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The usual Linux install process is as follows:

  1. put install iso onto DVD or USB stick boot machine using DVD or USB
  2. boot machine using DVD or USB
  3. install What I am wondering about is, given a working Linux machine, to what extent is it currently possible, on the running Linux machine, to install onto a local drive, which can then serve as a system drive for another machine. One option is via kvm, that is, running the install in a vm, with the target drive made available as a /dev/vda.

Essentially, one needs to set up the bootloader on the device, partition and create filesystems, and copy/install the relevant files. (This would also be very useful when it comes to creating VM disk images.)

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Yes, you can install Linux to a drive without booting any kind of special installer. There are many ways to do this.

First, you can manually partition the drive, create a filesystem onto it, create a working chroot, install the applications you want onto the drive (including, of course, a kernel, which you would want to compile fairly generically, or specifically for the destination machine if you already know its specs). Configure a bootloader, and your job is basically done. That process is all a "Linux Installer" does, you just do it manually. Look over the install processes of LFS, Slackware, and Crux for specifics.

Another way would be to use Clonezilla, assuming you have one copy of an installed working Linux OS. Use this as your master copy and clone it to any given drive. I used to do this when I was a sys admin and needed to image new computers.

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