decorative image showing almalinux logo under magnifying glass
April 15, 2021

What Is AlmaLinux?

Operating Systems
Open Source

As the first CentOS alternative with a general availability build, AlmaLinux has quickly become a hot topic for those working with Enterprise Linux.

In this blog, we give an overview of AlmaLinux, discuss available repositories, compare AlmaLinux vs. Rocky Linux and CentOS, and discuss the steps needed for AlmaLinux to become a viable build at enterprise scale.

What Is AlmaLinux?

AlmaLinux is a free, 1:1 binary compatible fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 developed by CloudLinux, Inc.

CloudLinux has promised $1M in annual sponsorship funds, though no details regarding those funds have been released to the public.

Originally called Project Lenix – it was renamed to AlmaLinux on Jan 12, 2021. While “alma” has several definitions, the CloudLinux team has chosen the Latin language definition: soul.

AlmaLinux at a Glance

Website

https://almalinux.org/

Latest Release

8.3

Package Manager(s)

Too many to list

Kernel

At release: Linux kernel-4.18.0-240.15.1.el8_3

As of 210414: Linux kernel-4.18.0-240.22.1.el8_3

Licenses(s)

GPLv2 and others

AlmaLinux Release Date

The first AlmaLinux general availability release (8.3) was on March 30, 2021. It followed the Feb 22, 2021 release candidate (8.3-rc-1) and the successful release of AlmaLinux 8.3-beta-1 public beta, released on February 2, 2021.

AlmaLinux Licensing

Licensing for AlmaLinux is the same as RHEL. The AlmaLinux Licensing Policy page, describes the license as follows:

“Like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the AlmaLinux OS compilation copyright is licensed under GPLv2”. 

Side note: If the AlmaLinux licensing policy page looks familiar, that's because it's an almost word-for-word copy of the CentOS policy, with appropriate branding and date changes.

AlmaLinux Governance Model

As a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization, AlmaLinux will be led by a governing board for the newly-created AlmaLinux Open Source Foundation.  There will be seven total seats on the board (with at least five having already been announced) and include personnel from cPanel, the Open Source Initiative and Cloud Linux. 

AlmaLinux Support Outlook

Since AlmaLinux 8 is a downstream rebuild of RHEL 8, CloudLinux promises patches and maintenance for AlmaLinux that align with the RHEL 8 lifecycle.  This means AlmaLinux will be actively maintained until 2029.

OpenLogic will support AlmaLinux, along with other Enterprise Linux distros, under our comprehensive Enterprise Linux Support offering.

AlmaLinux Migration Considerations

For those migrating to AlmaLinux, be sure to understand these issues:

  • Be careful if your company has customized any OS packages, as the almalinux-deploy script will perform a distro-sync which will replace any packages with the version in the almalinux repos, regardless of whether the repo version is newer or older than the installed version.
  • SecureBoot is not available with AlmaLinux. This is a common problem for new distributions due to choreographing the keys, certs and hardware/hypervisor vendor support.  Since RHEL and CentOS support SecureBoot, be sure to verify whether or not your infrastructure relies on SecureBoot before attempting to migrate your systems.
  • At this time, only the x86_64 architecture is supported.  Many of our customers with an Enterprise Linux infrastructure build it on top of x86_64 hardware, so this is not necessarily that much of a consideration.  See my “CentOS vs Debian” article for more information on the various architectures supported by CentOS 7 and/or 8.
  • If your systems are still viable candidates for migrating to AlmaLinux, the almalinux-deploy script can make migrations from other EL8 variants rather easy.
  • Only migrations from CentOS, Oracle Linux and RHEL are currently supported by the almalinux-deploy tool.  This mean that other EL8 variants, such as Rocky Linux cannot be migrated without modification to the script.

AlmaLinux Repositories and Release Lag

AlmaLinux provides both HTTP and HTTPS mirrors at https://mirrors.almalinux.org

Secure communication with the repos over HTTPS is not strictly necessary since no authentication is required to access the repos.  Utilizing HTTPS will cause proxies to not be able to cache the packages. However, certain proxies (like squid) can be configured to accept HTTP requests from the client and connect to the upstream repos via HTTPS.

