How to Install a Debian 12 (Bookworm) Minimal Server

debian 12 server 1

How to Install a Debian 12 (Bookworm) Minimal Server

This tutorial shows how to install a Debian 12 – Bookworm – minimal server in detail with many screenshots. The purpose of this guide is to provide a minimal setup that can be used as the basis for our other Debian 12 tutorials here at howtoforge.com.

1 Requirements

To install a Debian 12 server system, you will need the following:

I will use the Debian 12.1.0 64Bit (amd64) installation media.

The Debian Download links change regularly. If the above links do not work anymore, then go here to fetch the latest Debian netinst image: https://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/current/amd64/iso-cd/.

2 Preliminary Note

In this tutorial, I will use the hostname server1.example.com with the IP address and the gateway These settings might differ for you, so you have to replace them where appropriate.

3 The Debian Base System

Insert your Debian 12 (Bookworm) network installation CD into your system (or a USB drive where you installed the iso file) and boot from it. When you use virtualization software like VMware or Virtualbox, then select the Debian 12 minimal iso file as the source file for the DVD drive of the VM. You don’t have to burn it to a CD or DVD for that first.

Select Install (this will start the text installer – if you prefer a graphical installer, select Graphical install):

Debian 12 Boot Screen

Select your language:

Choose Debian installation language

Then choose your location and select the keyboard layout. the next screens will differ depending on your choices. Just select which country and keyboard layout are the right ones for you as they define the language that your Debian system will use on the shell and which keyboard layout is used. In my case, I’ll have a german keyboard layout but prefer English as the language on the shell.

Select Country, territory, or area:

Select server location / country

Select your location, territory again, and locale and keyboard:

Continent or region

Select country

Configuring the locale

Select and set the keymap

The installer checks the installation CD and your hardware and configures the network with DHCP if there is a DHCP server in the network:

Loading additional components

Configure network using DHCP

Enter hostname. In this example, my system is called server1.example.com, so I enter server1:

Hostname configuration

Enter your domain name. In this example, this is example.com:

Configure and set the domain

Afterward, give the root user a password:

Enter the root password

Confirm that password to avoid typos:

Confirm root password

Create a Linux user account, use e.g. your name or nickname. For this example installation, I will choose the name “administrator” with the user name administrator (don’t use the user name admin as it is a reserved name on Debian Linux):

Enter real name of the user

Choose a username

Set the password

Confirm the password

Now you have to partition your hard disk. For simplicity’s sake, I select Guided – use entire disk – this will create a large partition for the / file system and another one for swap (of course, the partitioning is totally up to you – if you know what you’re doing, you can also set up your partitions manually). For hosting systems like the ISPConfig 3 perfect server tutorials, you might want to choose e.g., 60GB for / and a large /var partition, as all website and email data is stored in subdirectories of /var.

Loading additional components

Partition method

Select the disk that you want to partition:

Select Disk partition

Then select the partitioning scheme. As mentioned before, I select All files in one partition (recommended for new users) for simplicity’s sake – it’s up to your liking what you choose here:

Partition scheme

When you’re finished, select Finish partitioning and write changes to disk:

Finish partitioning

Select Yes when you’re asked: “Write changes to disk?”:

Write partitions to disk

Afterward, your new partitions are created and formatted. Now the partitions are created, and the base system is installed:

Creating Partitions and installing the base system

It might be that the following screen pop’s up, depending on your install media. I will do a network-based installation (all additional installation packages get downloaded from the internet), so I choose here not to scan any additional install disks.

Scan installation media

Next, you must configure apt. Because we are using the Debian Netinstall CD, which contains only a minimal set of packages, we must use a network mirror. Select the country where the network mirror that you want to use is located (usually, this is the country where your Server system is located):

Configure apt country

Then select the mirror you wish to use (e.g. deb.debian.org):

Select Debian mirror

Unless you use an HTTP proxy, leave the following field empty and hit Continue:

Configure apt proxy

Apt is now updating its packages database:

apt downloads packages

You can skip the package usage survey by selecting No:

skip package survey

We select Standard system utilities and SSH server (so that I can immediately connect to the system with an SSH client such as PuTTY after the installation has finished) and hit Continue.

Some might argue that one should not install Standard System Utilities on a minimal server. Still, in my opinion, you will need most of the standard utilities later anyway, so I will install them on this server as part of the base setup.

Software selection

The required packages are downloaded and installed on the system:

Select and install software

When you’re asked to Install the GRUB boot loader to the master boot record?, select Yes:

Install GRUB in MBR

The installer might ask you which partition Grub shall be installed to. This server has just one hard disk, so I choose /dev/sda here.

Select device for boot loader installation

Press enter, and the Installer will install Grub and finishes the installation.

