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Which is the best Linux server distro?

madza profile image Madza ・1 min read

Linux is known as one of the leading server operating systems which is more prevalent and wide-ranging. By the research I've done Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Fedora and Red Hat came up often.

Which has been your favorite Linux server distro and why?


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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.


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.


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?

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.

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

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.


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


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.


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.

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

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.


That is great info. Thanks!


Thanks for the extended insight! Learned a bit! 👍


I think a better question could be - Which is your favorite linux distro? "Best" is highly subjective.

Nevertheless, I have tried many just for fun. I have to use windows because of the games though, but I do like the performance linux give on the same hardware. For me Ubuntu and Mint would be the better choice as they are supported on most of the consumer hardware and a big community. Mint also has the third party closed source drivers options to install in case you need.

I can remember that 10 years back it was the Puppy linux that I used to boot in and rescue whenever I messed up my installations or bootloader.

I miss-read the question even reading it multiple times:-D. Sometimes you are just out of your mind. The discussion is about servers and not PCs. Thanks @psvl for reminding.


Did you read the topic of discussion?


By topic u mean the post text? Yes.

Then tell us about your servers running Mint or Puppy, please.

Haha. Gotcha. My bad. Actually whenever I hear distro, it rings a bell for me as pc. Even reading the post 5 times😁.


Personally I like running Debian whenever it comes to servers. I usually just install everything and then never really touch it after that. For the most part it just works and never gives me any reason to touch it....


Ubuntu server, FreeBsd, or OpenBsd. Openbsd has the least support but is by far the fastest and most secure. FreeBsd is pretty secure, generally faster then Ubuntu, and has a lot more support then OpenBsd. Ubuntu server will run freaking anything.


Absolutely anything BSD, for highly specialized systems where the risk of having to run something unsupported is low. But with traditional servers that's most often not the case. Which is why I'd say Ubuntu server as a first choice.


Bad is not linux


It is unix, just as reliable, and free software. In most server recorces it is considered a distro.

It is unix but it is not a linux distribution, is it?

No its not. But I thought its should be mentioned. Here is a look of some of the differences educba.com/linux-vs-freebsd/


For a personal setup; Ubuntu Server is an awesome minimal distribution. They have everything you need and a huge community backing the distro. If you intend on maintaining it yourself without support, Ubuntu is the way to go.

Also, worst case scenario, where you get lost in the terminal and need a GUI (not me, I'm too manly for GUI), you can convert your server into a desktop with "apt install ubuntu-desktop^" or vice versa with "apt install ubuntu-server;apt remove ubuntu-desktop;apt autoremove"

For a Business setup; Red Hat. RHEL was first to business and they've been dealing with enterprise level issues for a long time now. They have excellent support, understand business needs, and if you need it and if everything fails, you can point the finger at them.


RancherOS github.com/rancher/os with Rancher Kubernetes Engine github.com/rancher/rke , investigate and you'll understand.
When you've gone this way, you'll never go back to the classic distros.
For containers Alpine or Googles Distroless github.com/GoogleContainerTools/di...


Back when I was on Hetzner I used Centos and I was perfectly happy with it, as it was rock-solid. When I moved to DigitalOcean, though, I decided to switch to Ubuntu, not necessarily because I thought it better but because it was easier to find documentation and support online. Also, being so popular resulted in being the first or among the first to be supported by new tools and services. Of course, I am happy with it too, as it works fine with no issues.


You make my point better than I do. RH-based systems are great if they're static and you don't ask too much of them. When you start to constantly update them, add and remove software from various sources, they are no longer that great. The stable server that rarely changes was feasible 10 or 20 years ago. Nowadays, if I absolutely must run a traditinal local server (which hasn't happened, over the last maybe 5 years or more), I'd prefer one which doesn't need a complete reinstall after every second major update, or whenever I have installed and removed too many third party packages.


I have used Fedora, Ubuntu and CentOS. I really liked CentOS but I have some projects where making work some dependencies was painful and in Ubuntu it was automatic. So, I end up using Ubuntu always because it has better support for the things that I use. And Fedora I had bad experiences 7 years ago every time I updated the system it was throwing errors and things stopped working.


I've always gone with Centos/Redhat but I finding their decision to move away from Docker quite challenging. Redhat bundle Podman in Centos/RHEL 8 as a container engine but it is not supported fully by Kubernetes so you end up fudging something. I'm now trying Ubuntu server and finding their Multipass installation a quick and easy method to build infrastructure. Will have to wait before commenting on its value as a Centos/RHEL replacement though


Yea I also had issues using podman when I first spun some containers up but it does say alot about dockers overly permissive use of the underlying system.

I actually still root for podman just because docker hasn't found stable funding for further development compared to red hat + ibm. Plus with other orchestrators like Nomad getting better it'd be interesting to see where container orchestration goes in a few years.


My favorite server distro gotta be ubuntu, there are few reasons unlike centos it changes enought quickly that you can be fairly certien newer changes will be applied whether that is kernel or software(underlying os should be fairly fluid and updated whenever possible in my opinion which goes against what most server admins say but i have my own opinion) which brings performance improvments and security. But reality is nowdays OS is just a piece of that story containers are a thing with docker at forefront, where i will use ubuntu as well but depending on your application you could use your own rootfs image, alpine or any other rootfs image and it comes down to preference and subjsctivity


Old but Gold: Debian.


