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Both Debian and Ubuntu end up with 500 Mb to 750 Mb in their "minimal" installations, even after starting with the "netinstall" iso or "business card" iso and no optional packages installed later on in the installation process. The Debian "netinstall" is a 180 Mb download, and the "biz card" iso is 50 Mb.

My question:
is this a typical size for a minimal server install?

In other, more contemporary words:
MINIMAL, Y U SO BIG?

Are there any other options/variants (primarily Debian) for keeping things as lean as possible without having to go the route of customizing one's own bare bones Debian install?

Thnx in advance.

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6  
How long is a piece of string - some pretty small installs can be found here –  Iain Mar 17 '11 at 15:01
    
@Iain thnx. Tho I'm a bit more concerned for the security/regular updating aspect since I'm looking primarily for a server install. Plus, Sameer mentioned here that they might not be that minimal either. –  mt3 Mar 17 '11 at 15:53
1  
I am not quite sure why you are so worried about such a small size, Hardrives are well into the TB range now.. –  Jacob Mar 17 '11 at 20:29
    
Jacob's comment sums up my thinking on this. When I started reading the question I nearly went for the vote button because it was sounding like you're trying to do something real compact, such as a car PC. I'm still not convinced this is on topic. –  John Gardeniers Mar 17 '11 at 22:59
    
@John Gardeniers it's primarily for any VPS that provide VERY small amounts of storage space (2-5Gb) and the whole thing aroused my curiosity, especially since "minimal" installs ended up feeling quite bloated (the 1st time it had presented itself to me). so it's part curiosity, part practicality. –  mt3 Apr 3 '11 at 9:06

7 Answers 7

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Well, if you were to compile from nothing but source code and a cross compiler... the full kernel and API (libraries+headers), glibc, coreutils, gcc/binutils and a few necessary tools, you would typically be left with about a 600MB or so distro. Add to that your distro's choice of package management and default utilities you can see where your disk utilization is coming from. Micro/gutted distributions typically rip out all lib/binary debugging symbols and compile a smaller libc (such as dietlibc). They may also omit a full compile environment which sucks up a significant amount of disk space.

It is possible to compile a fully bootable x86 linux operating system in about 6MB of disk space. Make some further modifications and you can cram it in just a few hundred K of embedded flash. Take a look at tinycore/ucore linux. It is built off of fltk and I believe dietlibc (8MB with X, 6MB without).

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In terms of storage available even on embedded systems, < 1 GB is hardly "big" any more. An AWS EC2 m1.small instance includes 160 GB storage -- that's more than enough for virtually any server instance you could imagine (few current configurations use more than ~10 GB, and I've yet to see one requiring > 20GB for a base installation).

You seem to think rolling a minimal install is some painful process. It really isn't. Do a minimal base installation. Add only the packages you need. It may take a few days for your system to stabilize (in the sense that you're no longer adding packages), but you'll end up with a lean build. That just works.

If you'll look under various system directories, you'll find that a number of things contribute to size. Kernel and modules (build your own statically compiled kernel), internationalization, documentation, and package repos will account for a lot. There are tools (deborphan, localepurge, etc.)

There are builds which are specifically designed for very small form factors, utilizing mudebs and the like. If you have an interest in these, explore on your own.

If you're specifically interested in reducing the size of a Debian installation, you could follow the suggestions of the ReduceDebian wiki page: http://wiki.debian.org/ReduceDebian

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Upvoted for the insightful links and resources. I wasn't implying there was any pain to rolling one's own, just curious why that isn't the default approach to distros intended for webservers and security purposes, i.e. "less is more" and "if you don't need it, don't install it". –  mt3 Jun 30 '12 at 13:07
    
It's pretty much a question of "how small is small enough" and "what's sufficient pain"? I can fit 32 GB on my pinkie nail. If you want to do usable work on a system, some level of available tools are helpful. The minimum size to bootstrap a Debian system without wild heroics is roughly the size of a netinst minimal image (20 - 180 MB). Back in potato days, a base tarball image of roughly 14 MB was available. Just the kernel + modules typically runs larger than that now. –  Dr. Edward Morbius Jul 5 '12 at 18:14

During installation of Debian you can unselect the "Base System" task and have an extremely minimal system of only around 200MiB. Doing this wont have a lot of the commonly expected packages installed.

Alternatively there is Emdebian, which can be installed in less than 32MiB.