Installing GRUB boot loader

Finishing the Debian 11 Installation

The base system installation is now finished. Remove the Debian Netinstall CD from the CD drive and hit Continue to reboot the system:

Installation complete

The first boot of the newly installed Debian 10 server: first, you will see the boot screen of the Grub Boot Loader, press enter or wait a few seconds, and the boot process will continue automatically.

Booting Debian 11

A few seconds later, the login prompt should show up.

Debian 11 (Bullseye) server first boot

Log in with the username “root” and the root password that you have chosen during installation. When you log in by SSH, then use the username “administrator” as the root user is disabled for remote logins. Then run the command “su -“:
su -

To become the root user. It is important that you use the command su with ‘-‘ or use ‘su –login’ as this is required to initialize the PATH variable correctly for the root user.

On to the next step…

4 Install The SSH Server (Optional)

If you did not install the OpenSSH server during the system installation, you can do it now:
apt -y install ssh openssh-server

From now on you can use an SSH client such as PuTTY and connect from your workstation to your Debian Jessie server and follow the remaining steps from this tutorial.

5 Install a shell editor (Optional)

I’ll use nano as my favorite shell text editor. Others prefer vi, which is not that easy to use for beginners. With the following command, I will install both editors:
apt -y install vim-nox nano

(You don’t have to do this if you use a different text editor such as joe or the built-in editor from mc).

6 Configure The Network

You can get your current IP address with the command:
ip a

By default, some network tools might not be available. Install the package with the following command:
apt install net-tools

Because the Debian 12 installer has configured our system to get its network settings via DHCP, we have to change that now because a server should have a static IP address. Edit /etc/network/interfaces and adjust it to your needs (in this example setup, I will use the IP address (please note that I replace allow-hotplug ens33 with auto ens33; otherwise, restarting the network doesn’t work, and we’d have to reboot the whole system):
nano /etc/network/interfaces

The interfaces file with DHCP enabled as created by the apt installer:
# This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

source /etc/network/interfaces.d/*

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# The primary network interface
allow-hotplug ens33
iface ens33 inet dhcp
# This is an autoconfigured IPv6 interface
iface ens33 inet6 auto

Or as a screenshot:

DHCP Network Configuration

And here is the edited interfaces file with the static IP configured.
# This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

source /etc/network/interfaces.d/*

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# The primary network interface
auto ens33
iface ens33 inet static

# This is an autoconfigured IPv6 interface
iface ens33 inet6 auto

The edited file should look like this:

Static IP network configuration

Then restart your network:
systemctl restart networking

Then edit /etc/hosts. Make it look like this:
nano /etc/hosts localhost.localdomain localhost server1.example.com server1

# The following lines are desirable for IPv6 capable hosts
::1 localhost ip6-localhost ip6-loopback
ff02::1 ip6-allnodes
ff02::2 ip6-allrouters

Now edit the hostname in case you did not select the final hostname in the installer
nano /etc/hostname

The /etc/hostname file contains the hostname without the domain part, so in our case just “server1”.

Then reboot the server to apply the hostname change:
systemctl reboot

After you log in again, run the following command:
hostname -f

To verify that the new hostname is set correctly. The output should be:
root@server1:/home/administrator# hostname
root@server1:/home/administrator# hostname -f

7 Update Your Debian Installation

First, ensure that your /etc/apt/sources.list contains the bookworm-updates repository (this ensures you always get the newest updates), and that the contrib, non-free, and non-free-firmware repositories are enabled.
nano /etc/apt/sources.list
#deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 12.1.0 _Bookworm_ - Official amd64 NETINST with firmware 20230722-10:48]/ bookworm main non-free-firmware

deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ bookworm main contrib non-free non-free-firmware
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian/ bookworm main contrib non-free non-free-firmware

deb http://security.debian.org/debian-security bookworm-security main contrib non-free non-free-firmware
deb-src http://security.debian.org/debian-security bookworm-security main contrib non-free non-free-firmware

# bookworm-updates, to get updates before a point release is made;
# see https://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/debian-reference/ch02.en.html#_updates_and_backports
deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ bookworm-updates main contrib non-free non-free-firmware
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian/ bookworm-updates main contrib non-free non-free-firmware

# This system was installed using small removable media
# (e.g. netinst, live or single CD). The matching "deb cdrom"
# entries were disabled at the end of the installation process.
# For information about how to configure apt package sources,
# see the sources.list(5) manual.

apt update

to update the apt package database and
apt upgrade

to install the latest updates (if there are any).

8 Debian 12 VMWare Server Image

This tutorial is available as a ready-to-use virtual machine image in ovf/ova format that is compatible with VMWare and Virtualbox. The virtual machine image uses the following login details:

SSH / Shell Login

Username: administrator
Password: howtoforge

Username: root
Password: howtoforge

The IP of the VM is It can be changed in the file /etc/network/interfaces. Please change all the above passwords to secure the virtual machine.

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