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I have an Ubuntu installed in one partition, Debian on the other and now I am planning to install backtrack and SUSE also. Debian mounts a separate partition as its home mount point, whereas Ubuntu contains its own home folder in its file system.

Now, I want my home partition to be shared by all other distros I have currently or might have on the future.

How can I do this?

P.S. I have same username & nicknames on all the distros

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Ubuntus graphical installer does not automatically create a separate partition for /home. That's true. It is recommendable to do so though, and you can do it if you choose to manually partition. But even if you didn't, you can still fix it.

However, there are a few things to consider. First, make sure that all the distros can actually use the filesystem used on the home partition. It's usually not a problem, but better safe than sorry. Second, and this is more important; don't use the same home directory between distros unless you know what you're doing. The distros may have different versions of the installed software, meaning that their settings might not be identical. It should normally not be a problem since the applications should handle different versions properly, but not all do. It is perfectly fine to have a home directory with a different name than your username though, so that's not a problem.

If I'm reading correctly, you should have two partitions for Ubuntu (swap and root) and a few partitions for Debian. Then the first thing you do, is to mount Debians home directory in Ubuntu and make sure it's mounted at boot by adding it to /etc/fstab. There are loads of documentation on how to do this, so I won't go into it.

If you mount Debians home partition on /home, then it will hide Ubuntus /home directory, so mount it somewhere else first, in /mnt, for instance. Now you have to make some decisions. You can try to use the same home directory for all the distros if you want, or you can have a different home directory for each distro. You could for instance make a separate folder in /home for each distro like:

  • /home/ubuntu/username
  • /home/debian/username
  • /home/other_distro/username

I'd say that's the safest solution. I am assuming your home directories are not encrypted. If they are, then that will complicate things although the main procedure would be similar. You should probably be logged out of your main account when you do this, so create a new user, make it admin and login as that user.

You have to configure all the current users on all your distros to use the new location for the home directory. You should also configure the distros to use those paths by default for new users you create.

If you've mounted the home partition on /mnt, you'd then create /home/ubuntu and /home/debian. You then copy /home/username to /mnt/ubuntu/username and move /mnt/username to /mnt/debian/username (for the Debian user).

You now have both Ubuntu and Debians user homes in the same partitions, but in different home directories. If you have configured both Debian and Ubuntu to mount that partition in /home at boot and changed the users to use the new paths for their homes, then everything should be fine. When you intend to install a new distro, you'd first create /home/distroname/ and install as usual, but use the home partition and configure it to use /home/distroname as default location for new user homes. If you do that, make sure not to format it, otherwise you'll loose the data from Debian and Ubuntu :)

If you want to reuse a single home directory, make sure you know what you're doing. You would need to have the same uid for the users across the distros. Otherwise the permissions would be messed up.

Good luck and take backups :)

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Ok, I decided to go as you suggested. Created a ubuntu folder into the home partition, then copied all files from current home directory to this new /homepartion/ubuntu/ next i edited the /etc/fstab to point the new folder as the default /home directory so I wrote /dev/sda10 /home ext4 nodev,nosuid 0 2 at the end. But now the system cannot find the home folder –  Starx Jul 31 '11 at 15:01
    
Could you please tell me the steps to do what you meant by `If you have configured both Debian and Ubuntu to mount that partition in /home at boot and changed the users to use the new paths for their homes –  Starx Jul 31 '11 at 15:22
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As it is technically possible to share the /home directory from different distributions (see this answer) it is not a good idea to do so.

Application's settings may have different formats from different program versions. If anything is incompatible or goes out of sync by this we would be entirely lost to find the cause. It is not even recommended to do so within different versions of the same distribution (see e.g. here).

Therefore it is recommended to share personal data files from subdirectories of the user's home only (e.g. by creating symlinks to a directory of your choice):

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I am experiencing problems, with using subdirectories, please see my comment at @jo-erlend 's answer –  Starx Jul 31 '11 at 15:24
    
Please provide me with some steps to use the subdirectories as the home folder. –  Starx Jul 31 '11 at 15:27
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Assuming that the goal of sharing your home-partitions is to have equal access to your personal files/documents/data (but NOT to configuration files specific for each distro), I would suggest that you set the system up with one extra partition only for these shared documents (data) and use your home directories only for distro-specific files.

