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The Best Distro For Newbies

By shoeboy in Op-Ed
Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 05:41:29 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

What is the best distribution for newcomers to Linux? It's not Debian, it's not Red Hat, it's not even Mandrake. And hold your tongues you FreeBSD zealots, 'cause it aint no *BSD varian neither. The ideal distribution for people who want to learn Linux is LFS.

Linux From Scratch has been mentioned here before, but there has yet to be a discussion of what building an LFS system entails and what the benefits are.

Linux From Scratch is just what the name implies, you start with an empty partition and install all the components of a working linux distro (from source) one at a time. It's time consuming and, since the LFS documentation isn't much better than that any other open source project, often extremely frustrating. But the experience is extremely rewarding. When you have to build the system from the ground up, you know exactly how the damned thing works.

I discovered Linux From Scratch back in February following a discussion in #trolls with Vladinator. I'd been helping Vlad with various sysadmin tasks on Geekizoid due to the stunning incompetence of the sysadmin of Engaging.net, Geekizoid's hosting provider. Vlad happened to mention that he had been running Linux since 1994, and I was stunned. Vlad, while well versed in philosophy, history and the mythologies of ancient civilizations, knows almost nothing about administering Unix systems. The idea that such an intelligent man could learn nothing in 6+ years of running Linux! I thought about this for a while and realized that everything that I knew about Linux was learned while attempting to fix things that had broken. The actual process of installing Linux (starting with Slackware in 1995) and using it on a daily basis had taught me nothing. Clearly this was a situation that needed to be rectified.

Initial searching led me to the Arrogant Gas Baron's Unix and Internet Fundamentals HOWTO, but life is too short to read anything by that flatulent fuck. I perservered, and eventually discovered Linux From Scratch.

Building an LFS system is fairly straightforward. You start with an existing Linux system and an empty partition. The next step is to download the source to the the various components. The LFS developers are nice enought to keep the list of recommended versions regularly updated as well as mirroring the tarballs on their site. Once you've downloaded everything, you compile the basic components (statically linked) and install them on the empty partition. This gets you ready for stage two when you chroot into the new partition and begin installing more components (including glibc) and then begin creating your init scripts and other configuration files. Finally, you boot into the new partition and finish the installation. There's a lot of duplicated work, and creating the init scripts is terribly tedious, but you're guaranteed to learn the hard way exactly what happens when you switch the box on. More importantly, you'll be able to kick sand in the faces of those 99 lb Debian using weenies the next time you go to the beach.

So who is LFS appropriate for? It's most definitely not for someone who just wants to "try Linux out" or "get a feel for it". This is the system for people who want to "learn all about Linux." Just make sure that they aren't on a 56k modem as they'll be ready to collect social security by the time they've downloaded the source to glibc, the kernel and X.


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The Best Distro For Newbies | 48 comments (45 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Confusion (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by starbreeze on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 04:48:54 PM EST

Interesting article but what I don't understand is you say its the best for newcomers. My view of a newcomer would be someone who *would* want to try it out for a while first and learn as a newbie. But you say to start with an existing Linux system. You've confused me already.

"There's something strangely musical about noise." ~Trent Reznor

Didn't mean to confuse you (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by shoeboy on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 04:50:57 PM EST

My "newbies" were those who wanted to "learn" Linux, not ones who wanted to "try it out."

No more trolls!
[ Parent ]
Newbies (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by starbreeze on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 04:59:36 PM EST

Well you still got a +1FP from me, but I think I kind of identify with the "try it out" crowd, I wanted to be clear. I've got this machine that is basically the old parts that I've upgraded in my other machine that has become kind of a test OS machine. I've only ever dabbled in any form of *n?x, so I think perhaps LFS isn't for me. But I know RedHat isn't either because it doesn't play nice. hehe.

"There's something strangely musical about noise." ~Trent Reznor
[ Parent ]

Ok, I'll byte (4.85 / 7) (#3)
by WinPimp2K on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 04:55:24 PM EST

The best distro for a newbie is not the same as the best distro for someone who "wants to learn about linux"

I don't want to learn about linux before I can be productive with it. I want a truly brainless install where I just stick the CD in the drive of a machine with an empty HD. When it is finsihed, I should have a bootable system that I can install my favorite development tools on. When I want net access I want to be able to add that in an equally painless manner. Of course, when I decide to expose that box to the real world I'll want to be able to secure it, so then I'll need to learn something security.

But for cripes sake, I want to break it into little bitty pieces with good docs on how to use each piece. Of course, this approach would work better with a real microkernal like QNX, but I'm not a religious zealot. Heck, I live i Texas and don't believe in f'ball

I dunno (3.66 / 3) (#7)
by shoeboy on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:12:00 PM EST

Most of the people I talk to who want to start with Linux are people who work with NT and want to hedge their bets. While they are, for the most part, skilled computer techs, they can honestly be considered "Linux newbies." Anyway, these are the particular newbies I had in mind.

