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Configuring Multi-boot Filesystems

When installing a fresh Linux Distribution, you might want to dual-boot, or even multi-boot, into different desktop environments. There are some pretty specific requirements we'll need to setup manually for our new partitions though, see below for details on the different partitions needed to setup an open ended multi-boot system alongside windows. This configuration will prompt for selection of OS on boot, and will allow for nearly any number of distributions to be tested alongside each other. These instructions vary slightly based on your specific scenario, so be sure to read and understand the need for each setting below.

Choosing a Distribution

The steps below will help you select a distribution, and prepare your installation media.

Distrowatch

Not sure what distribution to use, or searching for a legit ISO?
Distrowatch is your friend. They provide rankings, comment boards, forums, and (usually) working links to ISO downloads.

ISO Image Writer

No bullshit, quick and easy. Don't mind the http, we won't be posting any information on their site, and this tool has been trusted by the Linux community for some time now. Simply browse and select your ISO, choose the USB device from the drop-down, click write.

Want to use the same USB for a different distro? Open ROSA, Select your USB, click clear. Navigate to the device within the explorer or disk management utility for your system, format it (NTFS). Select your ISO, USB device within ROSA and write to it. Repeat as many times as you see fit.  

ROSA Image Writer Downloads

BIOS Configuration

When configuring a multi-boot system with specific partitions for different distributions, you'll need to enable the following settings within your BIOS - 

  • Disable Secure Boot
  • Disable fast boot
  • Set to UEFI mode only within boot options. 

If you're unsure how to modify these settings, try running the setting in question through google along with the model of your motherboard. This will hopefully provide some more specific instructions on using the BIOS of your system.

Modifying these settings will allow us to create EFI files within a given EFI partition, created below, where the system defines the boot sequence for multiple operating systems. This allows us to leave our boot sequence open-ended, and easily append EFI system files to our partition / boot options during the installation of a new system. There are, unfortunately, a few discrepancies to how these steps will be performed - unless the system is to be configured exactly the same.

Installation

Insert your USB installer you created above using ROSA Image Writer and reboot the system. Be sure to pay attention and press the required key to enter the BIOS during boot. For me, the key was delete or F2. Once in the BIOS, navigate to your boot sequence / options and there should be a list of connected storage devices, including all HDD, SSD, USBs, etc. Find your USB installer in the list and select it, this will boot into the installer for your distribution. The installer is usually found on the desktop as an executable application. These installers are usually usable systems, but be aware that there will be no persistent data between reboots until the installation is completed.

When selecting your installation media to boot from within BIOS, be sure to select the media that corresponds with how your system is configured to boot. In this example, the media should start similar to UEFI: USB .... If you were not using a UEFI configuration, simply select the same media without the UEFI: prefix. 

When prompted how you would like to install, select 'custom installation or 'custom partition configuration option, and continue with the guide below.

Partitioning

EFI Partition

If you are already using Grub on an existing EFI partition, you won't need to create a new one. Skip this step.

This is the partition where we will create new EFI files during installation of different distributions. You will not directly edit or view this partitions contents, but it is the backbone of the system-selection prompt (grub) that you will receive when booting after completing this configuration. There may be a need to step into this partition if you decide to customize your grub configuration, but we won't get into that here. 

Size: 1GB (this is generous)
Type: EFI Volume
Location: Beginning of Space (Volume we are partitioning)
Mount: (Leave empty / blank)

You should always choose to install the bootloader on the same disk the EFI filesystem exists, whether your case required the creation of a new EFI volume or if you are installing alongside a previous one. Failing to do so can could cause issues during installation.

The only exception to this is when initially installing a Linux / Grub Bootloader - you will have to create a new EFI partition for the Grub Bootloader. Grub will pick up the windows partition automatically, but if it doesn't, you can always run sup grub-update to search for new EFI partitions or configurations and update your Grub Bootloader appropriately.

Swap Partition

This is the space your system will use if you run out of memory. If you max out your RAM, this will prevent your system from freezing up. Be cautious of low RAM systems with little or no swap, the downfall to swap space is that once it is used it cannot be reallocated until the system reboots.

Size: 2GB-Preference (Ideally 50-100% of system RAM)
Type: Logical
Location: Beginning of Space (Volume we are partitioning)
Mount: (Leave empty / blank)

Root Partition

This partition will store the Linux system files for your distribution, and unless otherwise partitioned separately, your user's home directory and all of its content. This should be set according to both your distributions total installation size, and if you are not partitioning dedicated space - you should figure in any extra space your user(s) might require for new packages, updates, and applications. Running out of space is a lot worse than having too much, so try to be a little generous here.

Size: Adjust according to installed size of distribution we are using.
Type: Logical
Location: Beginning of Space (Volume we are partitioning)
Mount: /


Home Partition

This is optional. I would recommend having a separate storage device (Massive HDDs are getting cheaper..) to mount your home directories in, so if you ever need to reinstall the root directory of your distributions you'll be able to do so without having to worry about backing up or losing data. 

I would not advise taking the gamble, you will probably need to reinstall at some point - and it's good insurance to have.

Size: Preference
Type: Primary
Location: Beginning of Space (Volume we are partitioning)
Mount: /home

Installing

Now all we need to do is specify where to install the bootloader. This is easy since we just created that partition above, the EFI Partition. Select the partition from the dropdown and click 'continue' or 'install' at the bottom corner. After this is complete, you'll just need to reboot and witness the grub! From now on, you'll have an option of which system to boot into when starting your PC.

Adding New Systems

From here, all you need to do to add a new distribution is create new /root (and /home, if you choose) partition(s), select the EFI partition we created above for the bootloader install location (For me, this was sdb1 - the first partition of /dev/sdb)   

If you're having issues with system options not appearing in grub, be sure to load into a previous system and run sudo update-grub - this command will search for new entries in the EFI partition and automatically add them to your grub configuration / system prompt. You can manually step through the EFI partition using the grub command-line to bail yourself out, but this shouldn't be needed as returning to an already configured system and running this command will pick up all new systems for next reboot. 

 
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