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Suppose I have a hard drive, my only HDD, and I want to keep my home directory as a separate partition, sda3. Now consider that I wish to use two other partitions, namely sda 4 and 5 to install two distinct operating systems, say Ubuntu on one and Fedora on the other. In that case, how can I get this done?

I understand that a home directory is not merely a storage directory but is also integrated into the functioning of the system. But it is also a conveniently organized and accessible common location and hence I would like for it to be accessible from both these systems.

Can I do that?

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Just install a new system to /dev/sda4 (without creating another separate /home partition.) Then add a line for /home to the file /etc/fstab

You will get the right line on the old system by the command

grep home /etc/fstab

It will show you something like

/dev/sda3   /home      ext4       acl,user_xattr        1 2

After /etc/fstab is ready do

mount /home

to get the homes mounted.

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The issue you will face is not in your Documents or Downloads or whatever folders/directories that you normally see and use, but in the hidden user-level application configuration directories - all those directories like ~/.mozilla etc. Trust me, I tried this (granted, forever ago) and it really messed up things like "what application to open what file type" preferences, desktop environment stuff, etc.

With 2 very similar distributions with the same or very close versions of the same software, you might not have problems. Maybe.

I'd use separate homes, and if you keep all of your data files (mp3s, movies, word docs, etc) in the same folders in your home directory, simply mount the other partition(s) and use links to get the same stuff in each of your home directories.

  • Sharing /home between different machines is some kind of standard. If certain programs have problems with this (because their config files are incompatible between different versions) then you should avoid simply using such programs. – rudimeier Feb 15 '17 at 12:37

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