No more trolls!
[ Parent ]
I was one of those once... (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by %systemroot% on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:33:03 PM EST

Well, sort of.

I actually attempted to install and learn Linux before I was working in the tech industry -- this was 1994, distro was Yggdrasil, and I never did get that particluar install to boot. (Of course, my OS knowledge at the time was limited to Win 3.1 and System 7)

IIRC, I had Slackware running as a play system for a while a year or so after that, but RedHat was the first distro that I did anything useful with, and that was concurrent to my first year or two as an NT sysadmin (around '97).

However, the flavor that I personally learned most from is FreeBSD, which can have a similar "buld-from-scratch" aspect if you choose to go that way from the install, and also has the advantage of not requiring an already running Linux system for installation. YMMV, of course.

In fact, I'm pleased to say that my *nix knowledge and skillset has improved to the point where I rarely have to do NT/2K system administration during my workaday life anymore. I must now be "l33t" or something.

[ Parent ]
It's the dredlocks (none / 0) (#11)
by shoeboy on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:39:57 PM EST

They make any normal man into a l33t tech god. You've still got those, right?

BTW, what did you think of my getting fired from Atom Films story?

No more trolls!
[ Parent ]
perhaps I could call them my "big kernel 'loc (5.00 / 1) (#17)
by %systemroot% on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 06:20:59 PM EST

Yep, still got 'em (pictorial proof on my 'page).

Hell, half the fun of being an IT professional is looking like a media stereoype.

Your story was entertaining and accurate from what little I could tell from my vantage point (I tried to emulate my _Hogan's Hero's_ namesake and see "Nothink! Nothink!" at the time...)


[ Parent ]
Heh...but I don't agree. (2.66 / 3) (#21)
by regeya on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 08:02:08 PM EST

The best distro for a newbie is not the same as the best distro for someone who "wants to learn about linux"

Yeah, but a newbie who builds a linux system this way, reads the instructions, and tries to understand what they're doing will learn more in two days than a Mandrake user will learn in a year. I guarantee it. I've used Linux since '96, and I learned more building my own system (back when I was still simmons75 here on kuro5hin) in two days than I had in four years.

I don't want to learn about linux before I can be productive with it.

Sounds like you're in the wrong place. There are other companies who cater to the "I just want my Internet to work good" crowd. Please tell me, how can you be productive without learning anything?

I want a truly brainless install where I just stick the CD in the drive of a machine with an empty HD.

You're in the wrong article, it isn't for you, and you could have saved several keystrokes by simply going here. Really, if your ultimate goal is to save time and keystrokes, why bother regurgitating the same inane reasons for not learning by doing?

Heck, I live i Texas and don't believe in f'ball

Good God, you've never taken the name of Tom Landry in vain, have you?

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

Calm down, stay of the caffeine for a while :) (5.00 / 2) (#23)
by NightRain on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 10:09:00 PM EST

I would assume he was 'regurgitating' the same sort of stuff, because, like me and I'm sure a few other people, after reading the article he was left with a feeling "That's for a newbie? wtf?". The distribution in questions is not aimed at someone new to linux who wants to ease their way in. It's aimed at someone, new or not, that wants to dramatically improve their understanding of Linux, far beyond what is possible in a normal distro. And while that is certainly a valid aim, you can't tell me that all newbies are in this boat.

You can disparage them all you want, but the simple fact is that there are people out there who want to 'do', and could care less about knowing why or how it works, just as their are people who want to know the how and why for their own improvement, and could care less about the productivity. And there is a large number of people in between, who want to use Linux to do something useful, and learn what they can as they go, without jumping in the deep end. I for one don't think telling these people to piss off and use a Mac is exactly contstructive.

Don't vote, it only encourages them!

[ Parent ]
Irony for ya (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by regeya on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 10:52:16 PM EST

I for one don't think telling these people to piss off and use a Mac is exactly contstructive.

If you read the toplevel comment, you'll note that the original comment was basically telling Shoeboy to piss off. Not in so many words, but go ahead, read it again...yup, it does.

And as for telling people who want an easy computing experience to go get a Mac, and saying that that isn't constructive...yes. Yes it is. ;-)

Seriously, the only reason I posted the original comment is due to my ongoing campaign against brainfarts, the "Oh, look, I couldn't care less about what you've written, so I'm going to post a 200-word-minimum comment telling you why I don't care." Or, as an alternative, "There's a flaw in your thinking; the flaw is that I don't like your reasoning." ;-) Doesn't make sense, does it? If you really don't care, why bother rambling? Or why bother posting your "in my opinion" B.S. at all? Ooh, look, it's a mojo whore--I have a popular opinion, so I'm gonna post my opinion so's I can get more mojo so I can tear some folks some new assholes soon. Woohoo.

