps in Ubuntu, you have my entire Linux section at your service. Start reading, bottom up and enjoy the fun and freedom.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide. It's the first of many to come, which will cover the configuration, setup and installation of popular operating systems. Among the select candidates, we have Windows 7, soon to be released, and the upcoming openSUSE 11.2, as well as many others. Stay tuned for updates.