root and /home partitions

James Wilkinson ubuntu at
Tue Jun 7 12:42:20 UTC 2005

Matthew S-H wrote:
> Also, I think that distros based on the same thing should be able to  
> share better.  In other words, Ubuntu and Debian Proper should be  
> able to coexist using the same /home partition better than Ubuntu and  
> Fedora/Red Hat or Mandrake.

That sounds ... implausible.

Sharing $HOME between different Unix variants on different processors
has been possible for at least fifteen years. Linux itself is capable of

The problems come when applications make changes to the format of their
hidden files that aren't backwards compatible (so a 1.x version of the
program can't understand a file written by 2.0). If one computer has a
2.0 version installed, and another still has a 1.x version installed,
you're in trouble.

But that's an application level problem. You'd get that if you were
running the stable and development versions of the same distribution, if
stable had 1.x and development 2.0. And *which* distribution doesn't
make much difference.

In fact, if Debian and Mandrake provided a different set of
applications, then they'd use different hidden files anyway and you
wouldn't see any problems.

I'd argue that it's a program bug, plain and simple.

A better approach would be to have different (possibly numbered) files
for the different versions. At least that way each version wouldn't
tread on the toes of the other one. But it does mean that if you change
stuff in 2.0, it won't be changed in 1.x. And there's no way of clearing
up the old 1.x file (except manually).

A still better approach might be to have self-describing files, so that
the bits that *didn't* need to change could stay constant.

But in order to get there, you'd need to change file formats...


E-mail address: james |  ... File not found, I'll load something *I* think  |  is interesting.

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