Anyway, yeah, whatever. I was just replying to an inane comment with an inane reply. Move along, nothing to see here.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

Nah (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by DeadBaby on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:05:12 PM EST

Just buy a workstation from VA and you'll be all set. No need to install yourself.
- "Stay up late, smoke cigars, and break windows" - Tom Waits
Oh yeah... (3.75 / 4) (#12)
by msphil on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:45:54 PM EST

that'll work, or have you not yet seen the news?

[ Parent ]
Haha (4.66 / 3) (#13)
by UrLord on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:49:30 PM EST

How very appropriate for today :)

We can't change society in a day, we have to change ourselves first from the inside out.
[ Parent ]

great for learning (4.80 / 5) (#8)
by radar bunny on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:28:56 PM EST

I'm a pretty pure SuSE user for my desktops. But i read about this a litle over a year ago and have actually built one on a Slack box. I use it for learning programming and networkig and keep a CD with all the souce files and antehr one with a snapshot of the LFS partition incase of drive failure. Like the article suggest, you can be surprised at how much you DON'T know about linux by actually building a system from scratch.
And, yo can probably learn more abotu linuix from doing this than from a lot of books out there. One of the best things about this is not just how you can learn a lot, but how you can build something so specifically geared towards what you want and need. They actually sale a book with the full HOW-TO documentation or you can download it from their site here.
Check it out.

Next, I want to build a BSD box from scratch. should probably be just as "easy/hard".

ha (1.42 / 19) (#10)
by tarsand on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:33:47 PM EST

LFS isn't a distribution now is it?


shove it up your arse shoeboy!

"Oh, no, I agree with tarsand!" -- trhurler
Relax Linux (4.00 / 3) (#14)
by msphil on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:49:49 PM EST


Haven't extensively evaluated it yet, but it's a 90M download and doesn't require repartitioning. It uses (I believe) UMSDOS/VFAT features to pull an image from a directory on an existing Windows box.

Very non-intrusive, easily removed if necessary.

It'd be cool to wrap some games and/or demos with this, and basically turn the Windows box into a Linux Gaming Console :-)

Eh? Gaming console (3.40 / 5) (#26)
by John Milton on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 11:06:11 PM EST

I don't think that would be practical or desireable. Download a 90MB file to use Linux's inferior graphics drivers to play games.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

[ Parent ]
Relax (none / 0) (#42)
by wbd on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 06:04:31 AM EST

It's based on Peanut but uses Icewm instead of KDE & has a compiler included by default.

Check out Peanut too, great Distro. Very up to date, but not IMO bleeding edge. Roughly 84MB to dload last time I looked.

[ Parent ]

I see no real advandage... (4.66 / 3) (#15)
by beleriand on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 05:50:11 PM EST

in typing all those init scripts, etc. manually.

When i first heard about LFS (1-2 years ago?) i was enthusiastic to try install a LFS system. But after looking at the instructions, i decided not to because what it boils down to is that you do all the work that is normally done by a install script by hand. The LFS instructions actually look like a installscript in parts.
If i wan't to know/understand how the system works i prefer good doc and a sane system setup.

Since you mentioned BSDs.. I like FreeBSD. You can rebuild/upgrade the whole base system from sources (all available via cvs) with a single make. Same for most apps from the ports dir. If you wan't to know how it works just read the Makefile... (hehe)

*full scoffing mode* (4.00 / 2) (#20)
by regeya on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 07:02:59 PM EST

I see no real advandage(sic) in typing all those init scripts, etc. manually.

Then don't. Either have lynx running in a separate virtual terminal, or have a webbrowser running in X, and build everything from an xterm. Either way, go to the web browser, highlight the needed text, then go to your command prompt and click the middle button. That's the method I used.

Since you mentioned BSDs.. I like FreeBSD . You can rebuild/upgrade the whole base system from sources (all available via cvs) with a single make. Same for most apps from the ports dir. If you wan't to know how it works just read the Makefile... (hehe)

Yup...and if you want to see what can be done with sources from a portable OS, grab src.tgz, syssrc.tgz, pkgsrc.tgz, and the latest snapshot of zoularis from your favorite NetBSD mirror. Their "ports" tree can be used on Solaris and Linux, as well as their own system. Can't say the same about FreeBSD, at least not yet. :-)

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

so it looks like a bunch of scripts... (5.00 / 2) (#40)
by gerard on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 07:51:24 PM EST

does it matter, really?

I never claimed or intended that LFS is some revolutionary thing that will conquer the world and dominate over everybody. Heck, I didn't even plan for it to become this 'famous' (as far as one can call LFS famous, but with support from valinux, linux.com and other companies one may think there's more to it than just the time consuming part of it). I was using redhat and debian at the time I started LFS, I got so sick of getting stuck with their methods I wanted to create my own version and I figured "I may as wel document it in case somebody else has similar feelings towards distributions".

Turns out that there are thousands upon thousands who feel like it. Ok back to your note:
If you dont want to type out the scripts, then simply copy&paste them, or download them from the LFS ftp server. You can read the scripts in the book so you can see what's going on, and modify them to your _own_ taste if necesarry before you build an entire system (and can break your system if you change everything later. it's much easier to change it when nothing is using it yet).

