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Reading about I came across this Stack Exchange question regarding re-installing. My current system has been messed up quite bad to say the least. I can only obtain root access when running recovery mode. All the files under / have been messed up and would be safe to(if possible) simply reinstall everything, regardless of the data loss.

Is it possible to re-install the system or all the files below / almost like a format? I know it's often frowned upon, in fact it's my last resort as I've been trying to fix everything for a while now. Since it's my first time using a Linux system(for ~3 months) I feel much more confident and secure starting on a new page with the system than simply switching back to Windows as I did enjoy using Debian quite a bit.

Now the system requires my USB to load up (grub in order to select whether I want to boot normally or in recovery mode) however my USB only has ldlinux.sys, menu.c32, syslinux.cfg, ubnkern, ubninit which has initrd inside it. Nothing else other than that. I'm sure it's a very basic question however I have to ask, how do I force a reinstall whilst booting?

  • "Is it possible to re-install the system or all the files below / almost like a format?" I'm not sure what you are asking. You can certainly reinstall your system using the installer. Did you want to do it some different way? – Faheem Mitha Dec 7 '14 at 8:42
  • @FaheemMitha - No particular method that I desire, wasn't sure whether it was possible in the first place or not. Which installer are you referring to? – Juxhin Dec 7 '14 at 8:48
  • @Juxhin that SE link points to a question about a system where the OP has no physical access to the system. Is that the same in your case? If you have access things can be much more easily done. In any case make a backup of your (personal) data before attempting anything that might be destructive. – Anthon Dec 7 '14 at 9:18
  • @Anthon - I must've misinterpreted the scenario in that question then, excuse me for that. I do have access to everything however I'm only able to run as root when booting in recovery mode. Otherwise I can't login as root within the GUI system. Even if I use CTRL+ALT+F?, it doesn't seem to allow me to login as root. As far as folders and things go yes, I do have access. The system does work for the most part but I still didn't do it properly. How may I go about the situation? – Juxhin Dec 7 '14 at 9:22
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    @Juxhin Please don't extend your question when you encounter other problems, it is kind of hard to hit a moving target and it invalidates or makes less relevant, existing answers. Make a new question where you can point to this one in a link if that helps explain what happened before. – Anthon Dec 7 '14 at 12:34
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If you don't know exactly what was changed, can make a backup of any unique data you put on the system (in your user account) and have access to boot from CD/USB, I would just reinstall the system. The only thing you might loose is some post-install changes that you made (i.e. system configuration, extra packages).

I would first double check that you have a copy of all your important data (your own created text files etc, anything you cannot re-download). Consider copying your whole home directory (the one for you normal user), as that includes things like the browsing history which you might want to restore). I would also make a copy of everything under /etc if you have done configuration changes to make your system work.

After that boot from CD/USB and reinstall using the same partitions, telling the install process to format the partitions. Keep a ChangeLog file of which you make a backup (e.g. by using mercurial to push it to an account on bitbucket (or git & github if that has your preference). Include the install setup decisions, any post-install decisions (extra packages installed). The more time you spent on getting something right, the more important to document what you did. Include any changes you made to the desktop. The ChangeLog should include URL to pages where you found solutions.

The ChangeLog will help reduce the time to set things up if this happens again. And even if this doesn't happen again, a distribution change, or setting up a new version of Debian parallel to your current install to try things out, will be much quicker if you have such a ChangeLog as a guide of things to do.

The Link you pointed to is about someone in a similar situation with a remote system. Trying to reinstall that, without console access is much, much more tricky. In your case, with root access, you probably only waste an hour or two and if you do something wrong you just start over. If you only have remote root access, starting over after doing something wrong is normally not an option. So consider yourself lucky.

  • Thanks a lot for the reply! I'm glad it's possible to do so. I have backed everything up so that is fine. Now the system requires my USB to load up (grub in order to select whether I want to boot normally or in recovery mode) however my USB only has ldlinux.sys, menu.c32, syslinux.cfg, ubnkern, ubninit which has initrd inside it. Nothing else other than that. I'm sure it's a very basic question however I have to ask, how do I force a reinstall whilst booting? Thank you for your time @Anthon – Juxhin Dec 7 '14 at 10:01

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