Help: How do I boot Debian on a Sun Sparc Ultra 10? [Update]

Dear Lazyweb,

I was trying to boot Debian on a Sun Sparc Ultra 10 box yesterday, without success. I got myself this Sparc box from eBay many months ago, but until yesterday it was merely standing around here and taking up valuable space (just like the other dozen or so computers standing around in my room). So I thought I should really make some use of it, finally...

I booted it up and noticed that it came with SunOS 5.8 pre-installed. It boots quite fine into the graphical login prompt, but I don't have the root password (or the password for any other account). So my first task was to reset the root password. But I failed so far.

Out of curiosity I connected the machine to my laptop and ran nmap on it. It has several ports open (e.g. ntp, ssh, X11, nfs, ...), so I could probably try to find a remote root exploit (or run an ssh brute-force attack) and crack it open that way ;) While I might try that later just for the fun of it, I wanted to simply boot a Debian first and change the root password manually. That sounded simpler at first...

Anyways, here's what I tried so far:

Boot into single-user mode

As I had no experience whatsoever with Sparcs, it took me some time to read up all the stuff I needed... After a bit of googling, I found out that I need to press STOP+A to get into the boot prompt (the box has OpenBoot 3.19). There, I can type boot -s to boot into single user mode. Unfortunately, you still need the root password to boot into single-user mode. Argh!

Boot from CD-ROM

Next, I found out how to boot from CD-ROM. Typing boot cdrom in the boot prompt should do the trick. So I downloaded and burned a the current Debian "businesscard" image for Sparc:

cdrecord -eject -v speed=2 dev=/dev/hdc -data -pad debian-31r1a-sparc-businesscard.iso

Booting seems to work partially. SILO seems to start fine, and I get to the "boot:" prompt. When I press Enter I get to the point where it says "Loading Linux..." but then the screen turns black and nothing happens anymore (hangup). The same happens when I type "linux" or "rescue" on the "boot:" prompt.

The monitor works fine, SunOS 5.8 can display graphics etc., so it's probably not a hardware problem.


After that, I tried to perform a network boot. This was fun and I learned a lot about RARP and TFTP, as I have never played with this stuff before. While the netboot part itself worked, it didn't solve my real problem, unfortunately...

First, I installed rarpd and tftpd on my laptop:

apt-get install rarpd tftpd

In /etc/ethers I added a line which tells rarpd which MAC address should be assigned to which IP address. I looked up the MAC address of the Sparc box (it's displayed when you boot) and then added "xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx" to /etc/ethers. I configured my laptop to have the IP address ifconfig eth0 broadcast netmask Of course, I plugged an ethernet cable in the Sparc box and in my laptop so they can talk to each other.

Then, I created /etc/xinetd.d/foobar which contained:

service tftp
disable = no
socket_type = dgram
protocol = udp
user = nobody
wait = no
server = /usr/sbin/in.tftpd
# server_args = /tftp

This should tell tftpd to serve the Debian netinst boot image from /tftp, but that didn't work for me. So I commented out the "server_args = /tftp" and let tftpd fall back to the default location /tftpboot. You need to reload xinetd after any change: /etc/init.d/xinetd reload. Also, tftpd is compiled with TCP wrapper support, so you have to temporarily allow the respective connections, e.g. by adding "ALL:" to /etc/hosts.allow. Don't forget to remove that line again later on!

Now I downloaded the Debian netinst boot image for Sparc (hopefully the correct one):

mkdir /tftpboot
mv boot.img /tftpboot/XXXXXXX

You need to place that image into /tftpboot using the name under which the Sparc box requests it. I found that name by net-booting the Sparc machine and watching the network traffic with Ethereal on my laptop...

The final steps: boot the Sparc box, type STOP+A, type boot net. The Sparc machine gets the boot image from my laptop just fine (it seems), and I get to the "Loading Linux..." part again. But then I have the same problem as with the CD-ROM boot: the screen turns black, nothing happens anymore...


Update 2006-03-22: I have posted some lessons learned.


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resetting a lost root

resetting a lost root password in solaris is done with

boot -s cdrom

Hello all, Mi Sun Ultra 5

Hello all,

Mi Sun Ultra 5 hasn't: CDROM, keybpard, Mouse.
I'm trying to boot without them and make a net install using a nullmodem cable with a remote TTY.
Is there possible for you? Am I crazy?

thank you

Successfull install

I started an installion from the iso (link) found on your site. Works well if you know the tricks....
Machine Ultra 10
cdrom : philips ide cd writer from a pc (works fide)
Only the embedded video.

use stop+a form obp prompt
command : boot cdrom
at the boot prompt :
command : linux ide=nodma

install starts fine, partitioning possible , the works.
good luck.

Blank screen booting Ultra 5 - solution

I had a similar problem (hence how I found this page via google):

Ultra 5
netboot gentoo, debian
"Booting kernel..." -> Black screen

Now I only have one vga adapter; the built-in pci ati chip.

Purely by accident I found setting (in obp)

output-device screen

instead of

output-device screen:r1024x768x60 (or whatever resolution you have)

and booting (reset-all) meant the debian installer gui initialised properly.

There is also a kernel option that can be passed with debian:

boot net debian-installer/framebuffer=true

Which, from the debian documentation, sounded like it helped.

Hope this helps,


Memory Settings?

Dalibor Topic and me installed Debian GNU/Linux on two Sparc boxes (from the before-ultra era though) during the and had also some initial problems. One thing (which obvoiusly is not the case in your case) was that the CD-ROM drive was too old to correctly read self-burned CDs. So we did the netboot thing, too.