And yes, in the end the book can be seen as a glorified shell script. But that's not the point really. You still install a system from scratch, dictate how it looks, what is installed from what package and the installation instructions are just a guideline how it can be done. If you don't want to type, then download the file that contains all those instructions in actual shell scripts.

The goal isn't to make your fingers hurt by typing everything out. Copy&pasting doesn't take away from the primary goal: teaching.

And after you are done you can always mke2fs, mkreiserfs or whatever that LFS partition and throw it away, but you won't throw away a potential amount of knowledge that is harder to obtain wiht a general distribution like Debian.

PS: I believe we all have established the fact that LFS is not meant for newbies. If newbies can read instructions they can install LFS but they won't be able to do much with it. Perhaps we can all stop repeating each other how LFS isn't meant for newbies? I'm biased of course, but I'd much rather discuss a positive reason or two why you might want to use LFS in some fashion.

Then again, this story isn't about it, so it probably won't happen. Oh well, such is life.

Gerard Beekmans

[ Parent ]
bsd newbie (2.80 / 5) (#16)
by Sikpup on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 06:12:20 PM EST

As a very much wet-behind-the-ears newbie (not a pro bsd radical) to the unix world, I've found the bsd package the easiest to work with of the three I own: Red Hat 6.2, bds 4.2, and hpux 11.0

It has been the simplest to configure and run. I haven't tried rh7.2, which I hear is quite good.

Looks like to each their own

Holy Shit! (2.00 / 1) (#25)
by Anonymous 6522 on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 10:59:32 PM EST

You're running 4.2BSD? Wow, that's cool, must have been a bitch to aquire the ancient hardware to run it on. Or did you mean FreeBSD 4.2? It's much easier to find hardware that will run it.

[ Parent ]
newbie, like i said... (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by Sikpup on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 03:40:06 AM EST

yes, I meant FreeBSD 4.2 - the nice little boxed book and cd set. I've got a good bit of ancient hardware around. Not sure what the Vic 20 is good for anymore...

[ Parent ]
I know what you mean. (none / 0) (#35)
by Anonymous 6522 on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 11:58:38 AM EST

I've got a kaypro II laying around, and it doesn't even work.

[ Parent ]
Red Hat Linux 7.2 (none / 0) (#46)
by Pink Daisy on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 11:22:15 AM EST

Current version of Red Hat Linux is 7.1, according to the Red Hat website. Interestingly, that's the same version as PostgreSQL, so the first release of Red Hat Database is also 7.1, and the next one could be anything; I'm guessing it will diverge from official version numbers of both Red Hat Linux and PostgreSQL.

The enterprise versions of Red Hat Linux are still 6.x; I guess they don't want to foist a new kernel or a less tested system somewhere mission critical.

[ Parent ]
I used to want to build a computer, too (3.80 / 5) (#18)
by weirdling on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 06:21:53 PM EST

Not just solder together a motherboard; I did that. I wanted to make a computer, the entire thing, out of MSL logic chips. They can be had rather cheaply and the circuits are easy to construct, and you certainly learn everything there is to know about how computers work, internally.
However, these days, I have much better uses for my time than doing things up from scratch. However, it is nice to know that someone has exploded Linux for those who wish to so create a system. For serious administrators who really want to know how Linux works, this would be an incredibly useful teaching tool, just like forcing programmers to learn assembly helps them make better and faster programs.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
Assembly (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by Steeltoe on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 03:23:56 PM EST

While this is somewhat correct, it implies you can make certain assumptions on what the compiler does and doesn't do. For example, it's much better to make general code instead of specialized code if the optimizer can optimize it away anyway. Also, the clocks used by the different opcodes have a tendency to change. Especially on Intel-processors. So your knowledge may be outdated.

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
I actually started doing this last night... (3.33 / 3) (#19)
by Sairon on Wed Jun 27, 2001 at 06:34:52 PM EST

Altough, I'm just "kinda" following their instructions. I'm actually more following the LSB, though. My reason for doing this much the same, though... I just don't feel I know enough about my system. Also, there are some things I'm just not happy with at this point, so I'm just gutting and goinig at it. I'm not sure that this is something for "newbies" though...


This idea won't work. (4.60 / 10) (#28)
by Fred_A on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 02:24:48 AM EST

I voted this story down because it relies on faulty assumptions by someone who's obviously not familiar with the way people learn.

I've been doing Linux since the very first slack and have been helping newbies get into it for all that time, recently through an IRC help channel I run.

I've had lots of experience with newcomers to Linux and teaching of both basing and advanced topics in computing. The idea of getting newbies to build a system from scratch, while tempting, just doesn't fly.

