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Moe Long
Moe Long

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Best Linux Distros for Developers

Linux is an awesome ecosystem for a variety of uses. For instance, Linux is the de facto server environment, powering over 96% of the top 1 million servers. And for programming, Linux is arguably better than Windows. Check out the best Linux distros for programmers and developers!

Why is Linux Better for Devs and Programmers?

My Linux journey began back in the day when I inherited an ancient Shuttle XPC desktop sans an operating system (OS). Rather than purchasing a copy of Windows, I decided to install the Ubuntu derivative Lubuntu, and since then I've been a convert. Likewise, one of the reasons many motivations for programmers to use a Linux OS is that it's free and open-source.

Additionally, Linux is incredibly secure. While antivirus programs for Linux do exist, Linux viruses are incredibly rare. Many Linux distributions benefit from regular updates too, and this cutting edge nature combined with stability makes the FOSS (free open-source software) a great choice.

But where Linux really shines for programming and development is its compatibility with virtually any programming language. You'll appreciate access to the Linux command line which is superior to the Windows command line. And there are loads of Linux programming apps such as Sublime Text, Bluefish, and KDevelop. Linux boasts compatibility with the likes of Ruby, C, and C++ among others. Certain languages, such as Visual Basic for Windows, aren't Linux-friendly. But by far Linux touts the greatest programming language support. For remote server management, whether a file or web server, there's SSH support built-in. And of course Linux familiarity is an excellent skill to add to your resume, particularly for sysadmins.

Why Linux rocks for programmers and developers:

  • Security
  • Stability
  • Free, open-source
  • Tons of distros to choose from
  • Excellent programming language support
  • SSH built-in
  • Great for resumes too!

The Best Linux Distros for Programmers and Developers

From staples like Ubuntu and newcomers such as Pop!_OS to specialized Linux OSes, these are the top distros for devs!

1. Ubuntu

Although it's not the oldest or only Linux distro available, Ubuntu ranks among the most popular Linux OSes you can install. With an insanely large user-base, Ubuntu is incredibly well documented. There are tons of support options, from official forums to third-party communities. There's a reason Ubuntu derivatives like Lubuntu and Xubuntu exist: Ubuntu simply works.

The Debian-based OS offers a great, user-friendly package manager. There's Android Open Source Project compatibility, a nifty inclusion for Android devs. And you'll find snap package support for writing apps in your preferred programming language, then deploying them for Linux using Snapcraft. Easy to use, massively popular, and with a bevy of programming resources, from snap apps to Android Open Source Project and Ubuntu Make, Ubuntu is an excellent option for devs.
Why Ubuntu is great for programmers and developers:

  • Tons of official and third-party support
  • Loads of resources
  • Ubuntu Make command-line tool for using dev tools
  • Android Open Source Project compatibility
  • User-friendly
  • Debian-based
  • Regularly updated
  • Great package manager
  • Supports snap apps
  • Various install options: Desktop, IoT, cloud, server

2. Pop!_OS

Hailing from Linux PC manufacturer System76, Pop!_OS is a programmer and maker-oriented Linux distro. Based on Ubuntu, Pop!_OS features the GNOME desktop environment. Personally, Pop!_OS is my desktop Linux distro of choice that I run on my laptop. It's packed with functionality including useful keyboard shortcuts, a robust app store, and access to repos such as TensorFlow. Window management even tailors itself to developer workflows. Plus, features such as seamless switching between integrated and dedicated graphics make Pop!_OS a superb Linux experience for programming.

Why Pop!_OS is great for programmers and developers:

  • Ubuntu-based
  • GNOME desktop environment
  • Robust app store
  • Shortcuts and window management engineered for programmers
  • Easy-to-use
  • Excellent support

3. Kali Linux

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Popularized in part among non-Linux users by USA hit TV series "Mr. Robot," Kali Linux is a superb distro for security-minded Linux users. With its focus on penetration testing, it's perfect for pen testing, white-hat hacking, and network vulnerability checks. While it's not beginner-friendly, Kali Linux is superb for pen testing and ethical hacking. With its pre-installed tools such as John the Ripper for password cracking, web application security scanner OWASP ZAP, and penetration testing suite Aircrack-ng, Kali is awesome for ethical hacking. Black hoodie and F Society mask sold separately.

Why Kali Linux is great for programmers and developers:

  • Built for penetration testing and ethical hacking
  • Includes tons of tools like John the Ripper, Aircrrack-ng, and OWASP ZAP

4. CentOS

Image credit: [Srikanthyalavarthi]( "User:Srikanthyalavarthi (page does not exist)") - Own work
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) free community edition CentOS is an awesome RHEL alternative. You'll find the majority of its features but packaged in a free distro. Access to its YUM package manager as well as the Red Hat Software Collections (RHSCL) repo which comes chock-full of open-source databases and the likes makes CentOS a nifty pick for programmers. With commercial RHEL software available on CentOS for free, this stable enterprise environment-caliber Linux OS is a fantastic choice.

Why CentOS is great for programmers and developers:

  • RHEL community edition
  • Access to RHSCL
  • Stable and secure
  • YUM package manager

5. Raspbian

Image source: Raspbian Project - Raspbian 2019.04 (Capture for used with permission under the CC-BY-SA 4.0 license
The credit card-sized Raspberry Pi is an incredibly utilitarian single-board computer (SBC). Packing a far greater punch than its tiny form factor allows, the Pi is capable of running a bunch of Linux operating systems including Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, and even Kali Linux. But Raspbian is a superb choice. There's support for many programming resources and languages such as Python, Mathematica, Greenfoot, and BlueJ. With its lovely Pixel desktop environment, Raspbian runs like a champ on the ultra-popular SBC. Programming on a Raspberry Pi means you can use a small, energy-efficient desktop PC.