If you would like to create your own local mirror to distribute the RPMs to your clients, you can access some repo mirrors via Rsync and FTP.  A caching proxy or local mirror is something that we recommend for most of our customers, not just for the packages published by the OS vendor (AlmaLinux, in this case), but also for 3rd party application repos or private repositories like we provide for our customers.

Upon the initial AlmaLinux release, signed repository metadata was not provided.  With the latest update to the libdnf package, you can set repo_gpgcheck=1 in your DNF configuration to verify the repo metadata via GPG…just be sure to update to libdnf-0.48.0-5.alma (or newer) beforehand!

Release Lag

It’s a little early to determine what kind of release lag to expect with AlmaLinux as only a few packages have been updated since AlmaLinux came out on March 30, 2020, but here’s what I’ve seen with a cursory evaluation:

  • 10 bugfix updates and 1 security update were released within 1 day
  • 1 security update was released within 2 days
  • 1 security update was released within 3 days
  • 2 security updates and 3 bugfix updates have not yet been released (8+ days delay, at present)

By no means does this indicate a lack of AlmaLinux updates or a trend of unacceptable lag!  This is just one data sample taken a few weeks after initial release and I’m sure there are tweaks going on under the hood to smooth out their package build/test pipeline.

OpenLogic will continue to monitor the release lag of AlmaLinux (and other CentOS alternatives) as package updates are published and new point releases materialize.

Who Should Use AlmaLinux?

Anyone who has switched, or is considering switching, to CentOS Linux 8 and doesn’t want to deal with the extra overhead of switching to CentOS Stream 8 should consider AlmaLinux 8 as a potential candidate for their infrastructure.

AlmaLinux vs. Rocky Linux

Both AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux are RHEL-rebuilds that have emerged in response to the Red Hat announcement on Dec 8, 2020.

For those unaware of that announcement, Red Hat stated that CentOS Linux 8 will now have a diminished lifecycle that will go EoL at the end of 2021, 8 years earlier than previously announced. CentOS Linux 6 went EoL on Nov 30, 2020 (as scheduled) and CentOS Linux 7 has not received any change in EoL at this time.

With both projects coalescing to fill the same vacuum that will be left by CentOS 8, both should be relatively identical. Not only to each other, but to the upstream RHEL release that they are rebuilt from. Where we expect to see differences is in release lag, responsiveness to bug reports, communication and transparency of the project leads.

AlmaLinux vs. CentOS Linux

AlmaLinux 8 is intended to be a drop-in replacement for CentOS Linux 8.

A wonderful new benefit that AlmaLinux is providing is that of update errata!  The updateinfo metadata is provided, which means you can perform security-centric package management such as installing only security-only updates, query for patched vulnerabilities, and etc..  CentOS Linux does not provide the updateinfo metadata, but through CentOS 7, package announcements were available via a mailing list.  CentOS 8 doesn't have the updateinfo metadata, either, and even the package announcements on the CentOS-announce mailing list are absent. 

AlmaLinux vs. CentOS Stream

The entire reason that AlmaLinux exists is to fill the void that will exist when Red Hat terminates CentOS Linux 8 in Dec 2021.  You can be assured that AlmaLinux will not contain the newest versions of the packages shipped with CentOS Stream.  This is by design.  If an upstream distribution like CentOS Stream fits your business and technical models, then CentOS Stream should be available for many years to come.

Final Thoughts

AlmaLinux has come out of the gate strong, and continues to build momentum as a CentOS alternative. However, as an Enterprise Linux distribution, it still has some work to do. That work starts with a reduction of release lag outliers (especially security updates).

That complaint aside, the funding commitment from CloudLinux, a soon to be filled board, and a growing community all point to one thing — AlmaLinux has a bright future ahead.

Try Our AlmaLinux Images

If you’re interested in trying out AlmaLinux, OpenLogic has Vagrant boxes, AWS images and GCE images available to try (with Azure images coming soon).

See Our Vagrant BoxesSee Our AWS ImagesSee Our GCE Images

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