Setting Up a SPARCstation

A gentle introduction to Sun Workstations and installing Red Hat Linux SPARC 4.0.

Figure 3. Bare Connections to SPARCstation ELC

The SPARC-Linux installation requires that you create a “whole disk” partition (file system type “5”), spanning from cylinder 0 to the last available cylinder. Root, swap and /usr partitions are created in the normal way and overlap this “whole disk” partition.

As you can see, SPARC-Linux also numbers cylinders from 0, rather than the i386 Linux default of 1.

4.0 Specifics

If your initial install is from a 4.0 CD-ROM, there are a few things which you need to know (see Red Hat's errata list for up to date information). You really should update your kernel as soon as possible to circumvent a particularly nasty networking bug which plagued the 2.0.18 kernel shipped with this release. The problem causes random hangs and crashes, especially when the machine is attached to a network where IPX packets are also present. When updating the kernel on your system, be sure to update the kernel loadable modules, too. New kernel and module packages are available in Red Hat's RPM package format on their FTP server, or alternatively, you can get a binary “snapshot” of the latest kernel from (see Table 2).

Another problem which can be perplexing if you don't know about it beforehand is the dump program. This slipped into the distribution without having been checked for “endian-ness” and consequently behaves very strangely indeed, complaining about seeks to negatively numbered sectors and blocks. Again, an updated dump package is available from the Red Hat site. Version 0.3-5 or greater should work.


As I write this, a group of folks are putting together the first Debian release of SPARC Linux. However, Red Hat is the only complete packaged release available on CD-ROM. While Red Hat's initial, 4.0 release suffered from a few teething problems, it has brought SPARC Linux into the mainstream Linux arena, rather than being confined to a backwater as something of an oddity. The worst of the problems have been fixed in 4.1, and this newer release also comes at a much more attractive price. The availability of both versions via FTP and on other vendors' compilation CD-ROMs is adding to the popularity of this architecture, and the installed base is spreading rapidly as evidenced by the increased traffic on the SPARC Linux mailing list. While I.T. professionals may still be reluctant to migrate the whole of their user base to SPARC Linux, there certainly seem to be a growing number of organizations out there who have one or two systems at least under evaluation. Many more old SPARC workhorses are getting a new lease on life with Linux and popping up on the Internet as FTP and Web servers.

John Little worked for Sun for nine years, is from the U.K., lives in Japan and works in Tokyo for an American company. He wears a range of increasingly bizarre hats in an (mostly futile) effort to hide his incipient baldness. He can be reached by e-mail at