Developer FAQ

(See also the user FAQ.)

Why did you derive UBOS from Arch Linux?

The first version of what became UBOS was actually based on debian. There are many great things about debian, and things were going great, until early users complained that the versions of the available web apps were “old”; they wanted the latest and greatest. So we tried upgrading various web apps to current versions, and failed: current web apps would require current language runtimes and libraries, and debian stable does not generally provide them.

In the second attempt, we worked from Ubuntu. That was better in terms of being current with web apps. But when we discovered rolling updates as provided by Arch Linux, there was no going back: rolling upgrades are excellent for the types of systems we are building UBOS for.

What is the relationship between UBOS and Arch Linux?

UBOS is both a subset and a superset of Arch Linux:

  • UBOS only includes a subset of the Arch Linux packages. For example, UBOS has picked Apache2 as its (current) web server and thus does not provide any other web servers.
  • UBOS provides packages such as ubos-admin for one-command device administration, which are not available on Arch Linux. Given that Arch Linux is intended as a very configurable system for the power user, and ubos-admin requires a much tighter set of conventions, ubos-admin does not make much sense on Arch itself.
  • UBOS provides several release channels.
  • UBOS releases are “full-stack” tested before they are made available. Arch Linux only performs unit testing, and generally requires a system administrator to manually review and resolve possible issues. See also UBOS build and release process.

In spite of this, many packages available on UBOS are identical to those on Arch Linux, and its sibling, Arch Linux ARM.

Doesn’t apt / dpkg / yum / pacman etc. do what ubos-admin does already?

No. They all manage software packages, they do not manage full configurations of those packages.

Take WordPress as an example. If you install a WordPress package, a package manager will dump all the WordPress code on your drive, but it is left to you to create a database and edit the Apache virtual host configuration. That is in spite of the fact that installing WordPress is much simpler than installing most web applications where you often also need to install (or even compile) additional dependencies, and sometimes even get additional services to run.

If you want to run the same application more than once on the same machine (for example, at different virtual hosts), package managers are not able to help at all. Certainly they also don’t help with backups, restores, SSL configuration and many other administration tasks that UBOS helps automate.

P.S. We build on pacman (the Arch Linux package manager) and each UBOS package is a valid pacman package.

Doesn’t puppet / chef / ansible etc. do this already?

These are large-scale datacenter / IT automation tools, and not written for you and me putting code on our Raspberry Pi. Conceivably we could build on one of them, but the upside seemed small compared to the downside.

One key difference is that you and I, and everybody, will put different combinations of applications on our devices, instead of a devops engineer putting the same combination of code on many servers. This difference has ramifications on the tools.

What about docker?

Did we say UBOS runs on Docker?

Why do you recommend to develop in Arch Linux instead of UBOS itself?

For development, developers usually want to use more packages than are contained in UBOS, e.g. graphical desktop environments, editors, debuggers, test scripts and so forth. These are out of scope for UBOS. Most of them are available on Arch Linux, however.

As UBOS is an Arch Linux derivative, this keeps development system and run-time system close. If you develop in Arch, and run your UBOS apps in a UBOS container, you get the best of both worlds.

Why do you advise against using a Raspberry Pi or other ARM device as a UBOS development machine?

The Raspberry Pi is fine to run UBOS on. But we recommend you use a PC or virtual machine to develop for UBOS, for these two reasons:

  • Development is not much fun on a slow device, and ARM-based devices like a Raspberry Pi are substantially slower than a modern PC.
  • The Raspberry Pi and other ARM devices use an SD Card as its hard drive. SD Cards, unfortunately, do not lend themselves to repeated compile cycles, and have a habit of dying when over-used, perhaps taking your code with them.

If you must use an ARM-based device, we recommend that use use a modern Raspberry Pi with multiple cores, and at least you store your valuable code on an external (USB) hard drive instead of notoriously unreliable SD Cards. Compilations will be faster, too.

How are the various UBOS images different from each other?

UBOS images for containers are identical to those for physical machines, except that they do not run certain services by default which are usually provided by the host (such as for setting the system time).

UBOS images for VirtualBox by default run the VirtualBox client tools, which enables the virtual machine to integrate better with the host system.

The differences between the images on x86_64 are very small; one or two packages installed or not, and a handful of systemctl enable ... calls, so if you already have an image for x86_64, it should be straightforward to use it for physical machine, VirtualBox or containers without needing to download another image.

The same is true for ARM platforms. However, there are larger differences between the images for, say, Raspberry Pi 2 and BeagleBone Black, although they use the same ARM processor architecture. For example, their boot methods are different.