Debian installer, non-free firmware, one USB stick

This blog post is more than two years old. It is preserved here in the hope that it is useful to someone, but please be aware that links may be broken and that opinions expressed here may not reflect my current views. If this is a technical article, it may no longer reflect current best practice.

As part of my job, I’ve had to re-install Linux on one of our Dell Poweredge servers. This is something I can do in my sleep, so this didn’t bother me, until the installer asked for some non-free firmware. This is quite common with Dell PowerEdge servers I’ve found. The same thing occured when I was setting up the Computing Society’s server. The files I needed were the same both times:

  • bnx2-mips-09-5.0.0.j3.fw
  • bnx2-rv2p-09-5.0.0.j3.fw

These are both available in the firmware-bnx2 package available in the Debian non-free repository. For the Computing Society’s server, all I had to do was copy these files onto a USB stick and let the installer go on its merry way.

This time though, there was a problem. I’m installing from a USB stick because the CD drive is clogged up with dust and refused to boot anything. This is the only USB stick I had. If you find yourself in this situation, here are the steps I took to fix it:

  1. Copy the files into a directory named bnx2 on the root of the flash drive after you’ve got the Debian installer on there (to get the Debian installer on there, I recommend UNetBootIn)
  2. Start the installer and proceed as you normally would
  3. When asked to provide the firmware, remove the USB drive, wait 5 seconds and plug it back in
  4. Tell the installer you’re ready for it to look for the firmware
  5. Continue as normal again
  6. When asked why the install CD has vanished (for me, this was just before disk partitioning) tell the installer not to retry
  7. Select “Go Back” and then from the menu select “Execute a shell”
  8. Type umount /cdrom to unmount where it thinks it is
  9. Type mount /dev/sd<TAB> to see the list of devices available. Your USB stick will be the highest one (for me /dev/sdc).
  10. To finish the command with my example, it was mount /dev/sdc1 /cdrom
  11. Press Ctrl+D to return to the installer
  12. Select “Detect and mount CD-ROM” to throw you back to where you were in the install
  13. Finish the install as normal

When I did this, I was returned to the manual partitioning screen instead of the partitioning menu. You can select “Guided Partitioning” here to get back to guided partitioning if you want.

Hopefully this post will save someone some time in trying to work out how to get around this little annoyance.

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