Remotely installing SGI IRIX 6.5
from a GNU/Linux install server

Last update: Dec 2011 // Previous updates: Apr 2009, Feb 2008 // First created: Apr 2007

Davor Ocelic,,

This is an up-to-date, works-the-first-time guide to configuring a GNU/Linux machine to become a remote install server for the Silicon Graphics IRIX 6.5 operating system.

For best results, pay attention to every step and remark throughout the guide; with GNU/Linux-based Unix install servers, the devil is all in the details.


To perform an IRIX 6.5 installation on the MIPS client machine, you will need Silicon Graphics IRIX 6.5 Foundation CDs (2-set) and the IRIX 6.5 "Installation tools and overlays" (3- or 4-set).

Installation tools and overlays for version 6.5.22 can be downloaded with free registration from SGI Supportfolio.

Foundation CDs are not freely downloadable, they need to be obtained by either:

  1. paying for Supportfolio software subscription
  2. searching for original box packages on Ebay
  3. buying used hardware with software included
There are no software packages containing only the Foundation CDs, so if buying from Ebay, the sale will inevitably contain overlays. However, make sure that the package on sale is *a full CD set* and not just upgrade (upgrade boxes contain only the overlays and NO Foundation CDs). As a general rule of thumb, if the CD set has less than 5 CDs, it is surely not a full package. (Full package sets usually contain extra software and demos, and can have 10 or 14 CDs altogether).

For older SGI Irix workstations, such as Indy, Indigo, Indigo 2 and O2, Irix releases 6.5.21 or 6.5.22 are best. IRIX 6.5.22 is the last version that supports these older systems. Irix releases after 6.5.22 only work on newer workstations: Octane, Octane 2, Fuel and Tezro.

For buying SGI Irix workstations, browse regional Ebay stores, Ian Mapleson's site, Reputable Systems, Olmos GmbH, Used Unix (3D Systems) and XS International sales, and SGI Warehouse Clearances. Ebay offerings are cheaper, often multiple times, in comparison to "commercial" offerings.

For basic desktop play, all workstations, including old Indys, Indigos and O2 are, surprisingly or not, enough for normal work. Octane and newer machines are perfectly fine for all computer use. More on SGI hardware purchase advice from the irreplaceable Ian Mapleson's site (look for specific purchase advice pages).

Placing IRIX 6.5 software into a common directory on the Linux server:

First of all, you need to copy the IRIX installation files onto the Linux server.

Software from tarballs or CD Roms needs to be placed in a single installation directory on the Linux server (in this guide, /mnt/6/irix/ will be used as the location).

All dist/* files from each tarball or CD need to be copied into the installation directory. In the end, the directory should be full of *.sw, *.sw64, *.src, *.man, *.idb and similarly-named files. If your CDs or packages do not have the dist/ subdirectory, then the files are probably directly in the parent directory, so copy those.

Now, how to copy the files?

PC CD drives usually cannot read SGI CD-Roms which are saved in EFS filesystem and 512-byte block. (Filesystem itself is not the problem, the block size is). The solution is to dd CD-Roms verbatim to the disk - that will give you the .efs image files, then mount them using mount -o loop and copy files out of them to the installation directory.

The procedure would be something like this for each CD you have:
dd if=/dev/cdrom of=efs.img   # (Don't worry about read errors at the end)
mkdir -p mnt
mount -o loop -t efs efs.img mnt
cp -a mnt/dist/* /mnt/6/irix/ # (Or cp -a mnt/* /mnt/6/irix/ if there is no dist/ subdir in the image)
umount mnt
rm efs.img

After the copying, in addition to other files, in the installation directory you should also have the files named sa and mr and the directory miniroot/. They come from the first CD of the overlays - which is also correspondingly named "Installation tools and overlays". Directory miniroot/ contains kernel files for each of the supported SGI boards, and due to the way how the clients will retrieve those files, they must be moved from miniroot/ into the main installation directory, like this:
cd /mnt/6/irix
mv miniroot/* .

The name of the SASH shell from above ("sa") might vary, depending on how old your system or Irix release is; Extension .64 or no extension indicate a 64-bit variant; ARCS indicates 32-bit.

If you will want to re-partition the disk(s) before installation, also copy the file stand/fx.64 to the toplevel directory (/mnt/6/irix/). The stand/ directory and its files are also found on the first overlay CD.

You will surely want to repartition the disk to change partition types if you are installing over an old Irix version that used the EFS filesystem (i.e. Irix 5.x).
If you do not change the old EFS partition type, Irix 6.5 will honor the EFS setting, and then, during installation, it will require the EFS packages (which do not exist in your IRIX 6.5 files) and prevent you from starting the installation.