My experience with Linux newbies is that they are usually people who think they are knowledgeable about computing because they are comfortable in Windows and want to move to the next step. In most cases though, such users basically still don't know anything about a modern system :

  • They are not comfortable with the concept of a partition
  • They are confused by the fact that there can be several active users
  • They don't understand that X is just an application on top of the system
  • They are awed by the number of tools and utilities available in Linux
  • They have absolutely no idea what networking is about, what a port is, and so on.
Getting a newbie user to build his own Linux distribution implies that :
  • He knows what software to pick for installation
  • He knows what the expected architecture of a Unix system is
  • He knows what the init scripts are, why they are here and what they are supposed to do
  • He knows how to maintain a completely custom system
In Real Life, things just don't work that way. Newcomers to Linux (at least those that don't come from "real environments" such as another Unix, or VMS or similar systems, have absolutely no idea what a "large" system is. They come from dumbed down systems like Windows or MacOS and are about to find out that they can pretty much dump *all* of the knowledge they thought they had.

All this to say that a newbie user just cannot build a Unix system from scratch. It will take them weeks just to gatherthe prerequisite knowledge, from scratch, with no real life examp;es (i.e. a working system) to draw from, all this from random text files (provided they can even find them).

A newbie needs to be able to examine a working system and understand how the various bits interact. This means that that system will either have to be installed for him or that he needs a fully automated install procedure such as modern distros provide. Else he's going to be faced with unanswerable questions such as "Do you want to install awk ?". Only then, once he's grokked the system in part and in whole can he consider moving to a home built distribution to better understand how it all fits together. Getting him to start from scratch will only result in a very frustrated person who will *run* back to Windows (or MacOS or whatever) and forever consider Linux to be way too complicated.

Fred in Paris

Good point, but there are exceptions... (none / 0) (#38)
by Krum on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 04:37:34 PM EST

...like me, for instance. I'm familiar with all the things you mention -- for example, I've had multiple partitions on all my systems since the screaming 25MHz DOS box I bought back in high school. As for the implications of getting a newbie to do LFS, I think you've missed the point. These are exactly the things I've LEARNED from doing LFS. This is the REASON I am doing LFS (in addition to being the type of control freak for whom Gerard originally intended the project. ;) So while you're absolutely right about LFS not being for the average newbie, there are plenty of us who are serious about casting off the chains of MicroSuck. Don't dismiss outright the educational value of LFS!

[ Parent ]
Learn and throw away system (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by Nickus on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 02:57:31 AM EST

IMHO the LFS is a nice way of learning where things go. But the LFS is not anything more but an extended installation manual. You learn how to compile software and to place some config files in their right places. And that is about it. Do you really want to use that system later on. ? What happens when all the holes comes and you have to start patching. Tracking all packages and make sure you are up2date takes time. One of the best way of learning Unix is to use many different kind. I've been using Linux since 94 and I've been using a number of distributions since then. Today I get paid for taking care of Solaris machines and I've also been working with Tru64. Then you realize that there is more than one way of doing this.

Due to budget cuts, light at end of tunnel will be out. --Unknown
The first time I tried LFS... (3.00 / 2) (#31)
by Int0h on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 05:12:34 AM EST

...was a few months ago.

The reason? I wasn't happy with the current distros, because, then I would get alot of stuff installed that I wasn't aware of. Well, I guess I could've installed Debian or Slackware, but still, choosing which packages you need takes time. So I decided to go for LFS, since then I would know exactly what I had. I admit that I am only a little above the newbie level when it comes to linux or perhaps immediate, but still, I felt like it was something I could do.

So what happened? Well, I tried the LFS guide which was for the 2.2.x kernel, but by that time, the 2.4 kernel was just released and there where also a few more packages that had been upgrade, so I guess the guide and the software versions didn't quite match. I seem to remember myself reformatting the whole drive and then install windows again. :)

Anyways, my point is that anyone who has worked in a linux enviroment and understands the basic will be able to install LFS, but it'd be a lot easier if they decided to clear windows from their drive first and start with a drive without any partitions and stuff (which I didn't do).

LFS isn't meant for newbies (4.75 / 4) (#32)
by gerard on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 09:29:42 AM EST


As the project leader of LFS I have a few words to say on the issue.

First off, LFS is not meant for newbies. While we believe LFS is an excellent way to learn what makes Linux tick, it becomes hard to maintain if you don't know what you're doing.

You may want to have a look at this document that explains quickly what LFS tries to accomplish.

In the end LFS is best suitable for control freaks - for people who can't afford to trust pre-compiled binary packages and who can't wait for a security hole to be fixed by a distribution. And the list of possible reasons goes on and on.

Some have said that LFS wouldn't be a system that's usable for various reasons. You'd be suprised how well an LFS system works. Sure, it takes a bit more work to install programs if you compile them all from source but once it's installed you don't need to redo it 10 times a day. And people talk like you'd have to update your Linux system 100 times a day to fix all the security holes found. LFS has less holes to start with - you only have installed what you need, not what Debian or Mandrake or whoever decided you are going to need (it's real hard for you to get a generic Debian cd, install it and not end up with a lot of files you would never use, but which are sitting there, daemons running you never use, which pose all kinds of potential security problems). Sure, that statement may be a bit exagerated, but it's true to a degree nevertheless.

