Alpine Linux:Overview

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Alpine uses muslc as libc, and BusyBox as core utilities. These choices tend to make Alpine especially minimalist and secure.

Overall overview

Alpine are one (or almost the one) with more faster boot time start up operating system.

Famous because of its small size, it's heavily used in containers.

Also more famous due its widely used for embedded devices and as based work for many enterprise routers as main base system to develop those. The postmarketOS project which is designed to run on mobile devices is based on Alpine Linux.

So distinctive

Alpine Linux as the SSS distro: Simple+Small+Secure: due usage of muslc as the minimalist libc, BusyBox simple coreutils (with possibilities to alternate on inflated original packages of each coreutils tools also) and userland binaries compiled as Position Independent Executables (PIE) with stack smashing protection.

So efficient

Some obvious reasons:

  1. Usage of muslc as the minimalist libc
  2. Its own package manager called apk,
  3. the openrc init system, script driven set-ups and that’s it!
  4. busybox simple coreutils (with possibilities to alternate on inflated original packages of each coreutils tools also)

This provides you with a simple, crystal-clear Linux environment without all the noise, nothing else will get in the way.

So Secure

All userland binaries are compiled as Position Independent Executables (PIE) with stack smashing protection.

Technical overview

  1. The design OS

    Alpine uses Linux as kernel OS, and their focus are SSS distribution, Simple Small and Secure

    Due the prevously, it supports variety of architectures like:

    • x86_64: The popular AMD64 compatible 64-bit x86 based machines, i386 are not recommended for newer/lasted hardware.
    • s390x: For the Super powered IBM mainframes, especially IBM Z and IBM LinuxONE servers.
    • ppc64le: For the PowerPC devices with pure little-endian mode, mostly for POWER8 and POWER9
    • x86: (i386 pc 32bit) and x86_64 (i686 pc 64bit and amd64)
    • armhf: The newer ARM hard-float for newer, more powerful 32-bit devices alongside 64-bit
    • armv7: The 32-bit ARM only execution state of the ARMv7 devices machines.
    • aarch64: The 64-bit ARM only execution state of the ARMv8 device machines.
    • ppc64le: for 64-bit big-endian PowerPC and Power ISA processors like some MAC computers.
    • s390x: for Server for IBM Z and LinuxONE mainframes.

    It can be installed to a hard disk/SSD/other storage medium like any other distro; (sys mode). The storage medium in question can be any block device (USB, Flash, SDD, HDD). Always in start, the base Alpine system and all your changes will be unpacked into a memory-based filesystem. If run some install script process (data mode) will keep your setup on a hard disk/SSD/other storage medium, rather than unpacking into memory. The default setup here is to store your /var partition directly on the hard storage medium. But as in the diskless mode, your root system still comes from a static ISO image.

  2. The installation

    In Alpine's case, the installer consists of the /sbin/setup-* scripts, which are also part of the alpine-conf package.

    A base Alpine install will include only needed packages such like alpine-base, syslinux, linux-vanilla (or another kernel package), and depending of purpose some like openssh/chrony.

    Alpine's boot loader case this is syslinux, or its companions isolinux or extlinux. Lasted releases has Grub and UEFI support.

  3. The init system

    An "init system" includes several different components. First, there is the initramfs loaded by the bootloader. Alpine's tool for generating these is /sbin/mkinitfs, part of the mkinitfs package, which is required by Alpine's kernel packages and by its syslinux package. This tool's settings are read from /etc/mkinitfs/*, and it installs the initscript /usr/share/mkinitfs/initramfs-init into the initramfs.

    Second, Alpine uses OpenRC to handle the rest of its initscripts. The base framework of this is in the openrc package, which is required by alpine-conf.

  4. The packaging and development system

    The last important distinguishing feature of a Linux distro is its packaging and development systems.

    In Alpine's case, these are something a hybrid between ArchLinux's, on the one hand, and Gentoo and FreeBSD's, on the other. Our package-management and build utilities work much like Arch's:

    What Alpine borrows from Gentoo and FreeBSD is a tree of all the package-building scripts. We call this our Aports tree, and we keep it as a git repository. (Compare Gentoo's "Portage" and FreeBSD's "ports". You can setup something similar with Arch's "abs", but it's not as tightly integrated with their package manager and build utilities.)

    If you're only planning to install packages on a given system, and not do any development there, then the only pieces of this you'll need are mkinitfs and apk-tools, both included in a base Alpine install. If you do plan to do development, install alpine-sdk, which includes gcc, git, abuild, and the like, and see Developer Documentation.

See Also