Home, Home on the Range (of a number of Linux Distros) - Sharing Home

wizardfromoz

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It is said “A man’s home is his castle” … but can you share your Home in Linux with 3 or 4 other Distros, and with those – even with ones from different families?

What advantages are there to be gained from doing so, if any?

What disadvantages?

BACKGROUND

Well Known Member and friend @CptCharis had a Thread here https://linux.org/threads/i3-wm-distros-are-not-booting-as-live-usb.25777/ , in which, near its conclusion he asked

Speaking about booting, I have just read for multi booting - up to 3 or 4 distros - with one common /home file and/or partition. Do you have any idea. It sounds like a nice project, specially for learning purposes.

Multibooting is @wizardfromoz's field.
Well, multibooting is my specialty, but like Stan @atanere

...but I choose to let each distro keep it's own /home folder inside of it's / partition. You can indeed make a /home partition that can be shared between the different distros, but it's just not how I have gone with it before.
Nor had I.

Now, I have, and I will share with you.


TEST ENVIRONMENT

My main rig (have 3 others) is in the garage. It is a Dell Inspiron 5770 laptop, with a 2 TB HDD /dev/sda, and a 256 GB SSD /dev/sdb. It is added to by a 4TB Western Digital mains-powered USB-connected HDD /dev/sdc.

Specifications are as shown in the Spoiler.


[[email protected] ~]$ inxi -Fxz
System:
Host: localhost.localdomain Kernel: 5.3.7-301.fc31.x86_64 x86_64 bits: 64
compiler: gcc v: 9.2.1 Desktop: Cinnamon 4.2.4
Distro: Fedora release 31 (Thirty One)
Machine:
Type: Laptop System: Dell product: Inspiron 5770 v: N/A serial: <filter>
Mobo: Dell model: 0XH3XD v: A00 serial: <filter> UEFI: Dell v: 1.1.8
date: 08/15/2018
Battery:
ID-1: BAT0 charge: 38.3 Wh condition: 38.3/42.0 Wh (91%)
model: SMP DELL Y3F7Y6B status: Full
CPU:
Topology: Quad Core model: Intel Core i7-8550U bits: 64 type: MT MCP
arch: Kaby Lake rev: A L2 cache: 8192 KiB
flags: avx avx2 lm nx pae sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 ssse3 vmx
bogomips: 31999
Speed: 800 MHz min/max: 400/4000 MHz Core speeds (MHz): 1: 801 2: 800
3: 801 4: 800 5: 800 6: 800 7: 800 8: 801
Graphics:
Device-1: Intel UHD Graphics 620 vendor: Dell driver: i915 v: kernel
bus ID: 00:02.0
Display: x11 server: Fedora Project X.org 1.20.5 driver: ati,modesetting
unloaded: fbdev,vesa resolution: 1920x1080~60Hz
OpenGL: renderer: Mesa DRI Intel UHD Graphics 620 (Kabylake GT2)
v: 4.5 Mesa 19.2.4 direct render: Yes
Audio:
Device-1: Intel Sunrise Point-LP HD Audio vendor: Dell
driver: snd_hda_intel v: kernel bus ID: 00:1f.3
Sound Server: ALSA v: k5.3.7-301.fc31.x86_64
Network:
Device-1: Realtek RTL810xE PCI Express Fast Ethernet vendor: Dell
driver: r8169 v: kernel port: d000 bus ID: 02:00.0
IF: enp2s0 state: down mac: <filter>
Device-2: Qualcomm Atheros QCA9377 802.11ac Wireless Network Adapter
vendor: Dell driver: ath10k_pci v: kernel port: d000 bus ID: 03:00.0
IF: wlp3s0 state: up mac: <filter>
Device-3: Qualcomm Atheros type: USB driver: btusb bus ID: 1-7:5
Drives:
Local Storage: total: 2.05 TiB used: 9.64 GiB (0.5%)
ID-1: /dev/sda vendor: Seagate model: ST2000LM007-1R8174 size: 1.82 TiB
ID-2: /dev/sdb vendor: Micron model: 1100 SATA 256GB size: 238.47 GiB
RAID:
Hardware-1: Intel 82801 Mobile SATA Controller [RAID mode] driver: ahci
v: 3.0 bus ID: 00:17.0
Partition:
ID-1: / size: 19.56 GiB used: 7.81 GiB (39.9%) fs: ext4 dev: /dev/sda1
ID-2: /home size: 58.81 GiB used: 1.81 GiB (3.1%) fs: ext4 dev: /dev/sda3
Sensors:
System Temperatures: cpu: 53.0 C mobo: 50.0 C sodimm: 49.0 C gpu: amdgpu
temp: 25 C
Fan Speeds (RPM): cpu: 0
Info:
Processes: 266 Uptime: 1h 05m Memory: 15.54 GiB used: 2.51 GiB (16.1%)
Init: systemd runlevel: 5 Compilers: gcc: 9.2.1 Shell: bash v: 5.0.7
inxi: 3.0.36


