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Linux Newbie Administrator Guide


2.10 How do I partition my hard drive?

Before Linux installation, you might really want to know what a hard drive partition is. The concern is that you may delete your MS Windows partition when you really don't mean to--you want two separate partitions to dual boot. This means: MS Windows is on one partition, Linux is on a separate partition. You do not normally install Linux on free space on your MS Windows-allocated partition(s). It is possible to install Linux on a MS Windows partition, but we do not recommend it. If you delete a partition from hard drive, all the content on that partition is gone.

If you plan a dual boot (Linux and MS Windows on the same computer), first use your DOS/Win utility FDISK to make the MS Windows partition(s). Leave part (half?) of the hard drive(s) unpartitioned for Linux. You will create and format the Linux partitions during your RedHat (or Mandrake or whatever else) installation. Linux will recognize the free (unpartitioned) space on the hard drive and use it to create partition(s) in a non-Microsoft format.

Make the MS Windows partition "primary" and "bootable". Install, configure, and test your MS Windows before Linux installation. If you plan to run Linux only (no dual boot), you need just a clean hard drive (no partitions) to start with.

It is possible to have only one Linux partition (plus one for MS Windows if you dual-boot). But it is better to have more partitions so that you can keep users' data separate from the rest of the operating system. This way, if something ever goes wrong, or if you have to reformat or re-install the operating system, you don't lose the users' data. (You can perform a complete Linux re-install without losing the contents of the /home directory that contains all user data if you skip the "re-format" option given to you during installation. But for that, the /home directory must be on its own partition.)

During the Linux setup, you will be asked to partition the available space on your hard drive(s). There are many possible ways to partition, depending on your hard drive space, requirements, and taste. I like Linux hard drive partitions like this (for a modest total of 2 GB of hardrive space which I give to Linux in this example):

mount point type size

/ ext2 300 MB

/usr ext2 1200 MB

/home ext2 380 MB

swap swap 120 MB

In the above example, I dedicate 300 MB for the root partition that holds the base of the Linux operating system. I allocate 1200 MB to the mount point that will be visible on my filesystem as the /usr directory and will contain the user's programs (the programs that don't come with the base operating system and I install later, for example StarOffice). I dedicate 380 MB for the partition that will be visible as the directory /home and will contain the setting and data of all users on the machine. And I allocate 120 MB to a "raw" partition for the operating system to use as the virtual memory (extension of the physical, silicon memory on the hard drive, so-called swap). (If your Linux is ancient, kernel version lower than 2.2 as in RH5.2 and earlier, your swap partition cannot be larger than approximately 127 MB.) The rule of thumb is that the swap should be about twice the amount of the physical memory (RAM). If you need more (e.g. if you have lots of physical memory, or you expect to run custom programs with really large data structures) you might want to create a larger swap partition during the installation (or several smaller swap partitions) or add a swap file(s) later.

2 GB is a respectable amount of disk space and should be sufficient for users who like having many applications. (This is because Linux applications tend to be slimmer than their MS Windows equivalents). However, if you try to install everything that's available on the modern distribution CDs, you will surely run out of disk space. My experience is that however large the hard drive space, it will get filled and I regret I don't have more :-) .

If my space on the hard drive is really restricted, I may consider a two-partition setup like this (for a lean 650 MB total dedicated to Linux):

mount point type size

/ ext2 600 MB

swap swap 50 MB

In this example, I

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