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Discussion on: Which is the best Linux server distro?

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lietux profile image
Janne "Lietu" Enberg

The ecosystem in RedHat based distros is designed for servers. It's easy to automate things, and you don't have to spend excessive effort trying to disable expectations for user interaction.

Anything Debian based is unreliable. APT was not meant to be used without user interaction, and trying to do that requires constant use of poorly documented hacks.

RedHat based distributions also typically come with SELinux enabled unlike Debian based distributions. I don't understand why you would want to run a server with common security features disabled.

In the end it all depends on what you want out of servers. Nowadays running Alpine Linux based Docker images is often much more productive than managing servers as that's just inventing additional work for you that is critical for security yet typically not in anyone's focus.

If you run your own server, you need to maintain security updates, check up on permissions, logs, hardware, and so on. If you don't you can focus on building the things you need instead of all that, reducing cost, liability, cognitive load, and so on while providing more time for the things that matter.

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hyperpress profile image
John Teague

I own a hosting company, and we've run Ubuntu servers for nearly eight years without a single distro based incident Google still runs a custom version of debian, and ran them for years as both desktops and servers. There's nothing wrong with using rhel, but there tradeoffs with every server OS. You really have gotten bad information. I'd urge you to learn more before commenting.

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lietux profile image
Janne "Lietu" Enberg

Comparing anyone to Google is just ignorant. Google has some 100k employees with a quick look at Wikipedia. What they are able to do is quite different from what almost anyone on the planet is able to do.

Google running a "custom version of debian" could easily mean they're manually packaged every single thing themselves to make everything work unattended. Do you seriously expect every small company out there to be able to put the same effort into managing their servers as Google?

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anonymouscoward profile image
Anonymous-Coward

May be so, but still, thousands of smaller companies have no problem running Debian based infrastructure. Those don't have that many employees. IME, Ubuntu server, which is Debian based, is extremely convenient to run as a server, more so than anything RH-based. It's package ecosystem is still somewhat larger than RH's, and in 10 years since I started using it as a server I didn't have a single problem with package dependencies, despite using tons of PPAs. There's no PPA equivalent in the RH world, and whenever I needed to get my hands into anything RH or Fedora, I sooner or later ran into package dependencies trouble.

Another argument for Debian-based servers: there is a chart somewhere with what distro is based on what other distro. More than half of all distros out there are Debian-based. RH-based ones barely account for a quarter. That means you're twice more likely to get distro-/package-related support, if you need it, if you run something Debian-based rather than RH-based.

As for Google, I can tell you first hand that while they do inspect and get every single package they allow on their machines, they don't repackage them. They just built a ton of stuff on top of Debian. Really, a huge lot. Choosing Debian must have had at least something to do with how easy it is to customize and script Debian-based systems.

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lietux profile image
Janne "Lietu" Enberg

Another argument for Debian-based servers: ... More than half of all distros out there are Debian-based. RH-based ones barely account for a quarter.

Your logical fallacy is: Bandwagon. yourlogicalfallacyis.com/bandwagon

The rest is anecdotal: yourlogicalfallacyis.com/anecdotal

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anonymouscoward profile image
Anonymous-Coward

I meant half of all distros being Debian based and only a quarter being RH based as a statistical argument. It's highly unlikely that many more distributions use debian as a base even if Debian is a less stable or otherwise worse base distro than redhat. Possible, but unlikely. It's more likely that there's something (or some more things) that Debian does differently that makes it easier or more convenient in a different way to build and customize distros based on Debian. Since most often when, as a company, you use a Linux distro for your servers, you customize it, and maintain those customizations, that would be a significant advantage for Debian.

Personal experience is always anecdotal. Yours included. Statistics, on the other hand, is based on data, not anecdotes. Debian-based systems have a much larger installed base than RH (server-side), which implicitly means a larger community and a wider area of applications and more varied setups in which Debian-based systems run. This, in turn, means better community support. That's not something to be discarded for a server OS.

RH, as a server OS, has the upper hand when you actually need all the enterprise-specific features that RH adds on top of what's freely available as open source, such as infrastructure management or high availability, plus the paid support. If you don't, RH doesn't have anything on other distros, except a smaller package library than Debian-based systems.

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Adam Outler

Apt works fine without interaction. Debian is extremely reliable. You have obviously never used a server distro other than RHEL. RHEL is great for enterprise and the legalities that go with it. Mainly it's great for the legalities. There is nothing stopping you from changing RHEL with Ubuntu Server except you lose the service contract which is required by enterprises. Sure you can get one from ubuntu and manage your servers from a web interface with them, but the RHEL brand commands more respect in the server world because they were first.

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lietux profile image
Janne "Lietu" Enberg

I've been using Linux extensively since the 90s, thanks, but I have enough experience with Debian based distros and other distros to have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them. I've likely personally used more different distributions than you could name.

I've never had a distro that was not Debian based try and delete all instances of my kernel, or fill up my boot partition so it could not install any updates, or get the package manager to an unrecovable state where it's constantly trying to delete a massive number of the packages installed.

I have no interest in RHEL, and I have never used RHEL on anything I cared about.

RedHad based distros (such as CentOS) tend to have working package managers, which are designed for server use by serious professionals. Anyone who has tried even once to automate installing software on CentOS vs Ubuntu knows how much you need to hack around to get dpkg based installations to go through unattended, and that you never have to hack anything to get rpm based installations to go through unattended.

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madza profile image
Madza Author

Learned a lot from your insights, awesome to hear from experienced devs 😉 Thanks! 👍

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adamoutler profile image
Adam Outler

That's interesting Janne, however, it seems you're straw-manning Debian. I too have been using Linux since the early 90's, have several certs, and created the first distro to run within a chroot in Android OS. I've never experienced Debian deleting all instances of kernels. That's not something that is a common problem and most instances I see online are where people deleted their own kernels.

I believe you need to learn how to use the Package Managers better. There are several commands which can be used to reset debian and other package managers. They go into a state where they won't perform operations because it's dangerous to do so, but you can always look at the packages that are being installed and remove them. For example "apt update --fix-missing" or "apt remove -f <package name requested here". In the worst case scenarios, once you have removed the offending package and caused a bunch of damage to your system, you can "apt install --reinstall ubuntu-server^" that "^" causes ubuntu-server package and all dependencies to be reinstalled.

The most common cause of problems with package managers is broken packages and fixing them is different on each system. For CentOS/RHEL, you might have to install a different package list or get into the rpm command itself.

Point is, there is no best distro. They all have their problems, but none of which are problems which you mentioned. Debian does not delete your kernel unless you command it to and you can't get Debian package manger into an unrecoverable state, you just need to learn to Linux better. You can start with automating packages on Debian with "apt install -y " or you can get an update manager.

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Primož Ajdišek

Also SELinux is not the only common security on the market There are things like apparmor used by debain ubuntu opensuse and more as fat as i understand SELinux is only used by default in distributions based on RHEL, having used fedora server centos server ubuntu server debian server even arch as a server i can tell you right now that in reality its all about preference and what you are used to

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George C. G. Barbosa

That is great info. Thanks!

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madza profile image
Madza Author

Thanks for the extended insight! Learned a bit! 👍