Why Raspbian is great for programmers and developers:

  • Tons of programming resources i.e. BlueJ, Greenfoot, Python, Mathematica
  • Pixel desktop
  • Raspberry Pi is small and energy-efficient, a great programming PC that won't break the bank

6. OpenSUSE

OpenSUSE is actually a Linux OS engineered with developers and sysadmins in mind. Simple to install, you can download -devel packages with a one-click installer making OpenSUSE a spectacular programmer-centric distro. You'll have access to text editors such as Emacs and VIM, plus RPM package management, and CMake for build automation. With both fixed and rolling release options, OpenSUSE is perfect for programming needs

Why OpenSUSE is great for programmers and developers:

  • Fixed and rolling release options
  • YaST config tool
  • Tons of programming tools and text editors like VIM, EMacs, CMake

7. Fedora

Similar to CentOS, Fedora packs many RHEL features. It's even Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds's preferred distro. Boasting cutting-edge features, Fedora is a favorite OS among programmers. Because of its stability, up-to-date feature set, and awesome developer portal, Fedora is a neat alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Moreover, Fedora includes a multi-language IDE in Eclipse which can be used for the likes of PHP, Java, C, and C++.

Why Fedora is great for programmers and developers:

  • RHEL alternative
  • Developer portal
  • Multi-language IDE in Eclipse
  • Stable
  • Cutting edge features

8. Arch Linux

Arch Linux
In the Linux community, Arch Linux is famous (or infamous) for its difficult installation. Lacking an installation bundler or graphical user interface (GUI), it demands a solid grasp on the terminal and Linux commands. One of its main benefits is the lack of bloatware. And the Pacman package manager is a real treat. Because of its rolling releases, Arch Linux won't bother you with upgrades since new versions continually update. But Arch Linux is not for newcomers.

Why Arch Linux is great for programmers and developers:

  • Rolling release model
  • Lightweight, no bloatware
  • Customizable
  • Great package manager in Pacman

9. Manjaro Linux

Manjaro Linux
For all the Arch Linux fun minus the hellacious install, check our Manjaro. It's Arch-based so you'll retain stellar features like a rolling release and Pacman package manager. The stable branch is only slightly behind Arch stable as well. You've got several different desktop environment choices, and it's dead simple to use.

Why Manjaro Linux is great for programmers and developers:

  • Arch Linux-based
  • User-friendly
  • Easy to install
  • Pacman package manager
  • Stable branch is up-to-date
  • Rolling release schedule

10. Debian

Debian Linux
It would be remiss to talk best Linux distros and not mention Debian. Although many flavors of Linux currently exist, Debian is the mothership. There's a reason that tons of Linux OSes, include Ubuntu, are Debian derivatives. The rock-solid Debian is stable, secure, and flaunts one of the largest user communities around. Debian is an awesome choice for any Linux user, but particularly devs and programmers.

Why Debian Linux is great for programmers and developers:

  • Large user base
  • Stable
  • Secure
  • User-friendly
  • Great package manager

The Best Linux Distros for Programmers and Devs - Final Thoughts

There's always going to be a bit of subjectivity when selecting the top Linux OSes. However, the criteria for programmers and developers helps narrow down the list. In general, look for secure, stable distros that feature thriving user communities. That way, you'll benefit from regular updates and loads of resources such as official forums or wikis, as well as third-party resources like sub-reddits.

What Linux OSes do you prefer for programming?

Top comments (7)

ghost profile image
Ghost • Edited

Very complete list. Another plus is that there is no distinction between Home/Pro/ultimate user nonsense, the same OpenSSH you'll have in your server is the one included in your machine, the same Bash, "server grade" anything is exactly what you use daily; no "lite" or "home" castrated versions; if is good for Google's servers, NASA, CERN, etc. Is good for you, you don't deserve less than that.

You want to work with Kubernetes?, OpenStack? Docker? you got it, no emulations, no lookalikes, the real deal. You learn to admin your own machine, you are learning at the same time how to admin a server, your machine is a server with extra stuff on it and that is awesome. All the "user friendliness" is just icing on top of the same, "server grade", professional, ultimate, real world battle tested big guns.

devxdemo profile image

Nowadays Linux desktops are user friendly. Recently, i had to use Windows 10 for a project ... oh boy .. happy to be back on Cinnamon desktop !

cappe987 profile image

Your reasons for using Kali are completely irrelevant for a programmer. The creators themselves say you should only use it if you are a security/pentesting expert. Several of your arguments for distros don't make any sense either. Like why mention Eclipse for Fedora? I'm pretty sure it's available for every other distro on this list. And my Fedora 31 didnt even come with Eclipse preinstalled so I don't get your point.

Few of your bullet points are of relevance to a programmer. As in either they don't matter, or it's not unique for that distro. You are just confusing new Linux users.

ghost profile image

Programmer is a broad term, testing your SW security is not unrelated I think; everything is available in every other distro BTW and I don't think people get confused so easily.

As far as I see it this seems to be just a broad overview, anyone new to Linux would know that this is not all they need to know, but is a good starting point to dig into a specific distro.

agpt8 profile image
Ayush Gupta

I agree with you! Many of the arguments written for a specific distro are also written for another one, just written in a different way. Almost every single argument has a line "It's perfect for all your programming needs" or "awesome choice for any linux user, particularly for dev...". The author does not say why exactly should a developer choose that distro, just made very general points

x777 profile image

What about MX?

kor3k profile image

if you like to pick your own software, check out KDE Neon.