Stali distribution smashes assumptions about Linux

Stali, which is built with statically linked binaries for speed and compactness, upends traditional ideas about how a Linux distribution should work

Stali distribution smashes assumptions about Linux

The first public version of Stali, a Linux distribution built to be as fast and small as possible, has been released after several years of work. This first release of the entire Stali OS fits into a 34MB ISO.

Stali stands for static Linux, with "static" referring to how all binaries in the distribution are built statically against their libraries. Any routines in the library required by the binary are copied directly into the binary itself, instead of being linked to a shared copy of the library used by multiple programs. 

Stali's project head, Anselm R. Garbe (a developer currently working at BMW, and creator of the DWM window manager), believes static linking works out better for most common use cases. The most obvious benefit is that static binaries have a smaller memory and on-disk footprint. Static binaries also claim to be faster, although there are no benchmarks as yet to show how Stali performs against other distributions.

Another claimed about static linking is that it increases the stability of the binaries in question. They're less likely to break if shared libraries are updated, since those binaries don't have dependencies on them -- something Garbe believes is good for the long-term maintainability of the system. He also claims this approach minimizes attack vectors.

Other changes to how traditional Linux distribution work are even more radical. For one, there's no package manager; instead, all updates are pulled from upstream by way of git. Also, the controversial systemd startup system isn't used; rather, Stali has its own sinit utility -- also statically linked -- that handles the job. Kernel modules aren't supported either, which is something of a requirement under static linking.

"The one major problem I can foresee is that a single driver failure could crash the whole kernel," wrote a blogger when Stali was first proposed. "But if Stali ends up using ONLY truly stable kernel releases, this could be avoided."

Stali amounts to a kind of proof-of-concept for breaking from long-standing Linux traditions and avoiding current fashions in Linux. The recently announced Redox OS, a Unix-like OS (not a Linux port) written from the ground up in Mozilla's Rust language, is similarly radical. Like Stali, Redox aims to make the resulting experience more secure and to discard -- or at least challenge -- some of the assumptions about how a Linux distribution must work.

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