Alpine Linux

Table of Contents

Random notes from a long time Ubuntu / Red Hat user whose Alpine installation count is going up.


Alpine Linux initial released in 2005. From Wikipedia page:

Alpine Linux is a Linux distribution based on musl and BusyBox, designed for security, simplicity, and resource efficiency. It uses a hardened kernel and compiles all user space binaries as position-independent executables with stack-smashing protection.

Because of its small size, it's heavily used in containers providing quick boot up times.

As one of the most favorite base image of docker due to its small size, it is also a capable desktop and server OS. However due to its use of musl instead of glibc, there are some difference with other Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Debian or Red Hat.

Experience as a Ubuntu User

Installation

Unlike Ubuntu, Debian and many other distros, Alpine installation is command line driven with helper script.

Minimalistic Base

Alpine base installation mainly install busybox utilities. Following are some packages I installed manually:

  • avahi - Avahi mDNS/DNS-SD daemon.
  • dbus - avahi dependency but did not pull in. Install manually.
  • drill - dig replacement.
  • findutils - Install this if you want locate.
  • openssh-client - For scp.
  • samba-common-tools - samba tools.
  • samba - File sharing.
  • sudo - Yes, you have to install sudo yourself.
  • util-linux - For uuidgen if you don't want to use dbus-uuidgen.
  • wpa_supplicant - For wi-fi connection.

PS: Alpine packages don't bundle with man page. You have to install them separately.

Work Differently

Alpine use busybox to provide most command line utilities. As aa result many commands don't work the same as other distros. Following are a few examples:

  • dropbear - openssh drop-in replacement. Do not support ed25519 keys.
  • nslookup - No interactive mode.
  • top - No color. Different hot-keys.

Not Available or Don't Work

  • mdns - Due to current limitation of musl library, Alpine does not support multicast-dns resolution. Running avahi-daemon only allow other devices to find the Alpine server.
  • w, last - User accounting not working.

Conclusion

Each Linux distribution has its own characteristics. Alpine Linux standout for its simplicity and minimalistic approach of package building. This is not an exhaustion list nor about good or bad of Alpine, but some random notes from a long time Ubuntu / Red Hat user whose Alpine installation count is going up.

John Siu
Minimize the Effort, Maximize the Effect!
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