How usuable is an LFS system once you finish it? The last estimate we have are thousands of people having installed an LFS system and using it as their main Linux system now, and are quite happy with it.

Coming back to the topic of the story: yes, newbies could install LFS to learn some things from it, and then they could use the system as their main Linux system but without the prior Linux knowledge it'll be hard to maintain it. For such people strictly the learning is what they would get from LFS. But for everybody else a lot of satisfaction and security can be obtained from LFS, if you are willing to invest some time in it. We never claimed LFS is a fast way to go. The level of control it offers comes with a price.

Gerard Beekmans

interesting, but I don't think it would work (none / 0) (#33)
by Ender Ryan on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 11:39:51 AM EST

I understand that you're only referring to newbies who want to learn everything there is to know about Linux, but having a newbie build his/her own system from the ground up doesn't sound realistic.

It is an interesting idea though, and it would probably be extremely helpful for anyone who wants to learn exactly how linux works, but they should probably be at least somewhat experiences with Unix/Linux before attempting this.

Another good way to learn how everything works that is more suitable for newer users is upgrading everything from source. So, start with a working system, and then everything that needs to be updated, install from source.

Anyway, that's how I learned. I used RedHat for a while, then I switched to Slack because I wanted to try something different, then because of a lack of packages for most libs/apps, I was forced to upgrade everything from source.

I'm currently using Slack 7.0, and I don't think there is a single file on this machine from the original install. I'm fairly confident I could create my own linux system from scratch without following anyone's documentation, but not without difficulty of course.

Think of it like cars, you can learn everything there is to know by starting with a complete car, tearing it down completely and rebuilding it. Or, you could build a car from scratch from parts from a junkyard. The latter, while being more difficult, will probably teach you more, while the former, being much easier, will still teach you a lot.

In conclusion, I'd say the best way for people to learn is simply getting away from package management, learn how to do everything yourself. As a newbie, don't touch rpm or deb, as a more experienced user, try building your own system.

Of course, different strokes for different folks, YMMV, IANAL, etc.

Exposing vast conspiracies! Experts at everything even outside our expertise! Liberators of the world from the oppression of the evil USian Empire!

We are Kuro5hin!

Don't think it will work, have you tried it? (none / 0) (#36)
by ScotWork on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 01:12:59 PM EST

Are you commenting about something you haven't tried? It works, and unless you run into problems its goes fairly easily and the process is clearly written out. I was successful the first time I did. As well there are resources you can use when you do have problem, and there is almost always someone on the mailing list or the irc chat that can help solve the problem and teach you why it happened in the first place.

LinuxFromScratch is a veritable wonder. It is a project lead by a man who very much cares for the linux community and heads a team of devoted volunteer testers that test and ensure newly written source updates, and LFS install methods are solid and perform under a variety of applications.

Beginning on the road through LFS is a road which guarantees a worthy education in system development and administration. I having been a RedHat devotee for the last 5 years descovered how little I knew about how linux/unix systems worked. After having built approximately 30 LFS systems. I can now say I know quite a bit more that I had before. I had gone from being a user, to administrator nearly over night, and further more have learned enough to dive into source code troubleshooting and writing my own boot scripts (its not as easy as one might think, yet once you get it, its really not so hard.) Considering all the things LFS has done for my benefit, I would say that is something that works very well.

The benefits I would like to stress:
System Control
System Stability
Education (on far too many levels to list)
Great Friends
   (yes LFS has a great community unto itself)
Excellent Volunteer Support Structure

I think before anyone creates an opinion of LFS, one should at least drop into the irc channel and see what people are raving about. LFS is so addicting that you will almost be upset when you are done. You will find ways to tweeak your systems and installation procedures, and you will come up with ideas for system applications that you wouldn't have ever thought about if you hadn't the LFS exposure (On this I can guarantee).
Scot "Linux is a journey, not a guided tour."
[ Parent ]
you didn't read what I wrote (none / 0) (#37)
by Ender Ryan on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 04:16:35 PM EST

I said that it was probably too much for a newbie, but would good if you were already somewhat familiar with Linux and/or Unix.

Exposing vast conspiracies! Experts at everything even outside our expertise! Liberators of the world from the oppression of the evil USian Empire!

We are Kuro5hin!

[ Parent ]

Good Idea, too much work. (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by skyhook on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 11:57:24 AM EST

We became fed up with distro bloat too. We had a need for a quick and easy distro for servers. It didnt need any bells or whistles, since we were aiming at this for Apache servers.

So a friend of mine, who everyone just calls "doc" created what we now call "DocHat".

