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How to choose the right Linux distro

Paul Venezia | Sept. 25, 2014
RHEL/CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and OpenSuse have far more similarities than differences, but choosing the wrong one for the job can make life much harder.

Alternatively, a little research may show that Fedora already has the version of MySQL or PHP you need, so using Fedora will save you valuable time and effort. In other cases, Ubuntu or Debian might more closely match the software requirements of your server, and thus will be worth considering even if you are not as familiar with them. 

You may also find that your planned application or service stack comes with suggestions or recommendations on which distribution is a best fit. In addition, you could find some solutions have prebuilt packages for a few Linux distributions. Your best bet will be to stick with those versions to ensure compatibility. 

Stability. Finally, it pays to be conservative. Relying on stable OS releases should always be the default approach. If a stable version doesn't meet the server software requirements, then moving out to a more recent release may make more sense than adapting the older, more stable release with more recent packages. 

Rarely should a production server be run on unstable or testing releases from any vendor. Some administrators interpret this guidance to mean that Fedora and non-LTS versions of Ubuntu should never be run on production servers. While that is a good rule in general, there are always exceptions. Understand the risks involved, and be prepared to encounter the hidden issues that usually crop up when dealing with unstable or testing releases. 

In many cases, the choice of Linux distro isn't entirely up to you. If you're shopping for a VPS (virtual private server) or cloud server instance, or even for a dedicated server at a hosting facility, you will find that providers offer a limited set of supported distributions to choose from. For the vast majority of those providers, those supported distros will be a subset of RHEL, CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and OpenSuse. 

It's not uncommon to find providers that offer only CentOS and Ubuntu, or perhaps those distros along with Fedora and Debian. Fewer will offer OpenSuse, so predominately the choice comes down to these four or five distributions. The guidelines above, and the table below, should help you figure out which is best for your project. 

Of course, your best course is to get comfortable with as many different Linux distros as you can, so you're prepared to use each when its strengths are a match for the job at hand.


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