I just want a linux distro that boots fast, has a bash terminal (no gui) and busybox.

Is there any such distro or is it hard to compile a kernel and just make one myself?



What you are searching for is called ttylinux.

Major components

  • Kernel
  • Glibc
  • Iptables
  • Dropbear (scp, ssh, sshd)
  • GPM
  • Bash
  • Busybox
  • E2fsprogs

Not maintained

The distribution was hosted at Ttylinux.net, and is currently not maintained.


Latest ttylinux release is dated 2015.02 (updated 2015.03).


A good linux distro that I've fallen in love with (and also has no GUI) is MicroCore Linux. It also has an older brother TinyCore Linux that does have a GUI (a pretty crappy one though).

You could always try DSL (Damn Small Linux)

I don't think any of these explicitly come with busybox (I don't know of any distro that ships with it), but it shouldn't be too hard to install it afterwards. From what I understand your main concern is a small fast system with a decent shell.

  • I tried microcore linux, my ethernet adapter isn't detected so i have no internet (required to download and install the bash extension as it does not come with bash by default). Jul 6 '11 at 13:50
  • MaxMackie: Fascinating, up-vote from me. Jul 6 '11 at 13:55
  • 2
    @MaxMackie, Last time I looked DSL was no longer being developed, so I generally recommend Puppy Linux instead.
    – CarlF
    Jul 6 '11 at 15:35
  • @CarlF: You're right, I just checked. Last update was around 2008, thanks for the heads up.
    – n0pe
    Jul 6 '11 at 15:36

"Alpine Linux is a security-oriented, lightweight Linux distribution based on musl libc and busybox."


The best most current distribution I can think of is Debian NetInst: http://www.debian.org/CD/netinst/

There are a number of small Linux distributions out there but this one I think will be among the best maintained. Another thing is, if you need to grow it to full size, it's a trivial operation.

  • +1 for debian's netinstall, forgot about this one.
    – n0pe
    Jul 6 '11 at 13:56
  • so this netinstall... its basically just a cli and boots very fast? I'd need it able to be booted from usb using syslinux and to have file persistence. Jul 6 '11 at 14:55
  • You can do all these things with Debian, it's very flexible. Jul 6 '11 at 19:00

Minimal Linux Live


For a more interesting interactive system, this is a (mostly educational) small script that:

  • downloads the source for the kernel and busybox
  • compiles them
  • generates a bootable 8Mb ISO with them

The ISO then leaves you in a minimal shell with busybox.

With QEMU you can easily boot into the system.

I have modified it to allow running it from the kernel source directory: https://github.com/cirosantilli/runlinux


git clone https://github.com/ivandavidov/minimal
cd minimal/src
# Wait.
# Install QEMU.
# minimal_linux_live.iso was generated

and you will be left inside a QEMU Window with you new minimal system. Awesome.

Since it is small, this is a good option to read the source and understand what is going on.

Tested on Ubuntu 16.04.



Large set of Makefile scripts that manage:

  • GCC cross compilation toolchain
  • kernel compilation
  • bootloader compilation
  • generation of rootfs
  • has tons of package download / build recipes in the source tree, including complex stuff like GTK. There is a dependency system.

Minimal example:

git clone git://git.buildroot.net/buildroot
cd buildroot
git checkout 2016.05
make qemu_x86_defconfig
# Can't use -jN, use `BR2_JLEVEL=2` instead.
BR2_JLEVEL=2 make
# Wait.
# cat board/qemu/x86_64/readme.txt
qemu-system-x86_64 -M pc -kernel output/images/bzImage -drive file=output/images/rootfs.ext2,if=virtio,format=raw -append root=/dev/vda -net nic,model=virtio -net user
# You are now in a shell with BusyBox utilities.

Professional stuff.

Alpine Linux


Embedded distribution with a package manager that offers precompiled binaries from a website.

Single executable rootfs

The absolute minimum system runs a single /init program as I've explained at https://superuser.com/a/991733/128124


You should try Arch Linux. It let's you choose what you do and do not want to install on your system. You could even choose to not install bash :p Alternatively you could try Gentoo, where you have to compile everything from scratch.

  • Not entirely correct, considering that all SysVinit scripts on Arch are written for bash. (It's easy to replace SysVinit with systemd, though.)
    – user1686
    Jul 6 '11 at 14:28
  • Yeah, but during the installation you still get the possiblity to choose to not install bash. :p
    – RobinJ
    Jul 6 '11 at 14:33

Minimal Development Distro:

busybox, musl C library, gcc, binutils, make, bash, and the Linux kernel.


Minimal Non-Development Distro:

busybox, musl and the Linux Kernel

  • 1
    I think the OP wanted a specific distro, not to build one himself.
    – Journeyman Geek
    Feb 26 '13 at 5:10

Well you could use Yocto to bitbake (or whatever it uses these days) a tiny distribution that has just what you want (including appropriate hardware drivers).

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