The Hurd on Bare Metal Update —

The Hurd on Bare Metal Update

by Joshua Branson — January 07, 2024

Running the Hurd on Bare Metal

So apparently, you can run X on the Hurd, and I am currently daily driving the Hurd. It's not perfect. Once a month or so the Hurd will lock up completely, and I will have to hard shutoff the machine and deal with filesystem corruption. But it does work! You will need to read the whole Debian wiki page. There are sections that mention how to upgrade to the unstable distribution, setting up X, and the correct upgrade procedure:

# apt update
# apt upgrade --without-new-pkgs
# apt full-upgrade

Let's install some packages and set up X.

# apt install i3 xinit pinentry-gnome3
# Tell X to let any user startx (it is better to let only console
# users to start X, but that is not working for me.
# apt dpkg-reconfigure x11-common xserver-xorg-legacy

Create a keyboard shortcut to kill X, because X may get stuck.

cat /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/xorg-ctrl-backspace.conf

Section "InputDevice"
        Identifier "Generic KeyBoard"
        Driver "kbd"
        Option "XkbOptions" "terminate:ctrl_alt_bksp"

If, I am running X, then the best way to shutdown the computer, is to first kill X, then from the console execute sudo halt. I tried to issue sudo halt from an xterm, and that caused some filesystem corruption on my /home partition.

So what works?

  • Emacs 29.1

    • Gnus
    • magit
    • erc
    • org-mode
  • git send-email

  • netsurf web browser

    I "ported" it via hard-coding PATHMAX, which is not an ideal solution, but at least I have a web browser that can render simple websites like Wikipedia.

  • ffmpeg

    I actually use recordmydesktop --no-sound --fps 2 on the Hurd machine. This does actually work. I tried using ffmpeg on my Guix System to add audio to the file, but the audio is out of sync with the video. I'm not sure why.

  • terrible-mdns-responder

    Sergey created this as a way to easily ssh into his hurd box from a GNU/Linux machine. I use it like so: ssh joshua@pippin.local, and I can ssh into my Hurd machine without having to know its IP address. It's pretty cool!

  • i3

    i3 is probably the slickest window manager out there! Since the Hurd is currently X only, I might as well use something light-weight that I like.

  • pastebinit

    It would be nice if netsurf would work with a pastebin, but it's not. So the pastebinit command works.

  • ikiwiki

    I can update the GNU Hurd wiki entirely using the Hurd. That's awesome!


There are some gotchas when running the Hurd.

If, /home or / are readonly, then X will refuse to start and will not tell you why. So, my .bashrc has this in it:

cat .profile | grep -A 15 'tell me'

# tell me if / or /home are writeable or not.
echo -n '/ is '
myroot=$(fsysopts / | awk '{ print $2 }')
echo $myroot
echo -n '/home is '
myhome=$(fsysopts /home | awk '{ print $2 }')
echo $myhome

if [ $myhome == "writable" ]; then
    echo "starting X";
    echo "NOT starting X";

When I have filesystem corruption, I need to umount / and /home and run fsck on them. Then reboot. Most of the time the Hurd can auto run fsck for you, but sometimes it is so bad that you must do it yourself.

When you have to fsck the filesystem, here is how to do it. You have to login via root, then umount /home && umount /. Then run fsck.ext2 /dev/hd0s1 && fsck.ext2 /dev/hd0s6. Now reboot.

I also cannot shutoff the machine from a terminal inside X. I first have to kill X, and then shutoff the machine from the console.

Also, apt is apparently not the best tool to install various packages. It is actually better to use aptitude. # apt install elpa-magit fails, but #aptitude install elpa-magit somehow works. I do not know why.

This is kind of new, but sudo is failing:

$ sudo ls
malloc(): invalid size (unsorted)

I would love to get haunt running on the Hurd, and it does run! But it fails to build this blog. At first it was that guile-commonmark was not installed. Then it was that haunt could not find guile-commonmark. The fix was pretty easy. In the haunt source code directory:

$ export GUILE_LOAD_PATH=/usr/local/share/guile/site/3.0"
$ ./configure

So that helped me build haunt correctly and it could find guile-commonmark. But then it needed guile-reader installed as well. Now I can't build guile-reader.

$ autoreconf -vif
autoreconf: error: automake failed with exit status: 1

And of course the ./configure in the guile-reader directory failed too.