Review: Alpine Linux is small, fast, and different

Stripped-down Linux distribution shines for containers and appliances, but you have to earn it

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At a Glance
  • Alpine Linux 3.6.2

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    on Alpine Linux Development Team

Alpine Linux is a minimal Linux distribution, originally built with Gentoo, but now independent and self-hosting. In some respects Alpine is conceptually similar to NanoBSD, in that technical users can start with Alpine to build a Linux system with just what is need to accomplish the mission, and nothing more.

Typically seen embedded in devices or appliances, Alpine got a big boost when it was selected to replace Ubuntu as the base image for Docker. Security, reliability, and solid development practices were the main reasons.

Alpine is unlike any Linux distribution that a typical Linux desktop user will have encountered. Let’s start by looking at the /bin directory, where system utilities are kept: 

bin directory listing rev IDG

Notice that nearly all binaries are links to /bin/busybox. Busybox is a set of common user and system utilities packaged into a single binary for faster startup, lower space requirements, and generally better security, at the cost of reduced functionality. Many of the infrequently used options to the utilities have been removed, but all the common options remain.

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