[ home ]

Installing Debian Wheezy, Jessie and Stretch from DVDs without an Internet connection

Note added 19th June 2017: Updated DVD1 and DVD2 using jigdo-lite so only had to download the changes. Works fine but have an error from apt about 'release file missing' when using offline to upgrade and to install new software. Investigating. Also played with the blue-ray image downloaded using jigdo from a local University's fast network. This 20Gb .iso can be dd'ed to a 32Gb usb stick and used as an installer/repo. I intend to try this one.

Note added 29th May 2017: Stretch RC4 installed from DVD1 and DVD2 downloaded earlier in the week. All fine on the X220. I installed the LXDE desktop for giggles, fairly light weight (although memory is chugging around 200Mb on a fresh boot). Just getting ahead of the release rush next month. I'll try an 'upgrade' when the release is final by simply replacing the RC DVDs with the release DVDs and running apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

Note added 4th April 2017: Wheezy 7.11.0 and Jessie 8.7.1 installed using the method outlined here and both going strong. Wheezy 7.11 was installed on an X220 Thinkpad with the default Gnome desktop. Jessie was installed on a Thinkpad X200 with KDE for giggles. It was necessary to install the baloo4 package from DVD3 to get a fully functional desktop search (including the indexing of the content of files) with KDE. I found it necessary to burn the DVD images at the slowest speed setting in Brasero and in K3b when using the USB external DVD writer. Any faster and the result was a failed burn.

Note added June 13th 2014: Wheezy 7.6.0 released today. I have updated the links. I'm adding a section about using the update DVD to update a 7.5.0 based installation as soon as the DVD has downloaded!*

In many parts of the World, Internet access is slow and expensive. Debian Wheezy DVD sets are available by post and may be handed round user groups. Cheap broadband connections may be available now and again when visiting cities or in University facilities. This page describes how to use a DVD set to install Wheezy 7.6.0 and a range of software without an Internet connection on a 2008 vintage Lenovo Thinkpad X61s. If you need timely security updates, then an Internet based install might be the best route for you.

I use recycled laptops which are known to work well with GNU/Linux. Bleeding edge hardware, especially machines using dual graphics cards or the UEFI boot system may require unusual kernel options to boot, or require special configurations. Managing that sort of trouble shooting without some form of Internet access while installing might be frustrating. I keep a USB WiFi adaptor (Netgear WG 111v3) known to work with free wifi drivers just in case.

I installed Debian Wheezy using DVD-1, and then used DVD-1 and DVD-2 with Synaptic to install a range of software. DVD-3 was only required on my installation for the thinkfan control script and an obscure package needed for a theme for Shotwell. Updates to the Wheezy 7.5.0 DVD ISO images will be available later as an update ISO when Wheezy 7.6.0 is released.

I decided to try Debian Wheezy with the XFCE4 desktop environment, plus the following extra applications;

This guide assumes that you can boot from an optical drive, I used an external USB CD/DVD drive with my X61s. If the target computer needs non-free firmware (usually for the wifi card) you can download the required packages after installation and install them using the dpkg -i command. Firmware packages are usually fairly small in size, a few megabytes.


  1. Boot off DVD-1 as usual
  2. I chose to install the XFCE4 desktop environment, so when the Installer Boot Menu appeared, I selected Advanced Options and then Alternative Desktop Options and then selected the Xfce option.
  3. That option leads the Xfce desktop boot menu screen. I chose the Installer option, I find that the text mode installer works better on my older computers
  4. The next few installer screens allow you to choose your language and keyboard
  5. When you reach the Configure the Network screen, the trick is to select the eth0 card option, and then let the Configuring the network with DHCP step fail. This may take a minute or so.
  6. You should then see a screen called [!!] Configure the network with the heading in red telling you that "Network autoconfiguration failed". Just click continue
  7. The next screen gives you various options to try to reconfigure the network, ignore those and select the Do not configure the network at this time option
  8. Hard drive partitioning next: I just use guided partitioning with one partition for Wheezy and I use the whole hard drive. The options at this stage are just the same as any other Debian installation.
  9. When you reach the [!!] Configure the package manager stage, the installer will ask if you want to scan other DVDs. Select NO, you can add DVD-2 and DVD-3 when the new system is installed.
  10. The next screen will ask if you want to add an online mirror. Select NO at this stage.
  11. [!] Software selection next, I just leave the four default choices ticked (Debian desktop environment, Print server, Laptop, Standard system utilities)
  12. Long wait while the packages copy to your hard drive, unpack and install. Around 1000 packages and about 20 minutes on my old laptop with Xfce.
  13. Installing GRUB boot loader next. As I rarely dual boot, Grub just finds one operating system and makes the entries in the boot loader menu.
  14. The installer finishes the installation, and then ejects the DVD-1 and invites you to reboot.

Recognising DVD-2 and DVD-3 and installing software

Once you have booted into the XCFE4 desktop, and selected 'default' as the panel layout, you will find LibreOffice, GIMP and Iceweasel (Debian's rebranded version of Firefox). Utilities include a print server with a range of printer drivers including the one for my Samsung ML-1640, the xsane scanner front end. VLC video player and the quodlibet music player are available along with an image viewer.

