Alpine Linux

What is Alpine Linux?

Alpine Linux is a small, security-oriented, lightweight Linux distribution based on the musl C standard library and BusyBox utilities instead of GNU.

Alpine Linux can operate on bare-metal hardware, in a virtual machine or even on a Raspberry Pi. The distribution is noncommercial and evolved for embedded and server-based workloads, although desktop OS use is possible.

Alpine Linux's features

Alpine Linux is a small and efficient distribution, with a minimal installation occupying approximately 130 MB of storage. It can run from diskless or disk installs and uses a distribution-specific package manager called apk to add, delete and repair packages.

Although Alpine Linux is general purpose, its base design is sparse, without GNU utilities, to help maintain a small footprint. Users can build custom packages or choose from thousands of existing packages, installing those that meet the needs of their specific workloads.

In addition, to use Alpine Linux, the administrator must be familiar with the Vim text editor. This editor is common in Linux distributions, but it might be difficult for Windows and macOS users to pick up.

Security on Alpine Linux

Alpine Linux has several features that promote security, including a hardened kernel, the OpenSSL toolkit and the OpenRC init system. In addition, the default installation of the OS is highly streamlined and simplified, which further strengthens security. Other security features prevent stack buffer overflow and memory corruption for every package.

Running containers on Alpine Linux

Alpine Linux is a popular OS choice for running containers, although it was not designed specifically for that task. Container environments have a small footprint, but Alpine Linux requires considerable installation effort to get Docker running correctly. For example, the Alpine Linux network connection for container operations involves manually creating the /etc/network/interfaces file.

The learning curve is therefore steeper for Alpine Linux than for container-centric OSes that are designed as plug-and-play container environments. Because it uses alternative Linux components, Alpine Linux may be less familiar for container admins compared with options such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux Atomic Host or Windows Server OS.

Development and versions of Alpine Linux

Alpine Linux's current development tree is demarcated as edge and the production-ready version as stable. Releases are generally supported for two years; currently, four versions are supported, in addition to the rolling development edition of edge.

This was last updated in June 2023

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