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Old 10-17-2011, 05:32 PM   #1
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What makes up a Linux installation?

Hi All,

I posted a thread recently for advice on good distributions that would fit my needs and eventually tried installing a few in virtualbox to test out. I am currently trying arch and was also thinking about trying slackware.

The reason being is that I quite like the idea of a minimalistic approach that I can build upon and install and configure only what I want running, but this has led me to my biggest problem. I don't really know what I need and what I can do without, because I don't understand what a Linux distro is built up from.

In the broadest sense I know there is a base system, which would consists of a kernel and CLI, but even from that level there are background processes and modules running that I have no idea about, and the more you add to the mix, the more this becomes a problem.

It's a big ask for me to expect you guys to go through all the wee bits and bobs that make Linux what it is, but can anyone point me to somewhere which pretty much spells it out for me? I really want to cherry pick what I want in, what features of a GUI like gnome or KDE can I leave out, as well as other areas of the system.

There seems to be so much going on and I feel dizzy trying to make sens eof it all.
Old 10-17-2011, 05:46 PM   #2
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I think that Arch would be a good choice. Check out the Arch wiki for beginners:
Which will guide you through building your system. I'm not sure to what extent you want to customise it, but the guide is definitely a good start.

The standard Slackware approach is slightly different. By default it's recommended to do a full install. As far as I remember there are a few threads here on LQ about
minimalist slackware installations so you might want to search the forum.

IMO, ultimately, you really need to know what YOU expect from your system before you start building a minimalist/customised system.
Old 10-17-2011, 05:51 PM   #3
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+1 to the Arch Wiki and Beginners Guide. It will teach you a lot about Linux in general, even if you aren't an Arch user. The ideas of simplicity and control over the system are deeply ingrained in Arch culture.

Most distros these days are not "minimalist" because hard drive storage has become very cheap. It is easier to provide everything that the "typical" user needs rather than try to support a thousand different configurations. Generally speaking there is no drawback to having a few extra apps you probably won't use, because there is no performance drain until these apps are actually executed and loaded into RAM. (The exception being if you have a very small hard drive, such as a netbook.)
Old 10-17-2011, 07:18 PM   #4
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Unless you already know exactly what you want (and obviously its too early for that), just go with a default install and learn your way around. It'll take time, so don't rush.
Eventually you'll know what you want.
As per above, a non-running app is no prob, disk space is (very) cheap.
Also, its possible to turn on/off services that are installed, so you can customise those without re-installing.
This is a good tutorial and there are a lot(!) of distro specific manuals at

Old 10-18-2011, 03:37 AM   #5
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Thanks for the great advice everyone, I really appreciate you guys taking some time out to reply.
Old 10-18-2011, 10:25 AM   #6
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It does sound as if you are trying to run before you can walk, so do take it gently. In addition to the recommendation above, the Linux from Scratch book is a good read for what is going on 'under the hood'- I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing the full LFS thing (yet?), but reading the book really helps.
Old 10-18-2011, 11:40 AM   #7
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+1 to LFS. I tried it a long time ago and didn't manage to get a viable system out of it (I had just given up on my first install, Mandrake, which was rather new at the time), but I learned a _lot_ in the process.
Old 10-18-2011, 12:32 PM   #8
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well for starters there is

libraries (common code used by other programs)
daemons (networking, hardware abstraction, sound, video, input/output, etc...)
X server (on machines with gui)
window manager/desktop environment (for gui machines)
any server processes that might be running on server machines

that's just a small bit of what's going on, hope this helps
Old 10-18-2011, 01:41 PM   #9
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It seems many are in favor of Arch, and perhaps for a reason.

To me it is not clear whether you are really familiar with Linux and want to build a minimal system, or that you just want to build a minimal system.

In case you want it minimal and simple, consider Debian. Use the netinstaller, and near the end do not select the application you don't want, most notably leave the desktop out. This leaves you with a pretty bare, although workable system. Any application is just an apt-get away.

Old 10-18-2011, 05:08 PM   #10
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Hi Everyone,

Many thanks again for all the advice. I am currently posting this from an Arch 64bit install, seems pretty sweet so far, the config isnt much hassle when you kinda read the docs a few times. Pacman is brilliant, but a bit more playing around before I make up my mind.



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