Prior to starting this exercise around 11/11, I had on the Dell

  • 3 – 4 Distros only, on the 2 TB HDD, with the drive configured to Legacy (BOIS/MBR) for instructional purposes here​
  • and also on it a 60 GB partition for Timeshift​
  • Windows 10 and 9 -10 Linux on the SSD, sharing the same ESP (EFI System Partition)​
  • and on the WD 4 TB​
  • 33 - 35 Distros, sharing one discrete ESP, plus a 500 GB partition for Timeshift for the UEFI Distros on both the SSD and WD HDD​

During the course of this exercise,

  • I blew away the contents of the SSD, Windows and all​
  • replaced that with Arch-based Manjaro Xfce and Debian-based Peppermint 10
  • left the contents of the WD HDD as is, and​
  • have since installed 4 Distros from 3 Families sharing the same Home partition, on the internal SATA HDD
  • built a discrete partition for Timeshift for that drive
At Capta’s Thread on the i3 Window Manager, I was giving him updates on where I was with this project, but that was off-topic there and I will be cleaning that up for future readers.

There, I said

I have LM 19.2 'Tina' MATE on a Live stick with Persistence, ready to install, and I have Chakra (Arch-based originally, but forked from Arch) downloaded and will burn soon.

FORM A PLAN, BUT BE FLEXIBLE

It is said that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail.

That is true.

But also, I have found that if you make your plan too rigid, you may also be destined to fail.

So be flexible in your planning, roll with the punches, and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. Your plan should be a living, evolving creature.

In my case, I was going to use 3 Distros only for starters.

Chakra I ended up scrubbing. While Arch-based originally, it forked away from Arch, and from the AUR (Arch User Repository, which is community-driven), and I did not think I had the time to go on a new learning curve … perhaps another time.

I substituted Arcolinux Xfce for it. An Arch-based Distro I have used before and quite like.

I also added Ubuntu 18.04 ‘Bionic Beaver’ with the GNOME DE, besides Linux Mint, and we will see why as we go along.


DISCLAIMER

Prior to this exercise, my standard installation of a UEFI distro comprised one new partition for Root / and one shared partition for the ESP. No swap, no separate boot. The ESP was typically 100 MiB.

Under the new regime on my internal 2 TB HDD, /dev/sda, I am still using one “new” / partition, a shared ESP, and one shared Home (partition now, no longer a folder). No swap, shared or otherwise.

If someone has a better idea for doing what I have done – I can believe it :) . Share with us.

Let’s get our hands dirty!

Chris Turner
wizardfromoz

BTW - Spoiler - the screenshot below, from GParted, shows my internal 2 TB HDD, /dev/sda, at time of writing. 2 Debian-based (Mint and Ubuntu), 1 RPM-based (Fedora) and one Arch-based (Arcolinux), working for the most part smoothly, off the one shared Home partition.




SCREENSHOT 1

I will explain as we go along why the gaps of 20 GiB unallocated space between Distros.
 
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wizardfromoz

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Capta, you might like to say whether your target computer has a LInux on it and which, and whether it has a Home folder as part of Root / , or a separate Home Partition.

Latest setup on GParted is as follows, easier to read from Linux Mint, couple of modifications because I am also using this Drive to help another Member with partitioning space problems.




SCREENSHOT 2

People seeking to make use of this method, of sharing Home, may be in several categories, I'll outline some options.

