Forum OpenACS Q&A: Best Configuration in Debian for Openacs Development

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Hello All,

I'm recycling a Dell C810 to use a laptop development machine for OpenACS. In the past I have always used RedHat as my operating system of choice, but have been noticing lately that many of you use Debian.

I downloaded and burned the CD images for the install but noticed Debian requires one to specify almost every package needed for the installation, whereas RedHat just provided 3 or 4 standard installation types with modifications needed for specialized packages.

I guess what I'm asking for is a complete list of what I should be insuring I select for the intial Debian install?

If anyone has a list, it would go a great way to helping me decide whether Debian or Redhat for my future needs. I don't need to mention the recent changed with Redhat in regards to Fedora and mess that's creating for many Redhat users, so I guess it's time for me to try something else.

Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated...

All that is needed is:

  root~# apt-get install emacs21 postgresql postgresql-dev postgresql-doc

The rest can be compliled (i.e. Tcl 8.4, aolserver, etc.). You may want to also do:

  root~# apt-get install wget lynx ssh mutt

If you go graphical then the only thing i personally would add is mozilla and xmms, but that's me. other good things to apt-get or complie are your favorite mail server (i like qmail myself - which needs to be complied due to a Dan Bernstein's source only distribution license).

I'm in the process of switching all of our servers to debian (from redhat, windows, and proprietary firewall software), and have been doing a lot of testing recently. I read this line somewhere "Debian is a pain to install, but the easiest distro to maintain"... at least on servers i'd say that i have to disagree, its easy to install once you swtich your paradigm (i've even done some installs on remote systems running redhat that ran without a hitch - without me needing to ever physically be at the machine - "debootstrap" and ssh are great!). Ongoing maintenance has been trivially simple up until now...

If you have the space you might want to start from a knoppix CD and just copy all the files they use - they have a pretty complete desktop - and it runs on my Dell C840 without any problems (well i needed to go through expert mode to get the sound to work, but that's not crucial stuff).

It's been a while since I last installed a new Debian machine, but as I recall, no, you shouldn't need to tediously pick and choose from all those zillions of packages by hand. Worst case, you should be able to pick some sort of "minimum necessary" package group during the initial install, and then add whatever other packages you want later with apt-get, after the initial install. I believe the Debian installer also include some sort of binning of packages into big functional groups in the Red Hat style. But with apt-get that's not really necessary.

If you already have one Debian machine with what you want installed, you should be able to look at its list of installed packages and just feed that to apt-get on the new machine if you like.

Of course, FAI is probably the "right" way to install machines, but I haven't looked into that yet.

As for specific Debian packages, this isn't OpenACS specific at all, but from when I last installed Debian 3.0, my Linux notes say:

In additon to the defaults, here are some packages you almost certainly want to install with "apt-get install -u":

  • ssh sudo rsync cvs zip unzip emacs21 xemacs21 pinfo mutt tik ntp-simple ntpdate xscreensaver-gnome xpdf-utils xpdf gv gnome-gv
For security reasons, simply uninstall these packages:
  • telnetd ftpd

I personally think it's ridiculous that the default Debian install doesn't include ssh and sudo.

Posted by Roberto Mello on
Debian installs a base system with the minimum it needs to run, and then gives you the opportunity to pick sets of packages in tasksel, much like Red Hat (but Red Hat's set sizes are much larger).

You probably want to install Woody with the "bf24" option at the initial prompt. That will give you a 2.4.18 kernel.

For OpenACS you will want some new versions of PostgreSQL and Tcl. For PostgreSQL you want Oliver Elphick's PG packages (he's the mainainer). Add this to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb stable main contrib non-free

For Tcl8.4, you want's packages. Add this to your sources.list:

deb stable tcl8.4 is a valuable resource. Look through and just append whatever packages you'd like to the line above, after tcl8.4.

Besides tcl8.4 and PostgreSQL, you need AOLserver too. Francesce Lovergine is Debian's AOLserver 3.x maintainer. He (and several others including I in parallel efforts apparently) have been working on AOLserver 4 packages. Hopefully these will converge.

He has made some AOLserver 4 packages available for unstable on his repository:

IIRC David Welton made packages of modules. I don't know where they are. I don't think either of these have woody backports yet. I also made AOLserver 4 packages, but I have to find where in my backups they are (hard drive failure in december).

Francesco, David, how about we join forces on these Debian packages? We'll probably get better outcome. I have a woody machine we can use to build backports (it uses tcl8.4 from

Besides these, you'll need tDOM and a fow of the AOLserver 4 modules, which you'll likely have o compile by hand for now. You'll also need ssh and some decent editor besides nano-tiny, the default in Debian's install. vim or emacs21 or your choice.

Make sure you edit /etc/inetd.conf and comment any services you don't need. You can't uninstall portmap, but you can not start it at boot. See the update-rc.d man page.

Debian is an excellent distribution, specially for servers. For desktops you pretty much have to go with unstable (which really is pretty stable).


Posted by C. R. Oldham on


deb stable main contrib non-free

to my /etc/apt/sources.list results in a bunch of

Err stable/contrib Packages
  404 Not Found

from 'apt-get update'.  Are you sure Oliver is still providing backports of late Pg versions to stable?

Btw, I had no major complaints about my Debian Stable 3.0 desktop machine. Even Mozilla 1.0.x was bearable, although 1.4 to 1.6 are vastly superior. With the addition of some backported packages, I don't think I'd have had any complaints about Stable at all.
Posted by C. R. Oldham on

If anyone has a source for Postgres 7.3.4 backported to Debian 3.0 Stable can you share please?

I think Oliver Elphick is still the Pg maintainer, but his backports don't show 7.3.4, just 7.4.0...

Does anyone know if the files in the Attic there on his site at are working 7.3.4 .debs?

Posted by C. R. Oldham on
Well I went ahead and answered my own question--I installed the 7.3.4 debs from Elphick's attic directory and they seem to work fine.