The 2009.08 ISO has a couple of interrelated idiosyncrasies on this hardware, which I don’t think I have described in the past, but are worth mentioning. (It’s possible that I have mentioned them in the past, but perfect recall on a 4 1/2-year-old post-a-day blog is getting difficult. Please bear with me if this sounds familiar. )
That ISO, and some of the ones before it, have two boot options — one for SATA-style drive labeling, and one for old IDE-style naming. In other words, /dev/sdaX or /dev/hdaX. It’s not a huge difference, or at least it hadn’t been up until now.
I don’t usually pick the first option, but this time I did and got some of the strangest, most bizarre behavior from an Arch environment I ever saw. Network access was fruity to say the least, with the setup program downloading little more than the names of the files from the server, touching them in the temporary directory, and then complaining because it couldn’t install them. The one or two programs that did manage to survive the blast seemed somehow scrambled if I tried to tamper with them from another window.
It wasn’t just network access either — the drive (if you can believe this) seemed to sometimes be there, and sometimes not. I don’t know how else to say that, except that I could change into the temporary installation directory and find the wreckage of the installation, but seconds later the terminal would hang and tell me it was unable to find files or programs I asked for. Very strange.
I tried this twice, thinking the first was just a fluke, but a reboot using the same SATA-style selection yielded similar results. I know I should be concerned and I know I should be looking for some sort of bug to report … but where do I start? So many things were scrambled I don’t know what to say is wrong. And what does it have to do with that boot option?
Anyway, the second boot option is usually the one I rely on, and at least this time I knew what I could expect. Behavior was normal, network access was normal, the system installed fine … except for one small thing: On the first boot, the system froze, complaining that the root drive was unavailable.
If you ever run into this problem, I can tell you that message is both true and false. It is available, and it isn’t. The issue is that the installer wrote out your /etc/fstab file with /dev/hdaX drive assignments — as you expect it might.
However, the kernel boots and recognizes everything with /dev/sdaX drive letters, and so asks for your help. The solution is somewhat straightforward: Remount the drive so you can write to it (the instructions are right there at the login prompt), then edit the /etc/fstab file to change the drive lettering to sda-style. Reboot, and it should work fine.
I’ll look around for a bug report on that particular issue, since it’s a rather easy one to pin down. I don’t know how much I can do about that first situation though, and it’s always possible this was something unique to this machine. I have one more thing to note in this short Arch experience, but I’ll save that for the next post. …