GROUP BARE METAL/BARE BONES GROUP BMBB

...have a computer that is blank, no operation system, and want to install at least 2 Linux sharing the same Home.

GROUP WINDOWS GROUP W

... have Windows 10 already installed, and wish to install at least 2 Linux alongside that, sharing a Home.

GROUP WINDOWS TO GO GROUP W2GO

... wish to replace their existing Windows 10, with 2 or more Linux sharing the same Home.

GROUP ADD TO MY LINUX GROUP ATML

... have 1 Linux installed as the only OS and wish to add more LInux and have them all share the same Home.

If there is an Other category, let us know and we will see if we can accommodate your needs.


PREREQUISITES

You must have experience in installing at least one Linux Distribution (Distro).

If you need help in installing a Distro, start a new Thread elsewhere.

ASSUMPTIONS

That you have -
  1. A UEFI-based computer
  2. One or more UEFI-based Distro/s
  3. That you can accommodate the use of GPT format
BIOS-MBR may be dealt with at another time.

DO's

Make the acquaintance of Timeshift, either through my Thread HERE, or through the Linux Lite Manual HERE.

DON'Ts

Don't try to mix MBR (Legacy) and UEFI on the same drive, it is tricky.

Don't try to factor Linux LIte into this equation. Jerry Bezencon for the most part does not support UEFI. He DOES however have a UEFI version, and last I know, that was

linux-lite-4.2-uefi-64bit.iso

available from links HERE - pick up the SHA256 while you are passing through.

I have it, and it is good.

Get ready by preparing your environment with 3 - 4 EXT4 partitions, minimum 20 GiB each, and one for Home if you do not have it, just EXT4 for now, at least 60 GiB.

Get ready to rock'n roll.


Wiz

Avagudweegend
 

Nik-Ken-Bah

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@wizardfromoz
Pardon my ignorance, please but just exactly what is on the home partition that makes it shareable with other distros?:confused:
Also could you point me in the right direction where I can find either a manual or text related to using GParted. So I can get a better understanding of it before using it and have it along side me when using it to clarify a point I am unsure of. It is a practice that I have always used and was reinforced by working on aircraft as you never worked on any system without having the relevant documentation to refer back to ensure your memory is clear and correct thus helping to avoid an air incident.
 

atanere

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where I can find either a manual or text related to using GParted
The latest Gparted instruction manual is here. The folks at Gparted also make a "Live Linux" (based on Debian) and the manual for that basic distro is here. The Gparted Live disk is a nice tool to have handy.


just exactly what is on the home partition that makes it shareable with other distros?
In probably most Linux installs, /home is not a partition... it is only a folder under /. Making home a partition is what makes it shareable between 2 or more distros on the same hard drive. Each distro can claim it as it's own, and it often works well, but there can be conflicts too. I don't want to spoil Wizard's party here though! He is off to an excellent start already! :D


If there is an Other category, let us know and we will see if we can accommodate your needs.
Of course your focus is on sharing /home between multiple distros, but I would just quickly add here that making /home a partition is also useful for those just running a single Linux too. If someone corrupts or otherwise borks their (only) running Linux, it is very easy to just reinstall over the top of the borked distro and all your files (Documents, Photos, etc) and settings (email, bookmarks, etc) will remain preserved on /home. There is no need to do a "data recovery operation" before reinstalling. This can make some people sleep better at night! However, backing up /home should still be part of everyone's regular backup plans too, in case of other disasters and catastrophes that can happen. :eek:o_O:D

Cheers
 

Nik-Ken-Bah

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The latest Gparted instruction manual
Thanks Bro. But I located the PDF file of the manual as well as down loading the the full web pages for the other manuals. As the PDF version is a bit light on it the others give it more substance. (when I get things sorted out and Mint is able to cruise along calmly, I'll look into adding material to the PDF to give it more substance. )
Ah! the glimmer of understanding begins to shine on the Home partition.
 

wizardfromoz

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Pardon my ignorance, please
We'll think about it :) :)

but just exactly what is on the home partition that makes it shareable with other distros?:confused:
and

Ah! the glimmer of understanding begins to shine on the Home partition.
... may be a case of "asked and answered"?