To install more software, you can use Synaptic to 'register' DVD-2 and if needed DVD-3.

  1. Attach your CD/DVD reader if needed
  2. Start Synaptic from System | Synaptic Package Manager in the XFCE4 menu and type in the root password when prompted
  3. Load DVD-2 into the CD/DVD drive and let it spin up
  4. In the Synaptic menu bar, select Edit | Add CD-ROM
  5. After a short delay DVD-2 is recognised and you are asked if you want to insert another
  6. You can pop DVD-3 in at this stage if you have it
  7. After both DVD-2 and DVD-3 recognised, you can click the 'Reload' button on Synaptic toolbar so the package lists are cached

With Synaptic open, you can begin to install software by searching for it in the usual way. You can also use apt-get from the command line to install software. The /etc/apt/sources.list file looks something like this

keith@moka:~ cat /etc/apt/sources.list

# deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 7.5.0 _Wheezy_ - Official amd64 DVD Binary-1 20140426-13:37]/ wheezy contrib main

deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 7.5.0 _Wheezy_ - Official amd64 DVD Binary-3 20140426-13:37]/ wheezy contrib main
deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 7.5.0 _Wheezy_ - Official amd64 DVD Binary-2 20140426-13:37]/ wheezy contrib main
deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 7.5.0 _Wheezy_ - Official amd64 DVD Binary-1 20140426-13:37]/ wheezy contrib main

# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
#deb http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main contrib
# Line commented out by installer because it failed to verify:
#deb-src http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main contrib

# wheezy-updates, previously known as 'volatile'
# A network mirror was not selected during install.  The following entries
# are provided as examples, but you should amend them as appropriate
# for your mirror of choice.
# deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ wheezy-updates main contrib
# deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ wheezy-updates main contrib

If the libraries and dependencies are scattered across several DVDs, you will be prompted to insert each DVD as you need to. Synaptic often reports that the 'Changes have been made' when they haven't, so you need to be careful to click on the 'full details' tabs and wait for the commands to halt.

When I installed r-core, texlive and gnuplot, the packages on DVD-1 were cached and then unpacked, then I was prompted to instert DVD-2 and those packages were cached and unpacked, then the configuration step completed. It strikes me that if anything goes wrong with DVD-2, you could be left with broken packages, so keep those DVDs clean. Perhaps burn two copies or keep the ISO on a hard drive so you can burn new ones.

Optical drives, USB sticks and fstab

The /etc/fstab file after the default install using a CD/DVD drive looks something like this

keith@moka:~ cat /etc/fstab
# /etc/fstab: static file system information.
# Use 'blkid' to print the universally unique identifier for a
# device; this may be used with UUID= as a more robust way to name devices
# that works even if disks are added and removed. See fstab(5).
# <file system> <mount point>   <type>  <options>       <dump>  <pass>
# / was on /dev/sda1 during installation
UUID=longstring /               ext4    errors=remount-ro 0       1
# swap was on /dev/sda5 during installation
UUID=anotherstring none            swap    sw              0       0
/dev/sr0        /media/cdrom0   udf,iso9660 user,noauto     0       0

The last line is necessary to allow Synaptic to recognise the DVDs. If you install from an ISO copied to a USB stick using the dd command, the last line of /etc/fstab will contain a line with the device name of the USB stick, often something like /dev/sdb /media/usb0. NTFS formatted USB hard drives won't mount correctly unless you comment out that line. And then you won't be able to use the DVD-1 ISO to install software! Hence my preference for installing from an optical drive. The line in fstab does not seem to alter the way the CD drive works at all.

Software repositories available

Debian provides three repositories, main, contrib and non-free. Only main and contrib are provided on the three DVD set.

Non-free software includes firmware that may be required by e.g. the wifi card on a laptop. Firmware packages are fairly small, a few megabytes, and don't usually need dependencies. You could download the package needed for your wifi card on another computer and transfer over by USB stick or similar.

You can use the dpkg -i command to install smaller specialised software. In my case, RStudio, a graphical front end for the R statistics software, is a 60Mb download from the RStudio Web site. The thinkfan script was about half a megabyte and is so far the only package I have needed from DVD-3.

Enabling online repositories

If you decide to install software from an online repository and enable updates, you will need to add appropriate lines to the file at /etc/apt/sources.list using something like nano

#nano /etc/apt/sources.list

You can generate the lines to add to /etc/apt/sources.list using the Debian Sources List Generator by Johnnatha Trigueiro. I ticked selected the UK as my country then ticked the main, contrib and updates boxes and copied the lines below...

deb http://ftp.uk.debian.org/debian stable main contrib

deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ wheezy-updates main contrib

Then issue the apt-get update command and the apt-get upgrade command. Once the initial large update has completed, subsequent routine updates to Debian Stable are quite small and infrequent.

Once you have enabled updates, the packages will diverge from those on the DVD set, and you should disable the DVDs in Synaptic or by commenting out the 'deb cdrom' lines in sources.list.

The decision to use online updates is irreversible. Might be worth doing if you can get to a fast broadband connection in a Cafe once a month or so and use a narrowband connection in between.

Keith Burnett, Last update: Sun Jul 13 2014