alpineAlpine Linux is a distribution designed primarily for use as a router, firewall and application gateway. The latest stable version, Alpine Linux 2.0, was released last week (August 17, 2010). This review is the first for this distribution on this site, and also marks its first listing in the Firewall & Router category.

Installation: Installation of Alpine Linux to hard disk is via a text-based interface. The setup-disk script takes care of the completed automated installation, and the whole process takes less than two minutes. By default, the script creates the following partitions (test installation on an x86 computer with a 250 GB hard drive):

  • /boot of 100 MB
  • swap of about 1 GB
  • / takes up the rest of the disk space

Ext3 is the default file system. Alpine uses the OpenRC initialization and daemon management script, the same system used by Gentoo. Incidentally, the maintainer of OpenRC has given up on the project. There are several setup- script that you need to use to make the system usable.

Post Installation Configuration: Aside from formatting and installing a base system, Alpine’s installation script does very little else. Specifying a hostname, configuring the internal network interface, specifying a password for the root account, and other mundane tasks usually taken care of by other installation scripts, are some of the post installation tasks that you will have to get done. Alpine provides several setup- scripts that you have to use to perform most of the important post installation tasks.

For configuring the network interface (and a couple of other tasks), for example, you will have to use the setup-alpine script. The setup-interfaces script, which is expressly coded to configure network interfaces, is a dud. It does not work. So to configure a network interface on Alpine from the command line, you will have to use the setup-alpine script or the ifup command.

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Package Management: Apk is Alpine’s package management system. That is one more package manager that you will need to learn, if you want to use Alpine. It is just as easy to master as Debian’s apt. Apart from some basic packages needed to get the system up and running, virtually all the packages that you will be using on Alpine will be installed by you – after installation. That requires that you first append an online repository to the /etc/apk/repositories file. By default, a pointer to the installation medium is the only entry in this file.

Administration: Administrative access to a fresh installation of Alpine Linux is by direct access, using the passwordless root account. If you need remote access, you will have to first install the openSSH server (client and server installed at the same time by the apk add openssh command), or run the setup-acf script to install the Alpine Configuration Framework, an “mvc-style application for configuring an Alpine device” over a secure Web (https) interface.

The image below is the “home” page of the Web interface, but not from a default installation. The OpenVPN entry under Networking, the entries under Applications and the entry under Storage are all from a post installation operation,

Alpine's browser-based management interface

Like a default installation of Alpine Linux, the Browser-based management interface is very basic, lacking features needed to configure aspects of some of the services and applications. Most of what you will accomplish on Alpine will be from the command line (console or remote access via ssh).

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Features: A prominent claim on Alpine’s website is that it “was designed with security in mind. It has proactive security features, such as PaX and SSP, that prevent security holes from being exploited.”

With the appropriate applications installed, from the command line or from the browser-based management interface, Alpine Linux may be configured to serve as a firewall and IDS/IPS system, VPN server, VoIP server, Web and FTP server, etc. Alpine may be used to play any role within your network.

Final Thoughts: If you would like to take Alpine for a spin, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Become familiar with apk, the Alpine Package Management system.
  • Become familiar with the various runlevels, and how to attach services to them. If you are a Gentoo user, or are familiar with Gentoo’s init system, you should be right at home.
  • If you are a power user, or want to be one, the browser-based management interface, while intuitive to use, will be a secondary management tool. Most of the serious stuff you will be doing will be from the command line.

Resources: Alpine Linux provides three stable iso images for download: Standard, Mini and Vserver. Some tutorials and howtos are available here.


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9 Responses

  1. I gave Sabayon a spin a few months ago. I learned a great deal while playing around with it, and there is much to like in the Distro. However, the accumulation of minor irritations led me to abandon it back in April.

    I keep thinking of giving it another go, but on the basis of this review, will probably wait and see what 5.4 looks first.

  2. Even with a root account, sudo makes sense to have, especially when it is configured to not allow starting a root shell (or running a command that can create a shell). For one, it allows sharing admin access without sharing the root pass word. For another, it allows granting only a subset of commands. In fact, each user can be granted a different subset of commands. Also, properly configured, sudo will provide better logging of who ran what commands as root.

    1. In specialized usage environments, sudo has its place, but on a desktop distribution pushed out to the general public, I do not see the need. On a distro using the root account system, sudo is one of those facilities that should not be installed by default, but be left to those that need it to install and configure.

  3. Sabayon was my very first Linux Distro and it was a great place to start for someone with no experience in Linux. The community is fun and the developers are pretty cool folks. The Distro is a nest of bugs however, and the Developers are really not very interested in cleaning them up because they are too busy with future development, or they are simply not interested in fixing them.

    Sabayon has strong and deep roots in Gentoo, a community that has a legendary reputation for being the very first among newby unfriendly Distro’s. Alot of the Gentoo attitude spills over into this Distro and you will see RTFM thrown around from time to time, and you will learn something about Linux, like it or not as I did. I appreciate Sabayon for helping me learn the fundamentals of Linux, and for teaching me that there is definitely greener pastures in Linuxland out there, like Fedora, Ubuntu, and ArchLinux.

  4. The worst part of Sabayon experience is criminally bad support to setup static IP address.
    Just look on the net, everyone is having problems with this.
    I ended up being forced to use net-setup to set the static IP every time I boot the OS! It just forgets the setting one each reboot !!!!

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