I think some people on the comments are ignoring the word server. Anyway, I have been working recently with NixOS and it looks like a great option for setting up a server distro, as you can simply set up a configuration file and the OS will load it and download what is needed. So you just set up what you need (users, programs) and not enable Xserver and it will just load what is necessary.

But as a stable option, I would go CentOS (RHEL if there are conditions).


I find the comments very insightful. I don't have much experience with servers. Does anyone have reasons not to use arch ? I'm thinking of setting up a personal email server and hosting a static site. I'm very comfortable with the distro.


Seems to me that Arch Linux is a distribution targeting people with infinite time in their hands. They have pretty good documentation on how things work, but they also don't think about anyone's real world needs. Every time I've done anything with Arch it's taken too much effort to get anything running.


It gets some getting used to. I run it as my desktop and I get things running within 5 minutes. Is there a technical reason I shouldn't use it for servers ?


Centos / rhel because of their support for open source. Running upstream fedora as desktop distro.


I also like to work with CentOS. Very reliable.


Server: RHEL or CentOS
Desktop: Manjaro

I used to really like Debian, but once I learned about how other distros manage their package management, I realized that APT really sucked donkey balls. But Ubuntu's support group is huge, and their problems and bugs are usually fixed immediately.


I would look at what is being asked from the server. If your going to run unifi software, Ubuntu/Debian. If your going to run a Desktop for gaming, Ubuntu. If your running a gitlab server RHEL/CentOS. And for security testing, Kali.

My first choice is RHEL/CensOS but if the task I'm looking to do doesn't run as smoothly or at all, then I'll pick the best Linux for the job.


That's not a Linux distribution


Is openbsd a Linux distribution?


Ha, no! I just thought to add it as I also use it on servers. But no, strictly speaking Void Linux is my favorite (best for me) Linux distro.


I'm biased because we run Fedora in my house, but APT feels very unpredictable at times. I had Nagios set up on Centos 8 at work, and when I had to migrate it to Ubuntu 20, nothing worked!

I know it's a matter of opinion, but my servers run Centos 7 or RHEL, purely because of stability.


I second this. Stability & reliability are all I ask for servers. Also, I rarely do package update or package removal on my servers (I just spawn another server with updated dependencies), so I don't need too many package manager features. yum & dnf are not the most feature-rich or user-friendly package managers out there, but they surely get their jobs done.


For web hosting CloudLinux (usually installed on top of CentOS if images aren't available) is my preferred option because of CageFS.


For me debian is the best.


I used to use CentOS but recently switched to Ubuntu Server. I feel like home with Ubuntu :)


Ubuntu (see livepatch)


I like to use Debian they have a great support and stability.


Ubuntu for desktop, and CentOS for server


Arch Linux (and other Arch based distro), because of the AUR.


@mazda , Quora would be the right place to ask questions. This is blogging platform.


I see your point. Tho, I always thought the discussion format is the best way to learn. The creators of DEV has dedicated a unique #discuss tag for that reason here on DEV too, with 10K+ posts already. The discuss tag is moderated by 5 people, if they will find the content to be inappropriate, they will change the tags or remove the post. 👮‍♂️
Quora is more oriented to general public and people in dev specific pages are often less competent and many do comment first Google result just to get points without personal experience in the field. DEV community is specifically oriented to devs and engineers, thus the discussions add way more value compared to Quora. 😉
I always try to give my knowledge on the top of discussion topics, so others can get some info from the initial post too. Furthermore, browsing through comments there are lots of valuable sources on new tools, tips and suggestions, as many users have noted that they have learned a lot from my discussions. I see it as a two way communication and it's awesome to exchange the knowledge, meaning it's a win-win for all of us participating ❤💯


Ah, that is so cool. Wasn't aware of it. Thanks for enlighting me.
But I would still hold on to my statement, Quora is much better for Q&A


It isn't Linux, but my choice would be FreeBSD. If it has to be Linux, then OpenSUSE Leap (or, for companies, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server).


Even though I like the debian family, most serious IT engineers I know prefer CentOS.


It's the free version of RHEL they use at work, most likely.


Not aware of that detail. RHEL and CentOS indeed share the same things technically


Depends on the use.
In general I prefer Redhat EL or Centos EL, which have 10 year support, that said because of the long support cycle the supported packages can be a bit dated between main releases. You can setup a server and besides for largely unbreaking patching it just works for many years.
Ubuntu is a bit more quirky, but has broad and fast support for newer software. That said, it will require to upgrade more often compared to Redhat/Centos, forced to do more portenialy breaking updates, but in general easier to upgrade over major version (which is good as you have to do it more often).
Recently for my home server I have been using PCLinuxOS. Not as popular or wide of support as Centos or Ubuntu, but it is light weight and major plus it is systemd free. So far, it has worked well as a base server.


Ubuntu for sure with production apps running inside docker. Best of everything.


Have used Ubuntu for year, really want to use elementary.io/


Ubuntu 20 for desktop workstation, CentOS for Server, and Alpine Linux with Docker.


CentOS/Red Hat because new home directories are mode 700 by default.


Used to use UBUNTU. Now, shifted to Pop OS!!


My favourite is XAMPP server. Lol😂


Alpine Linux because it’s a lightweight OS for Docker host and containers.


True that, but I wouldn't call Alpine a server distro. It's a dedicated container distro. If you start with Alpine, you have to do a lot of tedious manual package installation and configuration to get to a decent standalone server setup.


It depends on your needs.

Here is a recently Reddit post post about Linux distros.