BusyBox version 1.29.0 came out today, and though most GNU/Linux users won’t find it in their repositories just yet it should prove to be an extremely important update nonetheless. There might be no other tool that’s quite as commonplace in the world of open-source software. The single binary provides a number of stripped-down standard Unix tools, and it can run in a variety of other POSIX environments as well as those powered by the Linux kernel.
While it’s historically been used to provide a useful group of tools on devices that used embedded Linux, BusyBox is today included with most desktop and laptop distros as well. You’ll still find it deployed on countless devices. If you fished a command prompt out of a smart thermostat or television, then you might get to use BusyBox-based tools.
This new release might end up seeing more serious use as part of boxed network routing solutions. For instance, companies that manufacture a Linux-based router that doesn’t have a proper GNU userspace could include BusyBox with it and therefore provide a useful coding environment.
Naturally, few people would want to manually tap commands into the tiny Almquist shell provided by the new source release if they’re using something like a router, but it quite helpful for those who have to write scripts for these kinds of devices.
Mobile users have gotten quite a bit of use out of BusyBox as well, and newer touchscreen-based terminal emulator apps will eventually start to include code based on the version 1.29.0 packages.
While most people don’t use a terminal emulator on Android devices, there’s no reason that you can’t. If you do, then you’ll find that once again everything will seem slightly deconstructed versus what they’re used to if they use a GNU/Linux or macOS terminal.
The reason is the apps they find are all part of the single BusyBox binary. While they’re sometimes considered limited, they’re an excellent way to include things like vi, zcat, httpd ,ipcalc and md5sum into systems that never would have had that kind of support otherwise.
It’s this versatility that’s earned BusyBox the title the Swiss Army knife of Embedded Linux. The full version of the single executable file can replace the basic functionality of nearly 300 different CLI apps.