Morning, UA friend.

Once you see the hidden stuff, and have a bit of a tunnel through the file and folder structure ... these conventions are held pretty much across the board with the Families, eg RPM (Fedora) Debian-based (Ubuntu and Mint) Arch-based (Manjaro, Arcolinux, Arch itself) Gentoo (Sabayon, Calculate) and likely Slackware (can't confirm that yet).

Default profiles can be shared across Browsers, so that if I set up FF in Fedora, and then install Arcolinux - all my settings, bookmarks, even open tabs - are there all ready for me. Likewise with Chromium and other browsers. This is way better than FF's and Chromium's Sync functions.

Same applies to Thunderbird and other email clients.

Even to Libreoffice settings and recently opened documents.

For me - huge dividends, as I can say to a client here "Back in a minute, just have to change Distro to the one you are using", and be running again with their query in the time that it takes to reboot.

I'll discuss this more when summarising "Pro's and Con's", and the sooner I get back to pumping out the Posts, the better.

c u soon and

Avagudday

You've gotta love Linux

Wiz

Edited added BTW

BTW see my Post here on the difference between the views in File Manager.
 

Nik-Ken-Bah

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Even to Libreoffice settings and recently opened documents.
Ah! A possible work around by using two distros one with Libre Office and the other one with Open Office. Since I either have one or the other on a single distro.
Thanks for the tip on turning on the hidden files.
Being a tradie and one thing I was taught by Master craftsmen was get to know your tools, get to know how to maintain them then you will know how to modify them to get your task completed.
Computer is another tool and Linux is about the only one where you can really get to know, how to maintain them and in maintaining the system you learn its modification parameters just in case you need to do a modification to complete a task. As everything is open and above board unlike the other two major OS's.
As an aside { Another thing about me I am a slow learner but what I learn I retain well }

Avagudday and a beautiful Sunday
 
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My philosophy one Linux distro per desktop installed and used as it comes OOTB with only additional software installed from the distro repository as needed.

This is why I have zero problems or very few if any problems with Linux distros I use.


Just my 2 pennies worth. ;)
 

wizardfromoz

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If you are a person who is committed to one Browser, eg Firefox, this method may not be your best option.

With some Distros, FF will share its settings profile, and with others, it won't as shown here




SCREENSHOT 3

The error has nothing to do with different versions of Firefox, all are 70.0.1.

Early in the piece, I installed Chromium, and it has no problems with sharing, but it uses a different system. I can get the following on each and every home-sharing Distro I install.




SCREENSHOT 4

Pinned tabs, tabs in use, all totally synced and updated across Distros used.

The problem is mostly related to Debian-based Distros, eg Linux Mint and Ubuntu won't share, but Arcolinux (Arch-based) and Fedora (RPM-based) WILL share.

So start thinking and I'll be back tomorrow with much more.

Wizard
 
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wizardfromoz

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Last screenshot I showed from GParted bears further examination. That was Screenshot 2 at #3. Repeated here for convenience. That's Screenshot 2 at #3





My first install was Fedora Workstation 31 Cinnamon DE, on /dev/sda1

Fedora’s Installer is called Anaconda. In Anaconda, I chose Manual Partitioning (under Debian-based Distros, called “Something Else”), as I always do.

Also in Anaconda, I had used its GParted to pre-format 3 partitions – sda1 20 GiB for Root, sda2 513 MiB for EFI System Partition (ESP), and sda3 69 GiB for Home, first used for Fedora, but later to be shared with other Distros.

ESP gets placed at the end of the drive, where it is clearly visible and can be manipulated if need be without being hemmed in by other partitions.

Reboot, everything is fine, and I have a drab Fedora Grub Menu. If this drive is your only drive, you won’t have the Grub Menu initially, but I have other populated drives, and Fedora performs “The Leaderboard Shuffle” and becomes the Primary Partition, that is, top of your Menu.

Let’s take a look at our new, soon to be shared, Home.




SCREENSHOT 5

Remember to view your Hidden Files & Folders, you can press Ctrl-h for a temporary view, or go to Edit Prederences (most File Managers) and select View Hidden Files and Folders.

