A one-to-one drop-in replacement for CentOS

Distro Walk – AlmaLinux

© Lead Image © Corey Ford, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Corey Ford, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 250/2021
Author(s):

Arising from the ashes of CentOS, AlmaLinux offers a community-owned and -governed CentOS alternative.

New distributions appear all the time. Many are specialized or remain small. A notable exception is AlmaLinux [1]. Emerging out of the troubled relationship between Red Hat and the CentOS distribution, AlmaLinux has become one of the major replacements for CentOS in less than half a year. This month, Jack Aboutboul, AlmaLinux's community manager, discusses the distribution's seemingly overnight success.

Linux Magazine: Although Red Hat acquired CentOS in January 2014, in many ways, CentOS continued development much as before for seven years [2]. Then in early 2021, Red Hat announced the discontinuation of CentOS, except for a development ground for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) called CentOS Stream [3]. How did these events lead to the creation of AlmaLinux?

Jack Aboutboul: CentOS, prior to Red Hat's announcement, was always a downstream product of RHEL, so once RHEL was released, the same sources were taken and used to build CentOS. Red Hat's decision shifted that dynamic to one where CentOS actually now becomes the feeder for RHEL, so more development now takes place in what is CentOS Stream and that gets merged into RHEL. Red Hat also decided to shorten the lifespan of a CentOS release from 10 years to 5 and also to push up the end-of-life date for CentOS 8, which made people pretty frustrated.

AlmaLinux was born out of this situation. We saw a need to step up and provide something for the community that the community could own and manage [and] that would fill this hole. Many of our team members have been rebuilding RHEL for over 10 years, and we possess deep technical expertise in that domain, as well as in the server OS space. So we figured, let's do that. That's what community is all about – giving back.

LM: Rocky Linux [4] is also a fork of CentOS. What is AlmaLinux's relationship with Rocky Linux?

JA: Our relationship is that we both share the same upstream, and we are both rebuilding RHEL. Having multiple options certainly makes the ecosystem stronger, not weaker. Currently, we disagree on things like who should own the project itself (we prefer a community ownership model, whereas Rocky is a corporation with one shareholder), governance, and tooling. We serve similar needs. I am sure that over time things will come more clearly into focus, and there will be points of mutual collaboration.

LM: How did AlmaLinux come together so quickly? It was up and running in a matter of weeks.

JA: AlmaLinux team members have been rebuilding RHEL for over 10 years, so we had that infrastructure in place, and I don't think too many people realize that we have tremendous technical expertise and experience putting a distro together. If anyone is looking for a Cent-OS alternative for critical workloads, I think you need to factor that into the equation as well.

LM: How has AlmaLinux been received by users?

JA: AlmaLinux has had great uptake. I can honestly say almost everyone has had a positive experience, and that's because we strive to share information and to be helpful when someone comes [to us] with a question. We've had something like over 40k downloads only from the main mirror, and we have over 130 (and growing) mirrors around the world with who knows how many [downloads]. We've also got great containers available (a regular, a minimal, and some others), and we've had over 30k Docker pulls between all of them.

LM: How is AlmaLinux governed?

JA: This is really a highlight of our project, and I wish people would understand this better and what the practical impact of it is for the community. When we set out to create AlmaLinux, we wanted to create something that the community can completely own and govern. It's important for us to make sure the community owns the project, to prevent repeating what happened with CentOS in the past and also to ensure that everyone has a voice. We set up a 501(c)(6) nonprofit, which essentially means that it is in service to its members, so there will be a membership structure. Then anyone who is a member of the project has rights to a voice. This is the same setup as the Linux Foundation, and it's the most powerful model to ensure true community ownership and governance. Many projects call themselves community, but if only a select few have rights to govern the project, then that's not really true.

Currently we have a six-member board, which is made up of a former president of the Open Source Initiative [Simon Phipps]; members from the sponsoring projects [including CloudLinux]; and outside, community representation. Eventually, once the membership structure is approved and accepted, that board will increase in size to accommodate community members as well, so everyone, including CloudLinux and the other founding board members, is completely diluted. This is the true spirit of a free and open project and community. You can read more about that here: https://wiki.almalinux.org/Transparency.html.

LM: The website describes AlmaLinux as compatible with the latest version of CentOS. Do you expect any future changes that will differ from CentOS' design philosophy or target audience?

JA: No. We will always primarily be a 1:1 drop-in replacement for RHEL/Cent-OS. Beyond that, if the community wants to extend things or see certain changes, the best way to do that is upstream, and we will encourage and promote that. This way the whole community benefits, such as we see with repositories like EPEL [Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux] [5].

LM: Will the close connection to CloudLinux make future releases closer to CloudLinux? If so, how?

JA: CloudLinux OS and AlmaLinux are two very different things. CloudLinux is focused on specific verticals, and it will continue to be that. What CloudLinux OS is will have no effect on AlmaLinux, but of course if CloudLinux wants to use AlmaLinux as a base, much like other corporations that have reached out to us are, then yes, sure.

LM: Are there any plans to release on additional architectures?

JA: Yes. We already have ARM support, which was built in partnership with ARM, AWS, Equinix, OSU Open Source Lab (OSL), and other sponsors. We are working on PPC now.

LM: What future directions are planned?

JA: For the future, we plan on working to make sure our governance model does what it says it's supposed to; that's foremost. Other plans for the future include more cloud images to support more platforms, increased containers, cool projects like Raspberry Pi support (which we released, still in testing) and other SOHO ARM platforms, automating more of our infrastructure, and, of course, rebuilding future versions of RHEL.

LM: Why should users switch to Alma-Linux? What resources are available to make the transition easier?

JA: Users should migrate to AlmaLinux if they want a solid CentOS replacement that is a true community project and that has an experienced team behind it. We have a great migration script [6], which can help you convert from any machine running other Enterprise Linux 8 distributions.

LM: Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

JA: We are looking to grow our docs team, our security team, and a few others. Otherwise, people should know that we are the only 100 percent community-owned and -governed CentOS alternative, and we are the only ones that were endorsed by a currently sitting CentOS board member and founder [7]. Now that's saying something.

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