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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Source-based distributions, the good side.

I am no fan of source-based dis­tri­bu­tion­s. I think that for most prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es, a dis­tri­bu­tion where in­stalling KDE takes over a day (I own a low­ly Duron as my fast com­put­er) is use­less.

How­ev­er, they are good for one par­tic­u­lar niche.

Cus­tom dis­tri­bu­tion­s. Weird dis­tri­bu­tion­s. Per­son­al dis­tri­bu­tion­s.

I have sev­er­al com­put­er­s. Most of them too slow and small.

As I was con­sid­er­ing re­in­stalling Lin­ux on my Li­bret­to for fun, I looked at what was in­stalled in it, and de­cid­ed that re­al­ly, 90% of it was of no use what­so­ev­er.

The prob­lem was, since it had De­bian in­stalled, it has a rather wide net­work of de­pen­den­cies that sim­ply could not be done with­out.

On a reg­u­lar com­put­er, that's not an is­sue, but in this tiny workhorse, with 16MB of RAM and a 800MB HD, it makes a lot of dif­fer­ence. The small­est I could get De­bian to be, and still have net­work, PCM­CIA and X11, was about 250M­B.

And the per­for­mance was not awe­some, ei­ther (but not ter­ri­ble).

So, what would hap­pen if in­stead of a reg­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tion it had some­thing like this:

  • uClibc in­­stead of glibc

  • runit in­­stead of SYSVinit

  • drop­bear in­­stead of OpenSSH

  • X built as kdrive (former­­ly tinyX)

  • python/qt (or maybe python/fltk) for ba­sic ad­min tools

And so on. Ba­si­cal­ly re­jig­ger the whole soft­ware se­lec­tion slant­ing it to­wards the small side, and drop­ping a bazil­lion non-­fun­da­men­tal de­pen­den­cies along the way.

Well, it can be done. It's just that it's a heck of a lot of work. But here, a source-based dis­tri­bu­tion gives you a head­start.

For ex­am­ple, I de­cid­ed to start from ucrux, a uClibc-based port of Crux. Since the na­tive toolchain in ucrux is uClibc, I don't have to wor­ry much about a whole class of mess that hap­pens when you build uClibc-based bi­na­ries on a glibc-based sys­tem (it's prac­ti­cal­ly cross-­com­pil­ing).

Qe­mu lets me in­stall ucrux and work on it some­what faster than on the tar­get P75 (if I could make KQE­mu work I'd be hap­pi­est).

Since crux's soft­ware pack­ag­ing mech­a­nism is sim­plic­i­ty it­self (a shell script that in­stalls to a fake root), al­though it's se­vere­ly un­der­pow­ered (no de­pen­den­cies), I can start from ucrux, hack the build of one pack­age at a time, then put ev­ery­thing on a CD very quick­ly.

So, if you want to hack your own dis­tri­bu­tion, Crux (or some oth­er sim­i­lar kit) is quite a nice thing.

For gen­er­al use... well, my re­quire­ments start at ap­t-get or equiv­a­lent ;-)

Now, if on­ly Tiny­CC worked for more pro­gram­s, that P75 would be a pock­et de­vel­op­ment pow­er­house!

an anonymous coward / 2006-04-03 15:36:

gentoo gives you a ulibc use flag and i bet there is a kdrive ebuild... jupp... dropbear as well - runit is in aswell, but you probably need to configure your own stuff...

happy hacking

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-03 15:37:

Well, crux ports are still quite simpler than gentoo ebuilds, though, and I can't find a gentoo image that starts the installation as a uClibc system from the beginning :-(

an anonymous coward / 2006-04-03 15:45:

Here are the stages .. stage1 is just the base stage3 is already a complete system .. its quite smaller with uclibc than normal :)

and I think most of gentoo should work with uclibc .. so you dont have to make your own ebuilds/scripts.

Evan "JabberWokky" E. / 2006-04-03 15:48:

You've just described OpenEmbedded... specifically the Opie system. Check out for more information.