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I would like to set up a minimal environment with apt-get then selectively install packages one at a time.

My understanding is that this is basically what the Debian installer does. Is this understanding accurate? If so, is it possible to have the installer (or some other program the installer uses) install only the bare minimum necessary to run apt-get? If not, how difficult would it be to build such an environment?

Some notes:

  • Some software I presume I will end up installing include:
    • a standard file system with commonly required directories (e.g. /dev, /bin etc.)
    • a boot-loader (e.g. Grub2)
    • shell and minimum utilities to get around including init (e.g. coreutils or busybox, udev, and other utils that I imagine might be hard to get, or necessary for using apt-get)
    • dpkg and other tools closely related to apt-get
  • In particular, I don't necessarily need:
    • network drivers (If necessary, I am hoping I can use a USB drive to move .deb packages and the necessary drivers around)
    • logging daemons (I am hoping I can install these through apt-get)
    • In general, anything that isn't required for running apt-get (or running the system), and can be easily installed through apt-get.
  • In a previous adventure, I have had some success with creating a bootable environment running with busybox (with a lot of great help from unix.SE). However, due to my computer incompetency, it ended up with many rough edges (e.g. Grub wasn't installed properly so I have to enter grub prompt to boot properly; I never got a proper build environment installed; all installed programs are static; etc.).
  • This time, I am hoping to obtain something that can easily evolve into something similar to a typical Debian, Ubuntu, or other full blown apt-get based distro through repository settings and a sequence of apt-get commands. As wimpy as it sounds, I would prefer to have as much automated, or prepackaged as possible (i.e. not LFS if it can be helped), as I would like to focus on roughly which packages are installed, rather than on how they are installed.
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yes, this is what the debian installer does. If you don't want to just use the debian installer ( possibly on the netinst cd, which doesn't have any packages on the cd and downloads everything you choose to install instead ), then you can use debootstrap to initialize a minimal system that is capable of installing more packages.

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The installer will ensure you have a working bootloader; set up users and passwords, etc.; if the OP's intention is for a minimal self-sufficient system, debootstrap will not be enough and the Debian install is recommended. –  jmtd Mar 27 '12 at 14:31
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