Introduction to Anaconda

Anaconda is the installation program used by Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and some other distributions.

During installation, a target computer’s hardware is identified and configured and the appropriate file systems for the system’s architecture are created. Finally, anaconda allows the user to install the operating system software on the target computer. Anaconda can also upgrade existing installations of earlier versions of the same distribution. After the installation is complete, you can reboot into your installed system and continue doing customization using the initial setup program.

Anaconda is a fairly sophisticated installer. It supports installation from local and remote sources such as CDs and DVDs, images stored on a hard drive, NFS, HTTP, and FTP. Installation can be scripted with kickstart to provide a fully unattended installation that can be duplicated on scores of machines. It can also be run over VNC on headless machines. A variety of advanced storage devices including LVM, RAID, iSCSI, and multipath are supported from the partitioning program. Anaconda provides advanced debugging features such as remote logging, access to the python interactive debugger, and remote saving of exception dumps.

For more news about Anaconda development and planned features you can follow our blog.

History

(The following was contributed by David Cantrell <dcantrell@redhat.com> and is probably 80% to 90% accurate. History is hard to keep track of, but this is what I can recall being both in the industry at the time but not at Red Hat.)

So the anaconda code base that we all started with began in 1999 or so, but it was not the original installer used by Red Hat Linux. Like many distributions at the time, the installation process was hand crafted and consisted of a series of steps executed by a collection of different programs and tools (shell scripts or Perl scripts or custom programs and so on). I have not found the original source for that installer, but I am still hunting.

OK, so anaconda. Back in the late 1990s there was a huge push of money in to Linux companies. Red Hat itself was founded in 1993 and by the late 90s was a large company. SuSE was another big one. I worked for a company called Walnut Creek CDROM (ftp.cdrom.com) which sponsored FreeBSD and Slackware Linux. Out in Utah in the United States there was a company called Caldera that made a distribution called OpenLinux (there’s actually a lot more history here, Caldera’s product called Caldera Network Desktop was based on Red Hat Linux and LST (Linux Support Team) Power Linux was based on Slackware Linux…LST Power Linux became OpenLinux).

Caldera was founded by former Novell employees and the focus was on business customers. Red Hat was still just trying to make a general purpose system and the industry as a whole tended to view the main competitor to Linux as Windows. Caldera was trying to make an enterprise operating system. The late 1990s saw the first dedicated Linux trade shows. No longer did Linux companies go to COMDEX or Windows World. We now had the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. And I was at the first one. And the second, and third, … all the way until LWCE stopped being an event. Companies were using LWCE to drop huge product announcements. Well Caldera had an announcement at one of these events.

They announced the next version of Caldera OpenLinux and one of its big features was a graphical installer. This was huge. This was the first Linux distribution to feature a graphical installer program. They wrote it in C++ (probably?) and it used Qt. Everyone wanted to know how they made it work. Since installing packages took a long time back then, Caldera even put games in the installer. You could play Tetris during installation (side note, Be did that in BeOS too several years before).

They named their installer “Lizard”. Why? Well, back in the 90s, every UI thing tended to emulate the Windows “wizard work flow”. The series of dialog boxes with Next and Back buttons. Windows created that workflow and people felt comfortable with it. They went with Lizard as a combination of “Linux wizard”. (side note: this is why you can sometimes see references to “druids” in old Red Hat documentation, such as “Disk Druid”. No, it’s not a wizard like Windows, it’s a druid!)

Caldera got a lot of patents for the installer, including being able to play a game during installation which is, incidentally, why we never did that in anaconda.

OK, so Caldera has made Lizard. Now Red Hat needed to act. They created a new installer project to focus on this graphical installer. The installer was already in Python at this point, but was not graphical. Red Hat started working on this. They went with the name “anaconda” because (a) it is written in Python and an anaconda snake is a type of python and (b) the anaconda snake eats lizards in the wild.

And that’s how we got the name anaconda for the installer. Caldera eventually disappeared entirely. OpenLinux didn’t go anywhere. But Caldera really tried. The last thing they did? They bought SCO and renamed themselves to SCO and sued IBM for infringing on original Unix code in Linux. We all know how that turned out. :)