Every now and again someone sends an e-mail or leaves a comment about retaining a home directory on reinstallation. To be honest, I invariably advise against it.
There’s a distinction to be made up front though: If you’re reinstalling the same distribution (or perhaps an update, like the next Ubuntu release), I see no harm in it. I think it’s probably common for most seasoned Linux users to dedicate a separate partition to their home files, and rely on that between upgrades.
On the other hand, if you’re switching distros, I say thumbs-down.
I’m in panic mode today, transferring about 8GB of music, 2 or 3GB of ISOs and easily 30 or 40GB of DVD backups across my house network, because I am, occasionally, too willing to be a guinea pig.
I was running Crux on my Thinkpad until last night, when I decided I would prefer to jump to Arch with it. The reasons are immaterial right now (it’s that darn floor noise error on that wireless card, if you must know), and to be honest, I wish I had thought it through a little better before I did it.
Installation went very well (the latest Arch ISO has some considerable improvements, but a new, small set of inconveniences … as is always the case), and rather than transfer that huge gob of files off beforehand, I just retained the home directory and installed Arch into the standing partition arrangement.
Which was fine until reboot, when Arch claimed the superblock for the home directory was reporting an incalculably large size. I managed to get the system on its feet by setting the “pass” digit to zero for that drive in /etc/fstab. I even checked the drive manually, from a live environment with e2fsck, and got no errors.
But unfortunately now, when I try to access some of those files, I get kernel errors spewing into the console space, claiming inode blocks are unreadable, etc., etc. It’s a bad feeling.
Mostly because I had ample opportunity beforehand to move all those files off the drive, and because I knew well enough to do so, but didn’t, and so now I’m kicking myself, and half of it has disappeared or is inaccessible now, and all of this could have been avoided with minimal effort. …
Oh well. It’s just stuff. The music is redownloadable from Jamendo, and I can rebuild the DVD rips, if it’s really necessary. I don’t watch most of those movies all that often anyway.
But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. My advice is that you can keep a home directory if it’s the same distro, or an upgrade. But if you’re going to jump between distributions, at least back the stuff up first. I know, technically it should be fine. But for me, it wasn’t.