GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams
Debian Packages: hotplug usbview usbutils
See Chapter 57 for details on mounting USB devices using udev.
USB is well supported in Debian. USB allows plug-n-play functionality of many devices. Installing hotplug (or the older usbmgr) will install a daemon that monitors the USB ports and install the appropriate modules when devices are plugged in, while also noting when they are removed. The usbview command will display the tree of USB devices connected in a window, while the lsusb command lists in a terminal the usb devices. The usbmodules command will list the drivers that might be able to manage interfaces on currently plugged in USB devices.
For USB devices simply connect them to the USB socket and hotplug will notice the new device and load the appropriate modules. (The alternative usbmgr daemon will beep twice as it notices new devices.) The lsusb command will show that the device is recognised. What happens next depends on the type of the device.
The basic kernel module required to use USB at all is usbcore, the bottom layer of USB support. It should automatically be loaded by your kernel.
Further information about USB under GNU/Linux is available from http://www.linux-usb.org/. In particular, see http://www.linux-usb.org/USB-guide/book1.html.
Generally, newer kernels are required. For example, with kernel-image-2.4.16-686 a USB 20GB Hard Disk and USB DVD Burner worked but a USB Printer did not. With kernel-image-2.4.20-686 they all worked.