Do Linux Distributions Still Matter with Containers?

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There are two major trends in container builds: using a base image and building from scratch. Each has engineering tradeoffs.

Some people say Linux distributions no longer matter with containers. Alternative approaches, like distroless and scratch containers, seem to be all the rage. It appears we are considering and making technology decisions based more on fashion sense and immediate emotional gratification than thinking through the secondary effects of our choices. We should be asking questions like: How will these choices affect maintenance six months down the road? What are the engineering tradeoffs? How does this paradigm shift affect our build systems at scale?

It’s frustrating to watch. If we forget that engineering is a zero-sum game with measurable tradeoffs—advantages and disadvantages, with costs and benefits of different approaches— we do ourselves a disservice, we do our employers a disservice, and we do our colleagues who will eventually maintain our code a disservice. Finally, we do all of the maintainers (hail the maintainers!) a disservice by not appreciating the work they do.

Understanding the problem

To understand the problem, we have to investigate why we started using Linux distributions in the first place. I would group the reasons into two major buckets: kernels and other packages. 

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