I'm trying to reinstall Debian on a netbook and do it without sloppy tricks so that I can repeat the process if necessary. Specifically, I'm trying to customize the installer to include the wifi firmware for the network adapter (non-free, so I had to include it manually) which I did successfully (by placing the deb in the firmware folder in the iso's root) but I still need to have some way to limit the download speed while the installer runs. I normally use wondershaper for this, so I tried placing the deb in the pool/main/w/wondershaper folder but that obviously doesn't work (as that directory is for what gets installed in the final system).

So I tried to see if I could somehow run it from the installer terminal, but busybox doesn't even include ifconfig in the standard debian build, so I need to replace that busybox. No searching so far has yielded any clues as to what goes into the live installer system (not the installed system but the one the installer runs on top of). I've googled and searched the debian wikis but they don't seem to have information on how to modify what gets loaded here. Searching the iso also yields no answers as the only busybox is the package that goes into the installed system. The instructions mention the .disk directory in the iso's root, which has inclusion and exclusion lists for packages, but they aren't for what gets loaded during installation. Searching SE also yields no specifics on this question. To be clear, I do not want to automate anything aka preseed the installer (which is what I understand preseeding is). Also, I know how to get the desired busybox build (their ftp has prebuilt binaries that include what I need), so no problems there, I just don't know where to put it.

Here's some links I've read:

tl;dr: How does one customize the system/environment that gets loaded during the debian installation?

  • For a specialist question like this, you might be better off asking on the relevant debian mailing list - debian-boot? Jul 21 '14 at 2:17
  • @FaheemMitha perhaps, but I didn't really think this is a specialist question. I'll try there if nothing comes up here, although I'd prefer such an answer here where it can be easily found by others, compared to the mailing lists. Btw, why do you mention debian-boot? Is this something specifically related to the boot process rather than the installer configuration?
    – mechalynx
    Jul 21 '14 at 2:18
  • 2
    Hi, no, the debian-boot mailing list is the name of the mailing list which handles Debian installer type things. The reason for the name is historical - once upon a time Debian used something called boot-floppies. See the bottom of debian.org/devel/debian-installer. This question is specialist. I'm just saying you can actually talk to the people who work on the Debian installer if you write to that mailing list. No harm in asking here as well, and if you get an answer from the mailing list you can add an answer here yourself. Jul 21 '14 at 2:26
  • @FaheemMitha Excellent, thanks for the tip :D
    – mechalynx
    Jul 21 '14 at 2:30

(Can't accept my own answer yet, nor can I unfortunately upvote Faheem for the pointer due to low rep - will do when possible)

Faheem Mitha pointed me in the right direction, mentioning the mailing lists. I searched them and it turns out I just didn't know how Debian boots:

the initrd.gz file is where all the stuff is, that gets loaded as the base system. To open it, you need to use gzip (obviously) and cpio.

In fact, here's the entire procedure lol :P


I linked to this in the OP, but I thought it had to do with preseeding and had no idea where to look to modify the base system anyway. Once I found out that the initrd file was what I needed to change, these instructions made a lot more sense :P

By following the instructions, you can get the base file system, replace or change whatever you want (in my case I simply manually installed some debs where they wanted to be) and then repackage the initrd properly, put it back where you got it from and rebuild the iso file.

Just remember, there's an initrd.gz for the graphical and non-graphical installer separately!

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