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About Linux Meta-distros, part 2 May 11, 2007

Posted by samwyse in Reviews.
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Yesterday, I discussed my experiences with rPath, and the one thing that I dislike about it. (Fortunately, the developers are aware of the problem and seem to be working on it.) Today I’m going to discuss Linux From Scratch, aka LFS.

When I first decided to look at a base for my design, I went looking for distros that advertised themselves as “small”; DSL and Puppy Linux were the first two that I evaluated. Unfortunately, both of them are designed for desktop users and so included X servers. The good news is that either were small enough for my needs, the bad news is that I wanted an appliance, not a GUI, and neither had any obvious way to make them smaller.

Eventually, I found LFS, which promised that I could build exactly what I wanted. After playing with it for several days, I believe this to be true, but the process was non-obvious and very manual. The problem is that LFS is a teaching tool; it was designed for someone to enter every command by hand. All of these commands are listed, along with explanations of what they do, in a large on-line document. I already know Linux, so this wasn’t something I looked forward to doing. Other people apparently felt the same way, and so was created Automated LFS.

ALFS is mostly a tool that reads the XML source of the LFS book, extracts all of the sample code, and assembles it into a large Makefile. Like most automatically produced code, the Makefile isn’t easily edited by humans. If you want to produce a different end product, you really need to edit the XML that comprises the LFS book. Also, LFS is geared toward creating systems that can be used to create LFS. By default you get a GCC compiler and all of its associated tools, none of which I want. Also, you don’t get any server components like Apache or MySQL, which I do want. Those extra bits are availble in a different book, called Beyond LFS, but ALFS doesn’t quite play well with BLFS; you need to do a lot of editing of a personal copy before you use it.

Somewhat discouraged from breaking my copy of LFS, I went back and looked at DSL again. Serendipitously, I noticed that it used a package called Dropbear, a relatively small SSH-2 server and client intended for embedded Linux systems. A mouse-click later, I was looking at a list of distros that used Dropbear for secure remote access. This led me to T2.

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