Netboot was successful with my Hamstation (SS4 clone), but not with Dali's Sparc. After fiddling around quite a while someone on #gentoo-sparc IIRC gave us the tip to set the memory performance settings to something like "default" or "safe". And he was right: They were set to "optimal" and with a less performant setting, it worked. Maybe there's something similar with the Ultra 10.


I have found the problem by now - I have two video cards, the bootloader uses one of them, but as soon as Debian takes control, it uses the other one (to which I hadn't attached a monitor, and hence didn't see anything)... Argh! Attaching a monitor to each of the graphics cards solves the problem for now...

Anyways, thanks for the tip. I hope this article and especially all the comments will prove helpful for other people coming from Google...



1) Does Solaris understand the init=/bin/sh kernel command-line option?
2) When booting to CD or netinst, do you wait a good long time? Perhaps the init scripts are displaying to some console that doesn't appear on screen. In that case, eventually a login prompt will appear without any init script output. Or, if one of the init scripts hangs, then you wait forever.
3) You can also try putting console=tty[0-6] to see if the init script output shows up, or console=ttyS[01] if you want to attach some other computer to the serial port and run minicom or cu - see the kernel source Documentation/serial-console.txt file for more info on that.

Re: booting


1) should be 'boot -b' (which is not documented by sun, but does
something similiar to init=/bin/sh, though. Is like boot -m
milestone=none on solaris 10.

boot -b

Thanks, I tried "boot -b", but it yields problems. I get "cannot write FOOBAR" messages and then I'm asked for the root password again.

I'll investigate...

Boot options. 1) no idea, will


1) No idea, will check.
2) I waited quite a longs time, yes. When I press STOP+A after a long while, the box returns to the boot prompt and the screen of the booting Linux is displayed. That's why I know that "Loading Linux..." is the last thing it prints to screen...
3) Will try that, thanks.


OF video twiddle

To complement the suggestion about video cards, you may need to look at the settings for video output in OpenFirmware. I've seen these boxes do similar things when booting Solaris when the video parameters aren't set properly.

video parameters

Thanks, I'll read the OF docs for more info... But wouldn't the SunOS which is already installed on the box have problems, too, if the video settings are broken?

Any specific video settings I should check?


You might want to try

You might want to try passing video=sbus to the kernel at boot.

I had this problem when I

I had this problem when I installed Debian on a U10 a few years ago, It had to do with the fact that there were two video cards, the onboard ATI card and the Creator 3D. I can't remember exactly how I fixed it anymore, but you could try passing video=sbus to the kernel at boot.

Two video cards!

Thanks a lot, that was indeed the problem. I have two video cards, but I only had one monitor connected to one of them (used by the bootloader). When Debian takes over it uses the second one, and the screen on the first one turned black. As I had no monitor connected to the second one, I didn't see anything. I'm so stupid...

Thanks again, Uwe.

re: booting debian

I run sarge and 2.4 on my U10. I installed debian when sarge was still in testing, I used the standard bootable CD. I do not have a sun monitor, so I pulled out the Creator 3d card that happened to be in the unit and plugged my vga monitor into the on-board vga. I think that this was the only non-obvious (to me, a sparc noobie) thing that I did to get debian installed. The onboard vga and ethernet are supported out of the box. I use the machine as a server. Currenly, I have 2x120 GB drives in it. The worst things about the machine are that it's a bit noisy and that there is no UDMA support. If you continue to have troubles, you might try the debian-sparc list. good luck.

debian-sparc mailinglist

Yeah, I'll definately read through the debian-sparc list archives for more info soon...

I have a sun monitor, so that should not be a problem, I guess.

I'll probably try older Debian iso images, maybe the newer ones are broken?

Thanks for the suggestions.



I really suggest that you download Solaris Express for Sparc and install that. I *just* did exactly the same thing, on the same hardware, in an effort to learn Solaris. It's actually a very nice OS!

If you get in touch with me, I should be able to help out. I have a friend who knows the hardware very well and I've now gotten myself to the point where I have Solaris booting from mirrors root on two drives in my Ultra 10.

Hope to hear from you,


Sun Monitor Problem

I hv a got a sun ultra 10 cpu from ebay.
I got keyboard and mouse along with it.
I didnt get a monitor, I am trying to use
the PC monitor I hv with me. But didnt work
out. I dont know anyone who knows hardware
to help me out.

Could you please help me sorting out this

Sun monitor

I'm afraid you'll need a special Sun monitor, the connectors are different from the normal PC monitors (some newer ones have a PC connector, too, though).

Or try to find a "converter"...

The convertors are easy to

The convertors are easy to find and quite affordable. You're just looking for a 13W3 maile to female VGA. Some REALLY old monitors aren't going to work but Sun's own monitors are simply nice Sony Trinitrons.

Now....Sun is using DVI and regular VGA cables.

Just like Apple they realized that quality of build and their excellent software...not that AND funky connectors


There is a difference between 13W3 and classical D-SUB in quality of signal, but with most PC graphics cards and monitors it is not visible - it help the best of the best but thing like a bit broken cable make bigger difference.

OpenSolaris distributions

I'm confused. Is this Solaris Express the same as OpenSolaris? I'm generally not interested in closed-source software, so Solaris itself it out of scope. But I think I'll give one of the OpenSolaris distributions a try, e.g. BeleniX, Nexenta OS (a.k.a. Debian/GNU Solaris), or SchilliX... Thanks for the suggestion.

On the long run (for productive use) I'll definately stick to Debian, though...


OpenSolaris distributions

Solaris Express Community Edition is Sun's "distribution" of OpenSolaris. It's very similar to Solaris 10 (but with many enhancements), so it has a Solaris kernel, Solaris userland, etc. It is largely open source (under the SCCL), but parts are still released as binary only.