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I am looking to set up an SSH entry point into my network via a lightweight Linux or BSD setup.

The purpose of the distro will be to allow SSH access into the rest of the internal network—that's it. It does not need to serve any other function, and for reasons of security, it shouldn't be bloated with loads of unnecessary software.

For further clarity, here is an example of my expected workflow:

user@external-machine:~$ ssh user@ssh-only-distro
user@ssh-only-distro's password: 
user@ssh-only-distro:~$ ssh user@internal-machine
user@internal-machine's password: 
user@internal-machine:~$ 

Because the distro will be running on a VM with limited resources, I would prefer one which uses only minimal resources. Namely, it should need less than 128 MiB RAM. (The less RAM, the better.)

The distro should also be simple to make persistent on disk. Booting from a live image is fine so long as configurations can easily be saved and pulled on boot without lots of extra tweaking. (This is the chief reason why Micro Core Linux did not work for me.)

Any suggestions?


Note: A less opinion-oriented version of this question has been posted here: Memory Required for SSH-only Linux Setup


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  • Maybe Dropbear on OpenWRT.
    – muru
    Dec 6 '14 at 5:46
  • Tiny Core Linux has an easy GUI for installing it to a local hard disk, then you can drop the GUI on the local harddisk, and voila: an ultra-minimal Linux.
    – Jack G
    Jun 5 '20 at 20:29
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You may be interested in Arch Linux. It aims to be simple and lightweight, so very few packages are installed by default.

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Most distributions allow you to install a Minimalist / Core set of packages. A small, yet incomplete, list includes CentOS, Ubuntu, Gentoo, and Arch.

It is unlikely there would be a significant difference in the amount of ram used in of the above distributions with a minimal install.

In general, the amount of RAM used is directly related to the number of applications and daemons you have loaded.

Disable any unnecessary/unneeded services/daemons from starting from boot. This will make the biggest impact. However, with a minimal install there probably aren't many services installed in the first place.

For your needs, I would recommend CentOS. It is an enterprise level distribution (binary compatible/based on RedHat Enterprise Linux). They have a reasonable core package group, backport security updates, and has a life cycle of 10+ years.

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