Constructing Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4

How do you put together a stable Linux distribution better and faster? Get adamant about pushing your changes upstream, maintain a community test distribution and bring developers from partner companies on-site.

Wow, time sure flies when you are having fun! Seems like only yesterday I was sitting here writing “Constructing Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.3” (see the on-line Resources). Hard to believe that 16 months have flown by so quickly, resulting in the launch of Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4 in February 2005. The last article on v.3 provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the challenges we face here at Red Hat in order to deliver a robust enterprise-caliber Linux distribution. Although we still face many of the same challenges with the new release, there were many changes in how we conduct business. In this article, I cover the new challenges we faced and how we adapted to address them.

Out of practical necessity, I cover only a small fraction of the hundreds of features and issues we address in a new Red Hat release. Also for this reason, I am unable to identify all of the literally hundreds of contributors, both internal and external. Allow me to apologize up front to my Red Hat friends who escape mention here (it's not that you too aren't awesome).

The Stakes Get Higher

Truly the most remarkable trend in the computing industry is the dramatic rise in Linux adoption. Seemingly, every day, there are media alerts, on-line articles, notifications from our peers in local Linux User Groups (LUGs) and sales announcements reporting large new user communities migrating to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. For example:

  • Entire country governments, government agencies and departments.

  • Public school systems, from grade schools to universities.

  • Huge corporations increasingly are making Red Hat Enterprise Linux their primary software development platform and engineering design workstations.

  • Call centers and desktops.

  • Scientific research, public and private.

  • Telco and increasing usage in embedded appliances.

It is an immensely gratifying phenomenon to have the work you do benefit a huge and swiftly climbing user community. The collective user base of both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the Fedora community version is well above a million users. In fact, due to the proliferation of our software, it is impossible to derive exact numbers to characterize the popularity. Given this scope, all our developers have a strong sense that their contributions truly have impact. There is a betterment of humanity aspect that is inherent with the spread of open-source software.

Given the great diversity of our user base, it becomes increasingly challenging to meet its needs with a finite set of internal developers and testers. In order to keep pace with the growing user base, we needed to find a better way to scale our effectiveness. To accomplish this, we had to look no further than the open-source model that is the core of Red Hat's philosophy. That is, to involve a broader community of participants in an inclusive “early and often” approach. This was the genesis of Fedora.

Fedora

Fedora is one of the main differences in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4 development as compared to Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.3. There are several objectives of the Fedora Project, including:

  • Providing a freely downloadable Linux distribution for interested contributors. By aggregating the latest available versions of a great diversity of packages, Fedora is an ideal incubator for new technology.

  • Providing a forum for external contribution and participation.

  • Forming a proving ground for new technologies that later may appear in an upcoming Red Hat Enterprise Linux release.

The experiences gleaned from Fedora are invaluable in the productisation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The Fedora community consists of tens of thousands of users. This volume is larger than the Red Hat Enterprise Linux beta-testing audience. Through the experiences of Fedora, we are able to get a solid understanding of which package revisions and new technologies are mature enough for inclusion in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The Fedora community members were involved actively in many aspects of development.

A perfect example of community involvement in Fedora development consisted of an external contributor developing an awesome Java application that output diagrams illustrating where time was spent in the boot process. This highlighted slow-starting system services. One such offending service identified by this application subsequently had its starting time corrected to take half a second rather than 20 seconds.

Portions of Fedora are even developed and maintained entirely outside of Red Hat. A key example of this is the yum package delivery and update technology. This shows how Fedora is free to grow in many dimensions, unrestricted from Red Hat's agenda.

For those who demand the latest bleeding-edge technology, Fedora is a perfect, free distribution. For those who demand a more stable supported product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the right choice. The Fedora Project has moved ahead in the new technology curve from Red Hat Enterprise Linux v.4. In this manner, it forms a glimpse of promising new features that may appear in future Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases.

The success of the Fedora Project truly has been win-win. Community contributors and users receive a free vehicle to mature open-source technology. Enterprise customers benefit from an increasingly feature-rich and mature product after completion of the stabilization phase.

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