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Thanks for the Embedian. Still unsure whether it is ideal for use as a server OS. –  mt3 Mar 21 '11 at 1:24

If you uncheck the "standard system tools" option during a debian squeeze install, it takes 380MB and installs the following 152 packages

acpi
acpi-support-base
acpid
adduser
apt
apt-utils
aptitude
base-files
base-passwd
bash
bsdmainutils
bsdutils
busybox
console-setup
console-terminus
coreutils
cpio
cron
dash
debconf
debconf-i18n
debian-archive-keyring
debianutils
diffutils
discover
discover-data
dmidecode
dmsetup
dpkg
e2fslibs
e2fsprogs
eject
findutils
gcc-4.4-base
gettext-base
gnupg
gpgv
grep
groff-base
grub-common
grub-pc
gzip
hostname
ifupdown
info
initramfs-tools
initscripts
insserv
install-info
installation-report
iproute
iptables
iputils-ping
isc-dhcp-client
isc-dhcp-common
kbd
keyboard-configuration
klibc-utils
laptop-detect
libacl1
libattr1
libblkid1
libboost-iostreams1.42.0
libbz2-1.0
libc-bin
libc6
libc6-i686
libcomerr2
libcwidget3
libdb4.8
libdevmapper1.02.1
libdiscover2
libept1
libexpat1
libfreetype6
libgcc1
libgdbm3
libklibc
liblocale-gettext-perl
liblzma2
libncurses5
libncursesw5
libnewt0.52
libnfnetlink0
libpam-modules
libpam-runtime
libpam0g
libpci3
libpopt0
libreadline6
libselinux1
libsepol1
libsigc++-2.0-0c2a
libslang2
libsqlite3-0
libss2
libssl0.9.8
libstdc++6
libtext-charwidth-perl
libtext-iconv-perl
libtext-wrapi18n-perl
libudev0
libusb-0.1-4
libuuid-perl
libuuid1
libxapian22
linux-base
linux-image-2.6-686
linux-image-2.6.32-5-686
locales
login
logrotate
lsb-base
man-db
manpages
mawk
module-init-tools
mount
nano
ncurses-base
ncurses-bin
net-tools
netbase
netcat-traditional
os-prober
passwd
pciutils
perl-base
procps
readline-common
rsyslog
sed
sensible-utils
sysv-rc
sysvinit
sysvinit-utils
tar
tasksel
tasksel-data
traceroute
tzdata
ucf
udev
usbutils
util-linux
vim-common
vim-tiny
wget
whiptail
xkb-data
xz-utils
zlib1g

That saves about 150MB of space by skipping the following 110 packages.

apt-listchanges
at
bash-completion
bc
bind9-host
bsd-mailx
ca-certificates
dc
debian-faq
dnsutils
doc-debian
doc-linux-text
exim4
exim4-base
exim4-config
exim4-daemon-light
file
ftp
geoip-database
host
iso-codes
less
libbind9-60
libbsd0
libcap2
libdb4.6
libdb4.7
libdns69
libedit2
libevent-1.4-2
libgc1c2
libgcrypt11
libgeoip1
libgnutls26
libgpg-error0
libgpgme11
libgpm2
libgssapi-krb5-2
libgssglue1
libgssrpc4
libidn11
libisc62
libisccc60
libisccfg62
libk5crypto3
libkadm5clnt-mit7
libkadm5srv-mit7
libkdb5-4
libkeyutils1
libkrb5-3
libkrb5support0
libldap-2.4-2
liblockfile1
liblwres60
libmagic1
libnfsidmap2
libpcre3
libpth20
librpcsecgss3
libsasl2-2
libsasl2-modules
libtasn1-3
libtokyocabinet8
libwrap0
libx11-6
libx11-data
libxau6
libxcb1
libxdmcp6
libxext6
libxml2
libxmuu1
lsb-release
lsof
m4
mime-support
mlocate
mutt
ncurses-term
nfs-common
openssh-blacklist
openssh-blacklist-extra
openssh-client
openssl
patch
perl
perl-modules
portmap
procmail
psmisc
python
python2.6
python2.6-minimal
python-apt
python-apt-common
python-central
python-minimal
python-reportbug
python-support
reportbug
sgml-base
tcpd
telnet
texinfo
time
w3m
wamerican
whois
xauth
xml-core

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thnx for the details. Appreciated. –  mt3 Mar 21 '11 at 1:25

I can't speak to ubuntu but a redhat install deselecting everything yields about 850-900 MB. Doing a kickstart install and selecting ONLY the @Base package group yields around 700MB and choosing not to install @Base drops it even further. So just less than a gig seems pretty standard for a minimal install across the board. Keep in mind that you can customize it even further and remove bluetooth and other packages to slim it down. They are typically installed so the widest audience can get what they need out of the box. Unfortunately I have no use for qlogic drivers on my laptop, but that lets me remove even more packages. Here's what I remove from a standard RHEL 5 server install: (sorry for the formatting....

