My Fedora 8 problem: upgrading

July 28, 2010

My Fedora 8 problem is that I still have a machine running Fedora 8, which means that I need to upgrade it. Worse, this is not some disused machine sitting in the corner but my home workstation; it doesn't have much bandwidth, and I kind of want it to be up and usable as much as possible when I'm home. So I've been gloomily contemplating my upgrade options for some time.

The officially supported or semi-supported way to do this is to do the upgrade from a Fedora 13 install DVD. This will likely take many hours during which my system is unusable and, assuming it works, will then require me to download a gigabyte or two of updates and third partly packages over a relatively slow DSL link before the system is really usable again.

(I am assuming here that the Fedora 13 installer will upgrade a Fedora 8 system; it's possible that it won't touch machines that are that old.)

Now, this machine uses my full workstation partitioning scheme, with duplicate partitions for /, /usr, and /var. In theory the best way to upgrade is to make a copy of the system in these partitions, chroot into it, and do a yum upgrade. There are two problems with this, though. First, I don't know if a yum upgrade works in a chroot'd environment or if it tries to kill and restart various daemons at inopportune times and so on; I would not be surprised if this was neither tested nor recommended. Second, you can't upgrade directly from Fedora 8 to Fedora 13 this way; you have to upgrade to Fedora 10 and then again to Fedora 11 as intermediate steps. This is a lot of downloads over my slow DSL link, even if I figure out how to make yum get as many packages as possible from a local DVD or directory.

(The bandwidth of a DVD or two transported from work vastly exceeds my DSL link.)

I'm pretty sure that I can't put together a version of PreUpgrade that will go from Fedora 8 to Fedora 13 in one operation; certainly, the Fedora 8 version only offers up to Fedora 10 as an option. Using PreUpgrade might cut one step off the yum upgrade process (but might not) and would let me download all of the necessary packages and updates in advance, but it would also have my machine down for many hours again. Twice (at least).

The crazy option is to not upgrade to Fedora 13 but to use those spare partitions to install Fedora 13 from scratch. This would probably require the machine to be down (I expect that Anaconda's live DVD installs still take over the entire machine), but Fedora generally installs much faster than it upgrades. And I would get to start over without four years of accumulated random bits and pieces. The downside of this is that I would really, really want to have good backups of all of my data.

(One of the things I'm taking away from this exercise and a similar although less drastic exercise at work is that next time around, I really want all of my user data on different physical disks than the system disk(s). This would let me completely disconnect them during upgrades and reinstalls so that I don't have to count on the install or upgrade process leaving my user filesystems alone and untouched.)

Finally, at this point it's getting increasingly tempting to 'upgrade' the machine by buying a new one and installing Fedora 13 (and all of my local changes) onto the machine from scratch and copying my data over. But getting a new machine still feels kind of wasteful at this point; while my home machine will be four years old this fall, it's still perfectly good for most of what I do (although I would like more RAM and CPU power for processing digital photos, especially since I have one of the cores turned off due to reliability problems).

Written on 28 July 2010.
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Last modified: Wed Jul 28 00:41:34 2010
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