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Dragora GNU/Linux

It's time for a review here at Linux Career and we will focus today's article on a relative newcomer : Dragora GNU/Linux. It is a Argentina-based distribution, started in 2007 by Matias A. Fonzo, a GNU/Linux enthusiast, along with just a few contributors. It is one of the few Linux distributions comprised of 100% Free/Libre Software, and endorsed by the Free Software Foundation. If you expect bells and whistles, think again : it's a distribution that focuses on simplicity, one application per task and it's aimed at people who want to learn about how a Linux system works. If this scares you, there's no need : we installed Dragora GNU/Linux 2.1 64-bit, tinkered with it, liked it, so we'll be able to get you started. Being a small community distro, at the moment Dragora GNU/Linux doesn't have much documentation online, but the manual pages are well written and if you ask on their identi.ca group you will likely get an answer. But before we start, we think it would be best if we offer you a few more information to get you prepared.  

If you worked with Slackware or Arch Linux before, you'll feel at home, although Dragora GNU/Linux takes pride in the fact that it isn't based on any other Linux distribution. The repositories don't have the number of packages that Debian or Fedora have, but remember this is a distro that tries to keep it simple and aimed at tinkerers who are not afraid to compile their own packages. You will see that using Dragora GNU/Linux is a fun ride, and you will learn a lot by using it.

You may have noticed how we use the name "Dragora GNU/Linux" and perhaps you wonder why, since you've seen other distributions employ just the name Linux, as in, for example, Gentoo Linux. It's basically an ideological thing stemming from the fact that Linux is the name of the kernel only, but many of the core components like glibc and gcc come from the GNU project, so it's fair to give credit where credit is due. After all, Linux distributions as we know them today wouldn't have been what and how they are today if it weren't for this collaboration.

1. Getting and installing Dragora GNU/Linux

If you are ready for an exciting trip, let's go. Grab the installation iso for your architecture (i486 or x86_64) from here, burn it to a CD or prepare for a virtual installation and boot the installation CD. The installer also looks much like Slackware's, that is, text only, but simple and intuitive. Press Enter to boot the default kernel. After that, you will be advised to partition your hard disk if it's blank, otherwise if you already have a partition layout, you may skip this step. You will benefit from cfdisk's menus though in order to make sure you have a bootable partition and check that everything is ok. Select 'Write' then 'Quit' in cfdisk's bottom menu and type setup at the prompt to install Dragora GNU/Linux.

Although intimidating at first, if you stay cool you will see how easy and fast it is to install Dragora GNU/Linux. The installer will ask you the usual questions about disks, mount points, formatting, then proceed to ask you about package selection.

A few words about partitioning before we go any further : as you see in the image above, the installer detects if you have a swap partition (and you better have!) and then basically asks you if you want to use it. We recommend you write down all the partitions you created with cfdisk and their destinations, so you will know what to answer to the partitioner's questions. cfdisk only creates the partition table , the disk-related part of the installer formats the partitions it finds and sets their mount points, all according to your choice. If this is the first time you use a "geeky" installer, we recommend you just create a root partition, mounted on '/', and a swap one. After you will find out what your needs are, on the next installation you will know how many partitions and how big.

Next, the installer will iterate through the partitions it finds and ask you if/how you want to use them. Going further to the package choice, you will find another resemblance with Slack : the packages are grouped by the purpose they serve : 'k' is the kernel group, 'b' is base, etc. Select the groups you need, choose 'All' when asked if you want all the packages in the respective groups, and wait until it's all ready.

We found the package manager to be blazing fast and efficient, and this has to do with the fact that the packages are tlz archives (LZMA format). After that, only a few questions stand between you and your new Dragora GNU/Linux system : timezone, bootloader and its' place (GRUB or LILO, partition or MBR - we recommend GRUB inside the MBR), mouse config, services, default window manager. One glitch we found is that although unselecting some services, a part of them started at boot nonetheless. We will discuss the boot process below. And that was it! Reboot your system without the CD in the drive and you're set.