He installed a standard RedHat 7.1 box clean, and went about removing all the fluff. Anything that wasnt necessary was ditched. "As small as possible" wasnt a design goal. We still had to admin these boxes, so we included the tools we liked, zsh, lsof, netcat, etc.

When he was done he created a tar.bz2 of the entire system, omitting /home and /proc. That tar was placed on an FTP server. That tar file is 45meg.

We then use a three floppy boot disk. The first disk is a kernel compiled specifically for that box, including devfs to save space on disc2, which contains the bare minimum root fs loaded into ramdisk.

Once booted, we have access to fdisk, raidtools, mkfs, ifconfig and route, and ftp. As well as tar and bunzip2. It's a trivial matter to boot, fdisk, mkfs, ifconfig, ftp the 45meg tar over, untar into the new fs, edit the etc/sysconfig and other files in etc, create a proc and home dir on the mounted drive and reboot from disk three which is the same kernel as disk one, minus devfs. (As the tar system doesnt run devfsd)

Once rebooted we copy the kernel that's on disk3 into /boot, edit lilo.conf, lilo, reboot again (This time from the hard drive). In ten minutes (assuming the ftp of the 45meg tar is over ethernet, though we have done it over the internet) we have a fully functional bad to the bones linux box. I've created an rpm of perl 5.6.1 with all the modules we like which is rpm -Uvh'ed in place after the final boot. I have an apache rpm with all our setup pre done. I am creating a djbdns and postfix rpm. Essentially, we'll shortly be able to walk up to any box with three floppies and make it do anything in about fifteen minutes. Try that with a RH CD.

Want something even cooler? Check this...

[~ ct@zen]%mount
/dev/hda1 on / type xfs (rw)
none on /proc type proc (rw)
none on /dev/pts type devpts (rw,gid=5,mode=620)

I wanted to play with xfs as root fs. I created a kernel for my first floppy that included xfs support. On the box I ftp the tar from I placed mkfs.xfs someplace I could grab it.

I followed normal procedures, when I got to the mkfs stage I created a second three meg ramdisk, mounted it, ftp'ed mkfs.xfs into it, ran it on the partition, and proceeded like normal. At the end I had to edit the etc/fstab, and after all the reboots, I installed the xfsprogs rpm. Boom, instant xfs box, and it only took me about twenty minutes.

While this is NOT a setup for newbies, it does address the goals of the LFS project which is getting rid of distro bloat. I've now installed five machines this way and will never go back. Doc, at his company, has easily 75-100 machines running this way, three quarters of which are diskless netbooting off a DocHat image on an NFS server. It just works.

In the long run, I want to fit mkfs.xfs onto the second floppy so I dont have that extra work, since XFS appears to be the way to go. And I want to modify the tar.bz2 to use devfsd, so that we can use only one kernel, instead of having to have two. Also, I've figured out the list of rpm's that need to be installed to get X working. I'll be creating a tar of a bunch of rpm's that can be installed, to create a workstation. This is where Redhat lags, you cant install X without running afoul of a huge mess of dependancies. I want X, all the libs, and Blackbox. I may work out a non RH way of doing this.

Home From Scratch (4.50 / 2) (#39)
by ttfkam on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 05:46:54 PM EST

Anyone who wants a house shouldn't get one pre-made. Go to Home Depot or OSH or your local hardware/lumber outlet, buy some raw materials and have at it! You may mess up a few times and will periodically have to start over, but by the time you finish, you will know everything about your house -- far more than your neighbors know about their's.

And then, head off to the junkyard and the local Pep Boys, get yourself a not-so-rusty auto frame, some spare parts, and build a car from scratch.

Oh wait! We were talking about practical solutions. Buy an already built house, pick up a car from the car dealership, pick up a copy of RedHat/Mandrake/SuSe/Debian/TurboLinux/FreeBSD, and do something that actually interests you with all of the time you saved.

Personally, I've been trying to find the time to play with LFS. But then again, many of my friends think I'm weird and need to get away from the computer for a while and enjoy life. To each his own.

Never assume that because you learned a thing, everyone else must learn that thing as well.

If I'm made in God's image then God needs to lay off the corn chips and onion dip. Get some exercise, God! - Tatarigami
LFS.. (5.00 / 2) (#41)
by highos on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 11:53:33 PM EST

Coming from someone that has used LFS for a very long time (since LFS-1.2).. maybe i can add something of value ;)

I don't quite agree that LFS is the best distro to learn linux, it will of course teach you alot, but it also *assumes* that the reader has used linux before and understands some basic things.

Without some basic linux knowledge a newbie would learn nothing, nor i bet, would be able todo LFS, there isn't enough explainations done yet, Gerard (and other LFS-Book authors) are still working on that, the #1 focus is to get the installation instructions perfect, then work on the higher level stuff, eg explaining everything.. that will of course be done eventually, as LFS is always been improved on, but it will take time, nonetheless a goal i believe that could be accomplished.

