Alpine Linux is a community developed operating system designed for x86 routers, firewalls, VPNs, VoIP boxes and servers. It was designed with security in mind; it has proactive security features like PaX and SSP that prevent security holes in the software to be exploited. The C library used is uClibc and the base tools are all in BusyBox. Those are normally found in embedded systems and are smaller than the tools found in GNU/Linux systems.
Why Should I Try It?
We're partial, of course, but here are a few reasons:
What's It Like?
It started out Gentoo-style, but is now self-hosting. The network configuration is similar to Debian. If you've ever used a BusyBox-based system before, it's pretty good. The Alpine developers have contributed a number of enhancements to BusyBox, in an effort to make the system run like any other.
As it is a BusyBox-based system, there are no manpages by default; BusyBox applets do not have all of the features of their real counterparts. So, you will run into situations where things don't run like they do on a "real" Linux system. When you run into those situations, just remember these two things:
What Should I Know?
In addition to basic UNIX management, you should know that...
You should also know that we are engineers, not documenters. There's not alot of documentation out there (yet). We are working on it, but could use the help. So in many cases, things are not documented as well as they should be.
How did Alpine Linux Begin?
Alpine Linux began life as a fork of the LEAF Project. The active members of the LEAF Project wanted to continue making a Linux distribution that ran off of a single floppy disk and we think that's great; however, our needs required Squid, DansGuardian, Samba, and a slew of other heavyweight applications. So, we ended up with a set of packages that fit onto a CD-ROM.
Why the Name Alpine?
Alpine originally stood for A Linux Powered Integrated Network Engine. The idea was that the distro would be focused on networking, and be a tiny "engine" or framework upon which larger systems could be built. Today, Alpine lives up to that name. The first open source implementation of Cisco's DMVPN, called OpenNHRP, was written for Alpine Linux. Improvements to networking functions in the Linux Kernel have started from patches and the needs of the Alpine Linux team.
In addition to its use as a firewall/router, Alpine Linux is also used in a number of installations as the basis for enterprise servers, running software such as PostgreSQL, Postfix, Asterisk, Kamailio, and being used for iSCSI SANs. It is the little engine that could.
Nowadays, Alpine is just a name.