You can then mount (-bind) the folders from your data-partition to your home in each distro and have access to these data as if they were on your home partition. At the same time you avoid any troubles by conflicting settings etc...

That's what I did and this works nearly perfectly. (Although it somehow resetted my fstab upon upgrade from Ubuntu 11.10 to 12.04, so keep in mind to check from time to time (eg. After upgrades) that settings are still correct.)

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What you can do is let each distro have its own /home, and mount your personal partition under some other path like /shared-disk. The home directories can be symlinked from each distro, so that /home/bob in any given distro is a link to /shared-disk/bob.

In addition to having the same user names on all the distros, you have to make sure that the numeric uid's (and group gid's) are also the same.

I'd keep these account separate from whatever accounts the distros want to create during installation. Make sure you use uid's and gid's that don't clash with any numbers claimed by any of the distros.

You have to take your /etc/passwd, /etc/group, /etc/shadow and /etc/gshadow entries for all your users and groups, and replicate these in all the distros.

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This is a late answer, but might be useful for others trying to share info between distros.

As mentioned above, there are issues with applications with different versions sharing the same configuration files in /home/user/.

A simple solution that solves part of the problem, i.e. to share most of the data in the home folder, is to symlink folders like /home/user/Documents. My home folder looks like this:

drwxr-xr-x  3 mike mike 4096 May  2 11:48 Desktop/
drwxr-xr-x  2 mike mike 4096 May  1 21:18 Downloads/
lrwxrwxrwx  1 mike mike   34 Apr 27 12:36 Documents -> /mnt/home/mike/Documents/
lrwxrwxrwx  1 mike mike   33 Apr 27 12:40 Pictures -> /mnt/home/mike/Pictures/
lrwxrwxrwx  1 mike mike   32 Apr 27 12:38 Public -> /mnt/home/mike/Public/
lrwxrwxrwx  1 mike mike   31 Apr 27 12:39 Videos -> /mnt/home/mike/Videos/
lrwxrwxrwx  1 mike mike   34 Apr 27 12:40 workspace -> /mnt/home/mike/workspace/

As can be seen above the Desktop and the Download folders are on the local home partition while Documents, Pictures etc. are linked to a shared partition.

Here is how to setup a symlink (in this example for the Documents folder):

$ cd ~
$ mkdir old-folders
$ mv Documents old-folders/
$ ln -s /mnt/home/mike/Documents/ Documents

The above moves the current Documents folder to old-folders and set up a symbolic link to a shared Documents folder. I've used this scheme for a long time and had no issues so far.

You might find issues with the trash can, if so, check this posting: How do I use gnome trash for files in different partition?

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I took the /ect/fstab approch and here are the steps I took.

I created a separate 100+Gb partition to contain all my shared data, within that I created the 7 folders common to most OS's

Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Public, Templates, Videos
  1. To find the UUID of the partition containing shared data folders, execute the following:

    sudo blkid
    
  2. To automatically mount your shared data partition you need to edit /ect/fstab, execute the following: (Substitute gedit with vi or your favorite text editor)

    sudo gedit /etc/fstab
    
  3. Add the partition information to /ect/fstab, (for me it is the following).

    #/dev/sda4
    UUID=2dc891df-86aa-4d2b-a7aa-bc1620ef8024   /media/DATA ext2    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro    0   0
    
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Documents/  /home/mitchbw/Documents bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Downloads/  /home/mitchbw/Downloads bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Music/  /home/mitchbw/Music bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Pictures/   /home/mitchbw/Pictures  bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Public/ /home/mitchbw/Public    bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Templates/  /home/mitchbw/Templates bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    /media/DATA/mitchbw/Videos/ /home/mitchbw/Videos    bind    noatime,rw,errors=remount-ro,bind   0   0
    

NB: note the bind as the file system type and within the options. I have also amend noatime to the mount options for /, /home and the data folders as this speeds up file access and prolongs the life-span of disks drives by reducing disk I/O

  1. To test your modified fstab, execute:

    sudo mount -a
    

and view the mounted file systems with

    mount

More onnoatime and /etc/fstab options can be found here:

https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/fstab

http://www.openquery.com.au/blog/hint-day-noatime-relatime-fstab

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