Generally a newbie at first needs alot of hand holding, untill they feel comfortable enough by themselves to get everything done.. right now LFS doesn't do that, there are places newbies can go for that handholding, eg, the mailing lists, irc, etc but isn't anywhere near the level i would call "newbie-friendly".

But.. if you want to *really* learn how a linux system is put together, and how it works, then LFS is the perfect way to reach that goal.. hopefully in the future LFS can become such a means, but in it's present state, it isn't. (no offense intended to LFS ;)

Uh, no. (5.00 / 2) (#43)
by wbd on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 06:48:44 AM EST

"There's a lot of duplicated work, and creating the init scripts is terribly tedious, but you're guaranteed to learn the hard way exactly what happens when you switch the box on."

You just download: ftp://packages.linuxfromscratch.org/bootscripts/ & ftp://packages.linuxfromscratch.org/lfs-commands/ & cut/paste/edit/copy/enter. I used kedit & konsole.

Great fun, & a fine way to learn more bash, I found. You do get something of an overview of how things are put together, but not much more than is included in the friendly HTML manuals that come with Redhat or Mandrake these days. If you really want to learn Linux, start at Mandrake Campus, then work your way through Rute.

LFS Not for Newbies (none / 0) (#44)
by timwood on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 08:16:05 AM EST

While a newbie could probably install LFS from the book, they wouldn't learn much (they would just copy and paste the shell commands). As soon as they had finished the book then what?
Without a knowledge of what programs do what the newbie wouldn't be able to get much usefull done. How is a newbie supposed to install X, Gnome, nfs, alsa, cron, logrotate, teTeX and all the other utilities you take for granted on a 'normal' linux install.
A newbie wouldn't even know those utils exist.... althought they could get a start here.

Tim -- a very satisifed lfs user.

Hell, I'm about to do it (none / 0) (#45)
by Perianwyr Stormcrow on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 10:40:44 AM EST

I've been wanting to wrap my head around Linux for a while now, but I haven't had any justification for putting it on my main machine. LFS sounds *exactly* like what I need for putting linux on a lesser, secondary machine to learn from- I installed debian on it before, but didn't really learn anything (the installed did all the work) and had no reason to actually use it, so it stayed idle.

[ Parent ]
sigh... (none / 0) (#48)
by taruntius on Fri Jul 06, 2001 at 08:14:13 PM EST

Once again, someone has decided what the "best" version of something is for a given crowd of people, without bothering to consider what the varying motivations in that crowd of people might be, and how they might affect individuals' choice of version. Am I supposed to thank you now for your dedicated service to the greater good for all humanity? It seems reasonable to me to suggest that if LFS were indeed the best linux distribution for newbies, that it should satisfy newbie linux users' needs more than any other distrubition. A simple chain of thought shows the problems with such a LFS uber alles claim:

If you're a linux newbie with a decidedly masochistic streak and you're interested in the gory guts of how the system is assembled, then sure, LFS may well be an excellent choice. Estimates of the size of the linux-using community vary pretty wildly, but let's pick a mid- to high-range estimate of, say, 7.5 million. Of those, let's be generous and say that as much as 5% want to know their linux systems in that level of detail. That gives an estimated LFS suited population of 375,000 people. (Note: why do I think 5% is a generous appraisal? Consider: if Microsoft thought that they could increase Windows' market share by a whopping 5% just by releasing an install-it-from-scratch-by-hand version, don't you think they'd do it in a heartbeat? It would be trivial for them from an engineering point of view: just put all the files on a CD in big single directory and slap together a sketchy description of where to put everything!). The other reasonable LFS scenario I can think of is people building special purpose linux flavors for embedded applications, such as the Lineo PDA or TiVO or whatever. Such people probably amount to no more than 10,000 engineers worldwide. But we're being generous, so let's pretend that .375 million + 10k = 500,000.

On the flip side, to pull one example out of thin air, if you're someone who has good familiarity with unix in general (many millions of current- and ex-college students qualify for this), a limited budget (practically everyone), and a need to set up a website in a hurry (anyone starting a business, say, or helping their favorite non-profit get online, setting up a website for their parents' mom-and-pop business, etc.), then LFS may well be the worst conceivable choice. It's going to take way longer to set up than a plug-and-play distribution like redhat or debian, and even when you're done you're likely to be very unsure that you got everything right and that it all works the way you need it to. This is just one scenario where a newbie might be choosing among linux distributions, yet it alone can easily account for more users than the previous scenario.

Many millions vs. about a half a million. Hm...

I'm constantly amazed at how people go around making fractionally-assed "best of breed" claims like this one. If it were so easy to decide what the absolutely best choice was in any product category, I think we would not see the rich marketplace of varied products and services that we now enjoy; there would be one kind of everything, and it would have to do for everyone. Is it just me, or is that uncomfortably reminiscent of the classic communist way of doing things a'la the old Soviet Union or China?

--Believing I had supernatural powers I slammed into a brick wall.
The Best Distro For Newbies | 48 comments (45 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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