distri — a Linux distribution to research fast package management

This repository contains distri, a linux distribution research project.

The contents form a proof-of-concept implementation of the simplest¹ linux distribution I can think of that is still useful². Interestingly enough, in some cases the simple solution has inherent advantages, which I explore and contrast in the articles released at https://michael.stapelberg.ch/posts/tags/distri/

  1. simple: while all the typical building blocks for a Linux distribution are present (a package builder, installer, tooling for creating patches, preparing package download mirrors, etc.), they all leave out many features. For example, the package format intentionally leaves out triggers and hooks, but can parallelize installation as a result.

  2. useful: I have successfully booted and used distri images on qemu, Google Cloud, a Dell XPS 13 notebook. This includes booting from an encrypted root file system and running Google Chrome on Xorg to watch Netflix, which I consider a proxy for having a useful system.

Note that due to its research project status, it is NOT RECOMMENDED to use distri in ANY CAPACITY except for research. Specifically, do not expect any support.

distri is published in the hope that other, more established distributions, will find some parts of it interesting and decide to integrate those.

For more details, please see my blog article “introducing distri”. You can subscribe to all distri-related posts by subscribing to https://michael.stapelberg.ch/posts/tags/distri/feed.xml.

Giving feedback

Please send feedback to the distri mailing list so that everyone can participate!

You can also talk to us by connecting to https://robustirc.net/ and joining the #distri channel. Please stick around for a while, not everyone is at their keyboard all the time :)

Getting started

Find current images of the jackherer release branch at https://repo.distr1.org/distri/jackherer/img/.

With all images, use the root account, password peace, to log in.

TIP: If you can, use BitTorrent—repo.distr1.org is located in Europe, so transfers to other continents may be slow.





Run distri on real hardware

The easiest way to run distri on real hardware is to install it onto a spare USB memory stick.

Obtain a stable path to your USB memory stick by watching /dev/disk/by-id while inserting the stick:

% watch -dg ls '/dev/disk/by-id/*'

Then, copy the distri-disk.img image onto the memory stick:

dd if=distri-disk.img of=/dev/disk/by-id/usb-SanDisk_Extreme_Pro_D99B-0:0 bs=1M status=progress oflag=direct

Insert the memory stick into a computer and select the memory stick as boot device.

Run distri in Docker

NOTE: As a heads-up, the docker container image is pretty large

  1. (If you’d rather use a local docker container, build it locally: distri pack -docker | docker import - distri).
  2. Then, run bash within the distri docker container:
    docker run \
     --privileged \
     --entrypoint /entrypoint \
     -ti \
     -e TERM=$TERM \

Run distri in qemu

Depending on what you want to test, the text-only serial interface might be a bit more convenient: it side-steps keyboard configuration mismatches and makes it easily to run distri remotely via an SSH session:

make qemu-serial DISKIMG=distri-qemu-serial.img

(You can exit by pressing Ctrl-a x)

If you want or need a graphical interface, use the qemu-graphic target with the standard distri-disk.img image:

make qemu-graphic DISKIMG=distri-disk.img

Run distri in virtualbox

  1. Convert the distri disk image into a VDI disk image so that virtualbox can use it as a root disk:

     vbox-img convert \
     	--srcfilename distri-disk.img \
     	--dstfilename vbox-distri.vdi \
     	--srcformat RAW \
     	--dstformat VDI
  2. Create a new VM:

    • click new button
    • select type linux
    • select version other linux (64-bit)
    • select the VDI disk image from step 1 as existing disk

Run distri on Google Cloud

TIP: The instructions below create a VM in the US so that it qualifies for GCP’s Free Tier. If you’re willing to pay the cost, creating the VM in Europe will result in faster installation.

  1. (If you’d rather use your own Google Cloud Storage bucket, import the distri-gce.tar.gz image into your Google Cloud Storage: gsutil cp distri-gce.tar.gz gs://distri-gce.)
  2. Create a Compute Engine Image: gcloud compute images create distri0 --source-uri gs://distri-gce/distri-gce.tar.gz
  3. Create VM using that image: gcloud compute instances create instance-1 --zone us-east1-b --machine-type=f1-micro --image=distri0
  4. Log in via the serial console and set up an authorized SSH key.

Run distri in LXD

See https://linuxcontainers.org/ for details on LXD, the latest LXC experience.

  1. Loop-mount the root partition of the distri disk image:
     udisksctl loop-setup -f distri-disk.img
     mount /dev/loop0p4 /mnt/distri
  2. Archive the root file system:
     tar -C /mnt/distri -caf distri-rootfs.tar .
     umount /mnt/distri
     udisksctl loop-delete -b /dev/loop0
  3. Create an archive containing the metadata.yaml file for LXC:
     cat > metadata.yaml << EOF
     architecture: x86_64
     creation_date: 1566894155
       description: distri
       os: distri
       release: distri jackherer
     tar -caf metadata.yaml.tar metadata.yaml
  4. Import the image:
     lxc image import metadata.yaml.tar distri-rootfs.tar --alias distri
  5. Create an LXC container using the image:
     lxc init distri distri-01
     lxc config set distri-01 raw.lxc lxc.init.cmd=/init
  6. Start the container and run a shell in it:
     lxc start distri-01
     lxc exec distri-01 bash

Cool things to try

Fast package installation

<img src=”https://asciinema.org/a/cwHaOq7LnY01lFB7kpQbAOVua.svg” alt=”asciicast” height=200 align=”left”>

  1. Verify i3status is not yet installed: i3status --version
  2. Install the i3status package: distri install i3status
  3. Verify i3status is now installed: i3status --version

Specific package versions

<img src=”https://asciinema.org/a/VDKEQmsipIAy7e1FNTW3UbEt5.svg” alt=”asciicast” height=200 align=”left”>

  1. Find out which package a file belongs to: readlink -f /bin/i3

  2. If we are unhappy with the path that the exchange directory references, we can side-step it and make a specific selection:

    % i3 --version
    % /ro/i3-amd64-4.15*/bin/i3 --version
    % /ro/i3-amd64-4.17*/bin/i3 --version

Exchange directories

<img src=”https://asciinema.org/a/LFgF05pfvVwdIRghd19VTCXpB.svg” alt=”asciicast” height=200 align=”left”>

  1. The /bin directory contains all executables: ls /bin
  2. distri implements common file system hierarchy locations such as /usr/include as a symbolic link to an exchange directory: ls -l /usr/include
  3. Exchange directories consist of symbolic links to the files of individual distri packages: ls -l /usr/include/

C build environment

<img src=”https://asciinema.org/a/LKvo6Ja8yUEvsVYJHMMeclIAq.svg” alt=”asciicast” height=200 align=”left”>

  1. Make available the build dependencies using distri install autoconf automake make gcc libxcb xorgproto
  2. Build standard C software as usual:
    % git clone https://github.com/i3/i3lock
    % cd i3lock
    % autoreconf -fi
    % mkdir build && cd build
    % ../configure
    % make -j8