Tiny Core Linux: A Barebone Linux Distro That Boots Very Fast

Lightweight Linux distro usually comes in the file size ranging from 20MB to 50MB and they are best suited to use on a old computer. Recently, I come across this tiny Linux distro that weighs only 12MB and it boots up really fast. I am referring to Tiny Core Linux.

Weighing at 12 MB, Tiny Core Linux is one of the tiniest Linux distro I have ever seen. Being a barebone distro, it only comes with a few essential applications that are required for it to boot up and run properly. It also comes with a graphical desktop, but if you are looking for a turnkey solution, this is not the one for you.

TCL is designed to run from a RAM copy created at boot time. This explains why it is able to boot up so fast. On my virtual machine, it take less than 6 seconds from the click of the Start button to reach the desktop.

First, download the Tiny Core ISO file from the its Downloads page. To run it, you can either burn it to a CD or test it out in Virtualbox, like what I did.

Once you have booted it up (the whole process should take less than 6 seconds), you will see the graphical desktop (LFWM) as shown in the screenshot below:

tinycore-desktop

The only available app is the Terminal, Editor, Control Panel, Apps (the software repository) and a mount tool for you to mount external devices. As mentioned earlier, it is a barebone OS. To make it usable, you have to install the applications you want from the “Apps” app.

1. Run the Apps. On the first run, it will prompt you to select the fastest mirror.

tinycore-choose-fastest-mirror

Once you have selected the mirror, click the Apps button at the top of the window. and select “Browse”. This will fetch the repository from the web and all the software will show up in the left panel. You can scroll down to find the application you need (or use the “Search” feature). To install the application, simply select the application and click the “GO” button beside the “OnBoot” dropdown.

tinycore-install-scm-apps

After the installation has finished, you should see the installed application (in this case, Firefox) in the dock. You can now click on it to run.

tinycore-firefox

Note: At this point, all the applications that you have downloaded are installed to the RAM. This means that they are not persistent. When you shut down the PC, all your apps will be gone as well. You can read more about data persistency below.

To be able to install Tiny Core Linux to the hard disk, you have to first download the installer package.

1. Open the “Apps” and search for “tc-install”. Select the “tc-install.tcz” file and click the GO button at the bottom.

2. Once the download is completed, click the new “TC_Install” icon in the dock.

tinycore-tc-install-icon

3. Go through the Installer Wizard to install TinyCore to your hard disk.

tinycore-installer

4. During the installation, there is a part where you can add additional commands to the boot option. While this is purely optional, it gives you plenty of flexibility to customize the distro to your needs. Things you can configure include:

  • Specify a persistent Home directory
  • Specify the “Restore” file location.
  • Whether to skip the DHCP module during boot
  • and many more…

tinycore-boot-options

After the installation, you can remove the Tiny Core CD and reboot your computer from the hard disk.

By default, there is no data persistency in Tiny Core Linux. When you install an app or extension, it is loaded into the RAM just like the core system files. When you switch off the computer, the apps and extensions get erased as well.

While this allows you to start from a clean state every time you boot up, it can cause a lot of inconveniences. Luckily, there are several ways you can make the data persistent:

1. Saving the app/extension to a Mounted device.

When you install an app, you can set the TCE path to a mounted device. This will install the app to the “tce/optional” folder of the mounted device.

tinycore-set-tce-path

2. Install TCL to your hard drive/storage medium

If you have followed the above instructions to install TCL to your hard drive, it will take care of the data storage and persistency during the installation.

3. Backing up your data

You can also get the system to backup your data (to an external mounted device) and restore it during boot time. During the backup, the whole HOME directory will be compressed and zipped up. On the next bootup, this zipped file will be restored to its respective location. If you have noticed, the backup and restore process run in the Shutdown and Boot cyycle. This means that if you have a lot of data, it will slow down the shutdown and bootup time significantly.

Tiny Core Linux is a pretty interesting distro with nice concept. The small file size and barebone OS make it suitable to run on hardware with limited resources, such as the Raspberry Pi, or even for small projects that doesn’t require a full Linux distro. Be sure to check out the forum and the Wiki for plenty of help and support.

Tiny Core Linux