There are many reasons why somebody would want to read this book. The principal reason is to install a Linux system from the source code. A question many people raise is, “why go through all the hassle of manually building a Linux system from scratch when you can just download and install an existing one?” That is a good question and is the impetus for this section of the book.
One important reason for the existence of CLFS is to help people understand how a Linux system works. Building an CLFS system helps demonstrate what makes Linux tick, and how things work together and depend on each other. One of the best things this learning experience provides is the ability to customize Linux to your own tastes and needs.
A key benefit of CLFS is that it allows users to have more control over their system without any reliance on a Linux implementation designed by someone else. With CLFS, you are in the driver's seat and dictate every aspect of the system, such as the directory layout and bootscript setup. You also dictate where, why, and how programs are installed.
Another benefit of CLFS is the ability to create a very compact Linux system. When installing a regular distribution, one is often forced to include several programs which are probably never used. These programs waste disk space or CPU cycles. It is not difficult to build an CLFS system of less than 100 megabytes (MB), which is substantially smaller than the majority of existing installations. Does this still sound like a lot of space? A few of us have been working on creating a very small embedded CLFS system. We successfully built a system that was specialized to run the Apache web server with approximately 8MB of disk space used. Further stripping could bring this down to 5 MB or less. Try that with a regular distribution! This is only one of the many benefits of designing your own Linux implementation.
We could compare Linux distributions to a hamburger purchased at a fast-food restaurant—you have no idea what might be in what you are eating. CLFS, on the other hand, does not give you a hamburger. Rather, CLFS provides the recipe to make the exact hamburger desired. This allows users to review the recipe, omit unwanted ingredients, and add your own ingredients to enhance the flavor of the burger. When you are satisfied with the recipe, move on to preparing it. It can be made to exact specifications—broil it, bake it, deep-fry it, or barbecue it.
Another analogy that we can use is that of comparing CLFS with a finished house. CLFS provides the skeletal plan of a house, but it is up to you to build it. CLFS maintains the freedom to adjust plans throughout the process, customizing it to the needs and preferences of the user.
Security is an additional advantage of a custom built Linux system. By compiling the entire system from source code, you are empowered to audit everything and apply all the security patches desired. It is no longer necessary to wait for somebody else to compile binary packages that fix a security hole. Unless you examine the patch and implement it yourself, you have no guarantee that the new binary package was built correctly and adequately fixes the problem.
The goal of Cross Linux From Scratch is to build a complete and usable foundation-level system. Readers who do not wish to build their own Linux system from scratch may not benefit from the information in this book. If you only want to know what happens while the computer boots, we recommend the “From Power Up To Bash Prompt” HOWTO located at http://axiom.anu.edu.au/~okeefe/p2b/ or on The Linux Documentation Project's (TLDP) website at http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/From-PowerUp-To-Bash-Prompt-HOWTO.html. The HOWTO builds a system which is similar to that of this book, but it focuses strictly on creating a system capable of booting to a BASH prompt. Consider your objective. If you wish to build a Linux system and learn along the way, this book is your best choice.
There are too many good reasons to build your own CLFS system to list them all here. This section is only the tip of the iceberg. As you continue in your CLFS experience, you will find the power that information and knowledge truly bring.