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I am currently using Fedora and looking at switching to Linux Mint Debian Edition.

What is the best way to have the machine setup, so changing distro causes the least issues?

In that, I mean people usually say having /home on its own partition is good because then you just format the other partitions and you don't lose anything in home. However what happens then with say Evolution (or other program) configs, etc., with one version and then when you move to another distro it has other files, this could cause issues?

Is there another way to have a machine set up?

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Keeping all the files in home (especially all of the config files) could get very messy. What you probably heard about was when someone upgrades to a new version of he same distro which requires a reinstall, not just an update. –  Daisetsu Jan 5 '11 at 20:28

3 Answers 3

I do this on a pretty regular basis. Here's what I do.

First, I have 2 hard drives - a smaller one for the OS, a large one for /home.

Before changing distros, back up anything you might need - /etc/ usually has some things I need to keep.

Unmount /home/ and do a fresh install. With that done, and without re-mounting /home, re-create your user - this will be on the OS disk. This will allow you to log in and verify that everything is working.

Next, mount /home to somewhere so you can access it - you'll probably need to change ownership and/or groups of the files in your old home directory.

I then create a new subdirectory in my old home directory, and move all of the .dirs and .configs into it, and copy over any from the new home - this way, you know that you won't have any incompatibilities to deal with.

Now mount the old /home properly (either edit fstab & reboot, or mount it manually when logged in as root) - you should be able to log in now, and have access to the old /home partition.

It's then a matter of trial & error to move back individual config files/directories to see if there are any conflicts.

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If you're changing distros, it's generally better just to do a fresh install, otherwise you risk incompatibilities due to configuration settings that are specific to certain distros (or certain features of distros, like the way that the programs that the configurations belong to interact with operating system features, like package managers.

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Don't necessarily keep the same home directory because not every config file is the same in every distribution, but create a relatively large partition for the stuff that isn't going to change from distro to distro, like your music collection. Consider it your "stuff" partition.

Make it ext3 or something that pretty much every distro can recognize. During the install process, leave the "stuff" partition alone, but install the distro in a different partition on the drive.

Then, you can mount your "stuff" partition after installing the distro instead of transferring large amounts of files back to your home directory.

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