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Debian GNU/Linux XFree86 4.2 HOWTO (unofficial)

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Note: XFree86 4.2.1 is in Debian Testing now. So this document seems obsolete. For XFree86 4.3.x with Debian see this HOWTO.

This is not an official Debian document! Please don't bother the Debian mailing lists or the bugreport system with problems resulting from following this document.

On my laptops ( IBM TP A31 and COMPAQ M700 (in German) ) I have encountered some troubles with XFree86 4.1, so I wanted to try the new 4.2 release. Since there are no Debian packages available yet (June 2002), I have decided to install the i386 binaries from XFree86 . Tough I have checked the i386 binaries only, these instruction should work for other architectures, too. Please note I respect the reasons of the package maintainer I just couldn't wait.

Note: I have updated to 4.2.1 now. Using the Xinstall.sh script that comes with the pre-compiled binaries for 4.2.1 and installing over the existing 4.2.0 installation. This worked fine for me.

According to DWN XFree86 4.2.1 is in unstable now. After a lot of testing and preparation, [17]Branden and his colleagues from the X Strike Force (XSF) have finally unleashed XFree86 4.2.1 to the incoming directory.

Preliminary XFree86 4.2.0 Packages. Branden Robinson finally announced preliminary packages for XFree86 4.2.0. Thanks to Branden and Ishikawa Mutsumi for the great work. Adam Heath and Tollef Fog Heen set up a mirror list (note: additionally you need a newer libfreetype6 package, which you have to take from unstable or testing). Please direct all enquiries and problems with these packages to this mailing list <debian-x at lists.debian.org> .

As Branden Robinson has mentioned, Debian provides the cross-platform testbed for XFree86 on other CPUs than i386.

Why 4.2

For details, see Release Notes for XFree86[tm] 4.2.0 . My favorites are:

  • speed enhancements (acceleration)
  • DGA extension included, to get VMware working in full screen mode


On my systems a working installation of XFree86 4.1.x provided by Debian GNU/Linux - 3.0 Woody was installed.

I made a separate directory, e.g. /usr/src/XFree88-4.2 changed into it and took the binaries for Linux (i386) from a mirror of XFree86 . Than I untarred them and read the documentation first (the Installation Details for XFree86[tm] 4.2.0 are also available online). I decided to do an "Installing over an old installation". To backup the existing configuration I moved the /etc/X11 directory to /etc/X11_Debian. Please note you may have to do other backups, too.

Stop all running X servers and/or displaymanagers before running the install script, e.g. /etc/init.d/gdm stop (change gdm to xdm or kdm according to your system).


Installation was quite easy with the Xinstall.sh installation script. I used all the default answers, except I didn't take the font server, the programmers extension and rstart. The font server should work, but I don't use one so I avoided it. The programmers extensions should also work, but I don't use it either. And the rstart option seems obsolete to me.


To configure the X-Server I did: XFree86 -configure and moved the generated config file to /etc/X11/XF86Config-4. But you may even succeed using the old configuration file. To check it I just started X. It worked out of the box, but to get the mouse working I had to stop the mouse manager gpm.

Finally I moved the new /etc/X11 directory to /etc/X11_4.2 and copied the previously backuped directory back: cd /etc; cp -va X11_Debian X11. From the original 4.2 config files I took only the /etc/X11_4.2/XF86Config-4 to /etc/X11.

X works fine now. But the displaymanagers kdm and xdm don't seem to work (this may result in an unusable system, e.g. after rebooting!) . But I don't use them anyway, I usually start X with startx.

If you have made any changes in the old config file, e.g. another language or the addition of a second mouse, you have to merge them manually now.

From Tuukka Toivonen I got these fix for KDM (but I didn't test it myself): "If I remember correctly, I had the same problem. Looking the backup files, it appears I fixed this with the following modifications to the kdm configuration file:"

tuukkat@acerzone 1 /etc/kde2/kdm> diff -PruN kdmrc~ kdmrc
--- kdmrc~      Thu Apr 11 00:17:03 2002
+++ kdmrc       Sat Jun  8 21:30:36 2002
@@ -158,7 +158,7 @@
 # Default is false
 # Create X-authorizations for local displays. Default is true
 # Which X-authorization mechanisms should be used.
@@ -214,7 +214,7 @@
 # Default is false
 # Allow root logins? Default is true
 # Allow to log in, when user has set an empty password? Default is false
 # for Debian.  We are not going to promote poor security
tuukkat@acerzone 1 /etc/kde2/kdm>


To avoid overwritings by further package updates I set these packages on HOLD with dselect. Maybe you have to check even more packages, fonts, libraries like OpenGL and so on, you may check the x11 and libs sections with dselect (my workaround to get a list of packages uses the version number of the X packages, which is hopefully unique dpkg -l | grep "4.1.0-16"):


The above list can probably read into the package list (you have to put the keyword "hold" to the end of each line) with dpkg --set-selections.

You may remove the backup directories /etc/X11_Debian and /etc/X11_4.2 and the installation files at some time.


In case of trouble check the log files, e.g. /var/log/XFree86.0.log. Please use also the XFree86 docs, you may consider to copy them into /usr/share/doc/xserver-xfree86-4.3 Further information on X11 you may find in these HOWTOs at the THE LINUX DOCUMENTATION PROJECT - TLDP:

  • Framebuffer-HOWTO
  • XFree86-HOWTO
  • XFree86-Touch-Screen-HOWTO
  • XFree86-Video-Timings-HOWTO
  • Xinerama-HOWTO
  • XWindow-Overview-HOWTO
  • XWindow-User-HOWTO

Other HOWTOs:

Backported Packages

Sorry, I do not have time to keep a list of current back ports. So please check these repositories:


  • Drew Parsons
  • Tuukka Toivonen
  • Tollef Fog Heen

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