2. Using Dragora GNU/Linux

If you find your new system booting slowly and using a lot of I/O , fear not : the system updates its' manual pages database, so they will be accessible to you faster when you need them. After the creation of the man database, your system will start as fast as one can expect from this distribution, so it's just a one-time thing. By default you will get a text prompt, so login as root, whose password you set up during installation, then proceed with the creation of a new user by issuing

 # adduser $user

where $user is the desired username. We will not cover user management here, as that topic and other basic skills could take more space than we can afford. So, if any of these commands look alien to you, there are lots of resources you can learn from, since this distro , as we already stated, is not for people with no knowledge of the command line.

So, login as the newly created user, and setup your X window manager with:

$ wmconfig

and type

$ startx

If you chose XFCE at installation time, you will get something like this:

We had to add the applications menu, since it  was lacking, so we can see exactly what applications this distribution has to offer. Well, it has something for everyone : development tools, communication tools (web, IRC, chat...), graphics, multimedia (remember, only free software!) and so on. You will soon find, probably, that you need more than you got from the CD. So, we'll deal with package management next.

If you expect a point-and-click software piece to deal with all your package management, you will not find such thing here. Package management on Dragora GNU/Linux means using the command-line and reading. The package management tool is simply named 'pkg' and its' syntax is simple, yet efficient. As far as we could gather, installation from remote sources is not (yet) supported, so you will have to find a mirror, download the package you need and install it manually with

 # pkg add $package 

Other commands pkg understands are remove, upgrade, size and erupt. Typing pkg as root will give you a little help as to what every command does. erupt, which has a less intuitive name, is a command for examining a package. All package arguments must be the actual .tlz archives, aka the package itself, stored locally. While you may/will find this way of doing things frustrating, it allows you to make your system as you want it to be and install only the package and its' strict dependencies, without 'recommended' or 'suggested' package that you will probably never use. And if you can't find what you want in the distribution's repo, you may simply compile your own, as we will see next.

We will not go through the entire process of compiling and packaging  system, since the documentation does a great job with this. You start from the vanilla source code and end up with a .tlz ready to be installed with 'pkg add'. If the configure script complains about missing dependencies, all you need to do is paste the error message in a search engine and in a minute you will find what you need to install. Primitive, you may say, but you also get lots of advantages, one being that you can customize the package's hard-coded options to suit your needs. Of course, getting used to this way of installing stuff takes a while, but you'll never want to go back after you get used to it. Just give the distro some time and patience and you will see the rewards. It has no charm when someone tells you about it, you just have to do it yourself. If you have compiled some application successfully, maybe you will want to talk to the maintainers of Dragora GNU/Linux to push your work to the distribution's repositories.

This article is not a tutorial, it's a review, as the title states. We only wrote down some of our experiences with Dragora GNU/Linux and, since we really liked it, wanted to share it with you. So, get armed with lots of courage and start reading the configuration page carefully. Remember that the wiki is a work in progress and more information is to come. If you think you have something to add to it, your work will sure be welcome. You are encouraged to ask away if you get stuck. You can also leave a comment here and we'll do our best to answer it. Before we end this, we want to help you a little by giving you some short info on service/init management in Dragora GNU/Linux.

This distribution uses runit, which for us is yet another selling point : the boot process feels fast, snappy even. You won't get some fancy tool to start/stop/enable/disable services, and we'll let the corresponding tutorialguide you, since it's well written and to the point. Instead, you'll get a few basic pointers : sv, the service management application, doesn't know how to enable/disable services, just to start/stop/check, etc. them. So we found a quick hack (maybe you will find a better one) in order to get rid of unwanted startup applications : /etc/runit/runsvdir/default contains symlinks to every startup script living on your system (in /etc/sv ). So, removing them or adding them (you may use Midnight Commander here, or 'ln -s' ) is simple and straightforward, just as a Linux distro should be, in our very humble opinion . Enjoy yourselves and remember to try not to dump the distribution at the first sign of trouble. It'll be worth it.

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