I have highlighted 3 folders of note

.cinnamon
.config
.mozilla

Remember the dot, it is what makes a hidden file or folder … hidden :)

Cinnamon sets up its own unique (for now) folder in Home, for a small number of files and folders that you can explore for yourself.

Most of the other DEs (MATE, Xfce &c) set up a sub-folder within .config.

Having launched Fedora, I wanted to take screenshots to post into my Thread, and so used Cinnamon’s default screen capture utility, GNOME Screenshot, to take them.

I then viewed them, and Cinnamon’s default Viewer, interestingly, is EOM – Eye Of MATE.

So after that, I found there was a specific subfolder in .config, housing the EOM settings, as seen (path is in address bar)



SCREENSHOT 6

Other than that, there would not have been a MATE presence in .config until I installed my next Distro.

The 3rd folder I highlighted was .mozilla and that is literally not there when you first boot into your new Distro. It is generated the first time you launch Firefox Web Browser. Within that Folder, most important is a subfolder firefox, and if you tunnel down another level you will find a folder marked default or default-release which stores your Firefox Profile, which will contain all your settings – very important.

If you use the Mozilla email client Thunderbird, once again, there will be nothing to start with, but once launched and set up, a folder will appear at the highest level named .thunderbird, and once again, it will store your Thunderbird Profile.

Still in Fedora, I check the version of Firefox used, and it is 70.0.1 – I am of the belief that the Firefoxes for subsequent installs may need to match in order to have seamless synchronisation.

Having finished with Fedora for now, I run a Timeshift snapshot to safeguard it. See my Thread on Timeshift for install methods across Distros

https://www.linux.org/threads/timeshift-similar-solutions-safeguard-recover-your-linux.15241/


MINT INSTALL

Next up, I install Linux Mint 19.2 ‘Tina’ MATE. Installer is Ubiquity (developed by Ubuntu) and I tell Ubiquity to take me to “Something Else”, after having manually used the Live USB’s GParted to format a 20 GiB partition in EXT4, at sda4, before I launched the Installer.

I get Ubiquity to use sda4 for Root, and tell it to use the existing partitions sda2 for ESP, and sda3 for the shared Home.

Install completes, I reboot, and Mint takes the Primary Partition spot away from Fedora, on the Grub Menu.

I check the contents of my 60 GiB (now) shared Home partition, and before I even launch Firefox for the first time, the File Manager for MATE, Caja, shows a

.mozilla

folder.

I launch Firefox for the first time, and its setup matches that from my Fedora – great news, and I report as such to Capta at the Thread mentioned in the beginning of this Thread.

Have LM 19.2 'Tina' MATE working side-by-side with Fedora WS 31 Cinnamon and sharing the same Home partition, working fine and with benefits I will write about.
That was on 13 November, and a month later, I am still plugging away with this, in my spare time. Plenty of things to consider.

That happy state between Fedora and Linux Mint did not last. Firefox was the fly in the ointment. If I came back to Mint, after being in Fedora and changing a setting or two in Firefox, Mint would report this when I launched Firefox.




SCREENSHOT 7 - SAME AS SCREENSHOT 3, BUT DIFFERENT DISTRO

This, despite having established that both Distros were using 70.0.1 of Firefox.

I tried different options, including the “Create New Profile” option flagged in the Error Message – nothing stuck, nor remedied the problem.

Next up is “Enter Ubuntu”, but I will let you know for now that before you undertake this type of exercise, you may want to familiarise your self with another browser (I am now using Firefox and Chromium) and be prepared to adjust your Plan and “roll with the punches”.

Wizard

BTW - Timeshift is already installed on Mint, but I want to try things with this Firefox Browser problem before I use it.
 
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Robomech1

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i am quite new to this using dell workstation t5400 with multiple hard drives soon to add a ssd to replace the boot drive. looking to make that as easy as i can. I have Mint 19.3 MX and robolinux installed but so far almost no sharing would like to implement that also. mx is confusing for apps as it just lists names and i know almost nothing about what they are. mint has a good app store mostly love the boot splash from robolinux and the name. 32 gig rem 2 ea 4 core xenon processors origional video card.
 


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