   alacarte    Simple menu editor for GNOME
   bluez-gnome  Bluetooth pairing and
   control applet bluez-libs    Bluetooth
   libraries bluez-utils    Bluetooth
   utilities brlapi     Appliation
   Programming Interface for BRLTTY.
   cadaver      Command-line WebDAV client
   ccid     Generic USB CCID smart card
   reader driver coolkey        CoolKey PKCS
   #11 module dcraw     A tool for decoding raw image data from digital cameras.
   Deployment_Guide-en-US   
   dhcpv6-client    DHCPv6 client
   dnsmasq      A lightweight DHCP/caching
   DNS server ed        The GNU line editor.
   elinks       A text-mode Web browser.
   enscript A plain ASCII to PostScript
   converter. eog       Eye of GNOME image
   viewer esc       Enterprise Security
   Client Smart Card Client
   evince       Document viewer finger      The
   finger client. gnome-audio   Sounds for
   GNOME events.
   gnome-backgrounds    Desktop backgrounds
   packaged with the GNOME desktop
   gnome-mag    GNOME Magnifier
   gnome-speech GNOME Text to Speech
   gnome-themes Themes collection for
   GNOME gok        GNOME Onscreen Keyboard
   hplip        HP Linux Imaging and Printing
   Project ifd-egate    Axalto Egate
   SmartCard device driver for PCSC-lite
   ImageMagick  An X application for
   displaying and manipulating images.
   iptstate A top-like display of IP
   Tables state table entries
   irda-utils   Utilities for infrared
   communication between devices.
   jwhois       Internet whois/nicname
   client. krb5-auth-dialog Kerberos 5
   authentication dialog ksh        The
   Original ATT Korn Shell lftp     A
   sophisticated file transfer program
   libsane-hpaio    SANE driver for
   scanners in HP's multi-function
   devices mdadm        mdadm controls Linux
   md devices (software RAID arrays)
   mkbootdisk   Creates a boot floppy disk
   for booting a system.
   mtools       Programs for accessing MS-DOS
   disks without mounting the disks.
   mtr      A network diagnostic tool.
   mutt     A text mode mail user agent.
   nc       Reads and writes data across
   network connections using TCP or UDP.
   neon     An HTTP and WebDAV client
   library NetworkManager   Network
   connection manager and user
   applications
   NetworkManager-glib  Libraries for
   adding NetworkManager support to
   applications that use glib.
   NetworkManager-gnome GNOME
   applications for use with
   NetworkManager orca      Flexible,
   extensible, and powerful assistive
   technology pcmciautils   PCMCIA
   utilities and initialization programs
   pcsc-lite    PC/SC Lite smart card
   framework and applications
   pcsc-lite-libs   PC/SC Lite libraries
   pirut        Package Installation, Removal
   and Update Tools rsh     Clients for
   remote access commands (rsh, rlogin,
   rcp). sabayon        Tool to maintain user
   profiles in a GNOME desktop
   sabayon-apply    The parts of sabayon
   needed on the client systems
   sane-backends    SANE driver for
   scanners in HP's multi-function
   devices sane-backends-libs   SANE
   libraries sane-frontends Graphical
   frontend to SANE slrn        A threaded
   Internet news reader. stunnel        An
   SSL-encrypting socket wrapper.
   synaptics    Synaptics Touchpad Driver
   syslinux Simple kernel loader which
   boots from a FAT filesystem
   system-config-netboot    system-config-netboot is an network booting/install
   configuration utility
   system-config-netboot-cmd    network
   booting/install configuration utility
   system-config-printer    A printer
   administration tool talk     Talk client
   for one-on-one Internet chatting.
   tcsh     An enhanced version of csh, the
   C shell. telnet      The client program
   for the telnet remote login protocol.
   tftp-server  The server for the
   Trivial File Transfer Protocol
   (TFTP). tree     A utility which
   displays a tree view of the contents
   of directories. vino     A remote
   desktop system for GNOME
   vconfig      Linux 802.1q VLAN
   configuration utility
   wdaemon      Hotplug helper for Wacom
   X.org driver xinetd      A secure
   replacement for inetd. xsane     An X
   Window System front-end for the SANE
   scanner interface. yp-tools  NIS (or
   YP) client programs. ypbind      The NIS
   daemon which binds NIS clients to an
   NIS domain.
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Ya, it would seem there should be at least 2 variants for many of these distros: "everything plus the kitchen sink" and "just a small pot to squat in". Especially for server environments. –  mt3 Mar 17 '11 at 15:49

You can try DSL, also known as Damn Small Linux. It's available Here.

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That is a typical install size. However if you're looking for something with a very small footprint you could try:

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Do those have the same reputation for security that Debian has? Intended for use as a server install? I was also looking at Alpine Linux and BusyBox, as mentioned here. –  mt3 Mar 17 '11 at 15:46
    
They are both based off of Debian so they should have similar security features. However, it appears DSL does not include IPtables which Puppy does have packages for. –  sreimer Mar 17 '11 at 17:01
    
Damn Small Linux hasn't had a release since 2008 and reportedly development has halted. It is probably a very poor choice right now. –  Arrowmaster Mar 17 '11 at 20:46

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