April 25, 2019

Tiny Core Linux -- A Minimal Distro with Big Possibilities

From Barebones to Customized

  • March 19, 2009
  • By Paul Ferrill

Picking the right Linux distribution for a new task often comes down to comfort level. We all tend to lean toward things we're familiar with. So we go with the latest Ubuntu release and make it fit even though it might not be the best choice for the job. You can bet it will have a lot of extra baggage you don't really need for something simple like a home file server.

Tiny Core Linux (TC Linux) takes a minimalist approach to the base system and then lets you add just the pieces you need to get your job done. Once you have it configured like you want it you can then save the configuration to local storage. The core distribution, based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, is a mere 10 MB. In the end the goal of TC is to have an ultra small Linux desktop OS capable of booting from CDROM, USB disk or a minimal sized hard drive. The latest release (1.2) fixes a few bugs and adds a few new features as well.

Modes of Operation

Tiny Core offers four basic modes of operation with varying degrees of persistence. The default mode is to boot into RAM and download applications over the Internet when you need to run them. Everything runs from RAM so nothing is left behind, including any settings or configuration information. Minimal hardware requirements include an i486DX processor (486 with math processor) and 32MB of RAM. A Pentium 2 or better processor with 128 MB of RAM is recommended.

Modes two and three consist of using a Persistent Personal Repository (PPR) with either compressed or uncompressed extensions. The difference comes from loading applications from RAM (TCE) or from a compressed file stored in the PPR (TCZ). TCZ extensions use either cramfs or ziofs to minimize the storage requirements in the PPR. Another advantage of using the TCZ option is the ability to run applications when you don't have a network connection.

The final mode is called Persistent Personal Installation (PPI) and uses the TCE extensions saved to the local drive. Additional extension codes (l or m) will automatically download and configure libraries or modules as required along with the dep extension for dependency resolution. This mode works well with either USB or fixed hard drives. For extra security you can choose to encrypt the home directory using an encrypted loop back file.

A backup / restore option makes it possible to save your settings and personal files to a separate device. You'll need to edit the file /opt/.filetool.lst to add or remove files and directories to save. You can also explicitly exclude files using another file /opt/.xfiletool.lst. The default is to backup the entire /home/tc directory unless excluded.

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