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I'm looking for a fast Linux distro to put on a USB key.

The goal is to be able to boot in as few seconds as possible, with just enough to mount a hard drive and do some basic operations in there (bash would be enough).

I do need:

  • x86 and x86_64 support
  • EXT2/3 and NTFS mounting capabilities (read & write)
  • Networking support (/etc/network/ config is fine, no need for detection)
  • Bash (another shell would also work, but I would have to modify some of my scripts ^^)

I would prefer if I didn't to have to build these programs for the selected distro, but that's always an option.

I do not need:

  • X, or any form of GUI
  • more languages (english is enough)
  • anything not mentioned

I don't care about the size on the USB key, but the bigger it is, the longer it will take to load...

My research pointed me towards these distros, but I not sure which one to choose:

I also found these tools I could use to build my own distro (as a last resort):

Does anyone have experience with such distros ?

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Sorry about the links, I don't have enough reputation to make them "true" links –  1ace Apr 26 '11 at 11:37
    
I edited the links but I'm not sure I have enough rep either for them to be accepted immediately. :) –  boehj Apr 26 '11 at 12:27
    
Just an FYI... EXT4 boots significantly faster than previous versions. –  Joe Internet Apr 26 '11 at 14:19
    

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Why not try out Arch? You build it from scratch and can stop building as soon as you have enough stuff.

Although there's a little bit of time investment, what you get at the end is exactly what you want They have an outstanding wiki and good community support.

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Also, systemd to shave a few more seconds. –  grawity Apr 26 '11 at 13:12
    
I did see this answer to a somewhat similar question, but I was more thinking about building on top of a minimal distro than stripping down a big distro to make it small enough... I will try it, though ;) –  1ace Apr 26 '11 at 15:56
2  
With Arch the process isn't one of stripping down, but rather one of building up. You really start with more or less nothing: a kernel & some basic tools. From there you can proceed to build an OS ranging from a simple login prompt style/CLI all the way up to a full KDE4 DE. If you want to strip down, perhaps Ubuntu server edition (with a lot of apt-get remove)is a good distro. –  boehj Apr 26 '11 at 17:25
1  
After a year using Arch in various contextes now (server, laptop, emergency USB key), I've grown to love it. It's probably not be the best, performance-wise, but it's close enough, so I think I'll stick to it. Thanks to everyone for your input :) –  1ace Aug 4 '12 at 23:43

IMHO, You need to opt for the

DSL

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Alpine Linux - we boot a couple of HP proliant Microservers with it from USB sticks.

Might need to check NTFS mount support.

From the site:

  • It's quick: You can boot it from a USB stick and have a very usable system in less than 10 seconds.
  • It's simple: The package management and init system is a breeze to use.
  • It's more secure: When The Linux 0-day vmsplice vulnerability was causing admins everywhere to upgrade their kernels post-haste, Alpine Linux systems were basically impervious. Yes, the code crashed the application, but the PaX protection prevented system compromise. The value of PaX and SSP has been proven on more than one occasion.
  • It's small: The traditional GNU/Linux base system is over 100MB in size (excluding the kernel), while the base system in Alpine Linux is only 4-5MB in size (excluding the kernel).
  • It has the Alpine Configuration Framework (ACF): While optional, ACF is a powerful web application used to configure an Alpine Linux device.
  • It's great for experimenting: Since the system configuration can be backed up to a single file, you will be able to test configurations before deploying them to production systems. (See Alpine Local Backup.)
  • It supports Linux-VServer: Similar to FreeBSD Jails, it allows you to run virtual servers.
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How about the "System Rescue CD" (that also works from a Usb Stick)?

I don't know about boot time thou...

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try grml, you can pick between different sizes and put it onto an usb-stick:

  • distribution for sysadmins and users of text tools
  • Debian based distribution [use existing infrastructure]
  • usability by the visually impaired right out of the box
  • geeky community
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Finally something that works... when I started Ubuntu from USB I thought: it would be faster booting from a floppy disk X-) –  Robert Siemer Jul 15 '12 at 6:02

Well, while its primarily a distribution meant for GUI use (at a whopping 30 mb) slitaz does have a 8mb version that's text only, and has its own repository system.

I've tried ttylinux, and its a little too minimal to be of any use. IMO.

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