These instructions were written for the Fall 2021 semester of COMS 4118 at Columbia University.
There are many GNU+Linux distributions out there. Debian is our choice. Start by reading a little bit about it.
Download and install the latest version of VMware desktop hypervisor for your computer:
VMware Workstation Pro 30-day trial if you use Windows or Linux
VMware Fusion Pro 30-day trial if you use Apple Mac with Intel (x86) CPU
VMware Fusion for Apple Silicon Public Tech Preview if you use Apple Mac with Apple M1 CPU/GPU
For VMware Workstation/Fusion Pro, install it as a 30-day trial for now. Registered students will receive VMware Workstation/Fusion Pro license in 2-3 weeks. You can then enter the license to remove the trial status.
VMware Fusion for Apple Silicon is not officially released yet, but the public beta is fully functional and more than adequate for our use.
The current stable distribution of Debian is version 11, codenamed bullseye. It was released on August 14th, 2021.
If your computer has Intel (x86) CPU, download
If your computer has M1 CPU/GPU, download
Always verify the checksums of what you download.
Create a new virtual machine in VMware using the Debian ISO image you just downloaded.
For the OS for the VM, choose
Debian 11.x 64-bit if available.
Depending on your platform, it may not be an option yet.
In that case, choose
Other Linux 5.x and later kernel 64-bit.
For the boot firmware, choose
The default settings for memory and storage are probably too small. Customize your VM as follows:
Name: (your choice)
CPU: 2 processor cores
RAM: 2 GB minimum; 4 GB or more highly recommended, provided that your host machine has 8 GB of RAM or more
Hard disk: 100 GB minimum, 200 GB or more recommended
After configuring the VM, start the VM. The VM will now boot from its CD-ROM drive containing the Debian GNU/Linux install disk, which is virtually mapped to the ISO file that you downloaded.
Use the “graphical installer”. You’ll be guided through a somewhat lengthy installation process. Most of the default settings are acceptable – below is an outline for some of the choices you should be making:
English - English
Hostname: Whatever you named your VM, in lower case (e.g.
Domain name: (blank)
Root password: (your choice)
Users: Create your user account, which you will use for development
Full name: (your choice)
Username: (your choice; for our examples, we chose
Password: (your choice)
Partition disks: This will format your virtual hard disk so that you can install your operating system in it and boot into it
Guided - use entire disk
Select disk to partition: (there should only be one option, use it)
SCSI3 (0,0,0) (sda) - <size> ...
All files in one partition (recommended for
Partition disks overview:
Finish partitioning and write changes to
Write the changes to disks?: Select
Configure the package manager:
Scan extra installation media?:
Debian archive mirror country:
Debian archive mirror: (accept the default)
HTTP proxy information: (blank)
Debian desktop environment
Xfcebut you can use any desktop environment(s) you’d like
standard system utilities
Installing the GRUB boot loader: this installs a boot loader on your disk, which you can use to select which kernel to boot into.
Install the GRUB boot loader to the master boot record?:
Device for boot loader installation: Instead of entering the device
manually, select the
/dev/sda option that the menu presents you
Time to reboot into your new system!
Once you reboot, you’ll be greeted with a login screen. Use the user account you
created earlier (e.g. we would use
debbie here as our username).
Welcome to your VM’s desktop environment! Your system may ask you about configuring your desktop. Just select the default configuration for now – you can always tweak it later.
If you chose Xfce as your desktop environment, you should see a dock at the bottom of your screen, quite like the one on macOS. Open the terminal.
You’ll be logged into your user account, which does not have superuser/root
privileges yet. Switch into the
root account using the following command:
$ su -
Type in the password you set for the root account. Now you should be logged in
You’ll notice through this guide (and others) that certain shell commands begin
$, while others begin with
#. These shell prompts represent the
permissions you should run the command with; you should not be typing the
prompts in. The convention is that commands with
$ should be run as a regular
debbie), whereas commands beginning with
# should be run as a
root, or using
sudo). Speaking of which, your VM won’t have
sudo installed yet! We’ll do that first.
Update your package lists:
# apt update
This retrieves the most up-to-date list of packages from APT’s repositories,
apt all the things it can install. First, let’s upgrade all
packages that can be upgraded:
# apt upgrade
Now we can install
sudo, as well as some other useful packages for getting
through the rest of setup:
# apt install sudo git build-essential net-tools
Feel free to also install any programs you are accustomed to using, such as
htop, etc. Just add these to the list of programs
apt for install in the above command, after
sudo stands for SuperUserDO – it helps you run commands with superuser
permissions from a regular account. To set this up, you will need to edit the
/etc/sudoers configuration file by running:
It will launch an editor
vim if you installed,
nano if you didn’t).
Add the following to the bottom:
# The basic structure of a user spec looks like this: # who where = (as_whom) how: what debbie ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
Of course, if you chose a different username, use that instead of
Save your changes and quit the text editor.
If you’re still logged in as
root at this point from using
su -, logout to
return to your regular user account:
# exit $
Now that you added that line to your
sudoers file, you should be able to run
the following command from your regular user account, without having to type in
$ sudo echo "I am a sudoer, hear me roar!" I am a sudoer, hear me roar!
Now, when you come across a
# shell prompt in any future guide, you may use
sudo instead from your user account. For example, to update your packages
again, instead of running (as
# apt update
You can instead run (as
$ sudo apt update
By default, Debian tries to do its own power management. This is unnecessary in a VM, and may cause your VM to become unresponsive after being inactive for some time.
To disable power management in the Xfce desktop environment, open up the Applications menu on the top left corner of the GUI, and go to Settings / Power Manager to open up the Xfce Power Manager. On the System tab, make sure it never goes to sleep, and on the Display tab, uncheck “Display power management”.
If you prefer to boot directly into a terminal prompt on your serial console, rather than fussing with the graphical desktop environment, you can disable it by running the following:
# systemctl set-default multi-user.target
Now, once you boot, you’ll be greeted with a text-based serial console:
Debian GNU/Linux 11 poliwhirl tty1 poliwhirl login: _
You can login with your regular credentials (e.g. as
debbie). If you need to
open up your graphical desktop environment, you can manually launch it:
You can always re-enable the booting into your desktop environment:
# systemctl set-default graphical.target