Understanding the examples

In the config files we're about to show, here's what the IP addresses and hostnames mean:

cyberstation (IP address == GNU/Linux install server

boyd (IP address, Hardware address 08 00 98 13 ad f7) == Irix client

GNU/Linux network configuration

To solve any network problems that MIPS PROM might have when talking to a Linux server, run the following on the server machine:

echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_no_pmtu_disc
echo "2048 32767" > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_local_port_range

Note that the above settings are not retained over a server reboot, so you'll want to make them permanent by adding them to the system startup files such as /etc/sysctl.conf, /etc/ or /etc/rc.local.

What GNU/Linux software will you need on the server and how to configure it properly?

Chances are that your GNU/Linux distribution already contains the appropriate versions of packages.
Here, Debian GNU will be used for actual examples.

  1. MaraDNS - DNS server (Homepage:, package maradns)
    You need a local DNS server running to solve a ton of possible and quirky problems. Basically, you will need to tell the Irix client which DNS server to use, and that server will have to be able to resolve the hostname of the Linux install server to an IP. MaraDNS is a quick, file-based DNS server that you can install & configure in 2 minutes. Make sure the version you install is 1.2 or higher if you want to use my example configs!

    - See working example /etc/maradns/mararc
    - See working example /etc/maradns/
    - As seen, make sure DNS server binds to network IP, and test with shell command:

    - If you want to be ultra-fast with configuration, wget and run . This script tries to auto-detect values and create config in /etc/maradns/ . The script was created earlier for a different purpose but you see, MaraDNS is quick solution to every ad-hoc DNS problem.

    Note: when configuring the DNS to resolve your installation server's address, you must use the same hostname that you see when you type 'hostname' in the server's shell. Technically, DNS would resolve any name you specify, but bootp (our next point) will ignore requests for which it thinks are not directed to its own host.

  2. Bootp server (Homepage:, package bootp)

    - /etc/inetd.conf: bootps  dgram udp wait  root  /usr/sbin/bootpd  bootpd -i -d 4 -t 120

    - /etc/bootptab:

    In the above bootptab line, "boyd" is the Irix client name, ha= is its hardware address (use "printenv" in PROM and see "eaddr"), dn= is the domain the machine belongs to, ds= is the name server to use (just to resolve the Linux install server name, nothing else), and hd= is the path to all Irix files.

    You might also need to specify parameter ip= (define the client's IP address), although the exact circumstances when that's required have not been determined.

    IMPORTANT: In any case, you must use the client host name (and not its IP) as the first field in /etc/bootptab, and you must have the entry for that client's hostname in the install server's /etc/hosts (or configure the install server to use the DNS server which resolves IRIX client hostnames as well).

    If you later, during installation, get log reports like "ignoring request for server... ", it means you made one or more of the following errors:
    - did not use client hostname as the first field in /etc/bootptab
    - did not use server hostname in Irix's "remote server: " prompt during installation
    - did not use the exact install server's hostname in DNS config

  3. Tftp server (Homepage:, package tftpd)

    - /etc/inetd.conf: tftp                       dgram     udp         wait       nobody   /usr/sbin/tcpd   /usr/sbin/in.tftpd /

  4. Rsh server (Homepage:, package rsh-redone-server, or rsh-server on older Debians)

    - /etc/inetd.conf: shell     stream   tcp    nowait   root    /usr/sbin/tcpd   /usr/sbin/in.rshd
    - /etc/hosts.equiv: cyberstation boyd (these are two hostnames, and each hostname needs to go in its own line, not in one line like shown)
    - Add user "guest" to the system, and create ~guest/.rhosts with 1-line content: root
    - Set guest user's shell to /usr/local/bin/kshwrap, and create that file to contain:
         exec /bin/mksh
    - Chmod the kshwrap script to 755

    This is much better solution than having to replace system's /bin/sh shell with Korn shell, like some other folks have advised. Replacing /bin/sh with Korn shell makes your system unbootable and causes enough problems that it's not possible to permanently have it that way.

  5. Enhanced version of the Korn Shell (Homepage:, mksh)

    You mush use mksh, other shells won't work.

    - Nothing, just install it, and make sure /bin/mksh is there. (Location isn't fixed, but if you change it, make sure you adjust my example configs which use it).

Monitoring log files on GNU/Linux install server

tail -f /var/log/{syslog,messages,auth.log}

Starting installation from IRIX client

I hope this is all. Comments welcome. - Advanced Unix-based networks for commercial and education sectors.