Many organizations use Linux as their operating system for various types of servers. Linux has an impressive number of distributions, each of which has its own advantages and features that make it more suitable for specific tasks. In this article, we take a look at the features of two Linux distributions—Debian and CentOS. Understanding the key differences of these distributions should provide guidance on which one is more suitable for your needs.
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CentOS and Debian: General Overview
Debian is one of the oldest Linux distributions. It was released in 1993. It is fully maintained by its users and doesn't have commercial support. Debian is chosen for its stability, reliability, security, and the huge community of users. Many popular Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, PureOS, Tails, and SteamOS, have chosen Debian as the basis for their software.
The CentOS Linux distribution is a stable, predictable, manageable, and reproducible platform derived from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) source code, which is freely provided to the public by the Red Hat company. The first version of CentOS was released in 2004.
CentOS and Debian differences
As with any IT product, it is also important to understand what goes into the development of a Linux distribution.
Debian is a distribution maintained and developed by a community of volunteers. It continues to evolve as a stable and thoroughly tested operating system.
CentOS is also a community-supported project, but not quite like Debian. It is a distribution based on the open-source Red Hat Enterprise Linux from Red Hat, Inc. This is the same RHEL, only with removed branding and without a subscription manager.
Therefore, it is likely that the distribution developed by the company will be more stable and reliable.
One of the decisive factors in choosing the right Linux distribution is whether it supports the architecture you need.
Both CentOS and Debian support x86_64/AMD64, AArch64/ARM64, armhf/armhfp, i386, and ppc64el/ppc64le. (Note that i386 Systems are supported in CentOS 7 only.) Debian additionally supports mips, mips64el, mipsel, s390x, and armel while CentOS does not. Conversely, CentOS also supports IA-32 and ARMv7hl systems.
New versions of Debian are released every two years; however, within one specific version, the distribution only receives security updates and bug fixes. Therefore, by the time the next version is released, most of the packages are very outdated. The process is also slowed down by the fact that packages must be tested thoroughly in other branches, such as Testing and Unstable, before being released into the Stable branch. After a new version is released, you will have to reinstall the system or use a special update script.
CentOS does not have an exact release schedule as it depends on Red Hat's source publishing. The latest version of CentOS 8 came out in 2019. Since then, only minor releases have appeared: 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3. The most recent one (8.3) was released in December 2020. In minor releases, not only security updates but also software updates are provided. All major versions since CentOS 5 receive maintenance updates for ten years and full updates for roughly six years. This is why CentOS is considered a more stable system for long-term projects.
Minor releases are installed automatically using the update manager as part of a regular system update. To upgrade to the next version, you will need to use special tools.
Debian doesn’t have commercial support, but you can connect with Debian consultants around the world. There is an email list of these consultants, and, if you need to, it is possible to hire one. Debian has very comprehensive online documentation and offers a bug tracker.
CentOS is supported primarily by the community, but bug reports submitted by CentOS users are accepted by Red Hat. It is also possible to subscribe to CentOS third-party commercial support.
Although the Debian community has been around for quite some time, it is not the largest among Linux users. It consists of more technical users due to the relative complexity of Debian. Debian has several active user forums, a resource center, and a large number of volunteers. In addition, other popular distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint are based on Debian, and this significantly increases the size of the community and the number of solutions you can find to problems on the web.
CentOS also doesn’t have the largest community, but the project site has an active community forum. There are also many other forums, but they are not official. Therefore, finding online guides and support is more difficult.
Debian has a huge number of packages in the official distribution repositories, and, in addition, there are many third-party PPAs (Personal Package Archives) available with various additional software or new software versions. The downside to Debian's community support is that each package depends on the free time of its maintainer. Therefore, some packages may be out of date. The package manager uses APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) and the .deb format, which were designed specifically for this system.
There are fewer packages in the CentOS repositories, but they are sufficient for configuring the server. If you don't have the programs you need, you can use third-party repositories, which are also abundant. YUM with the .rpm format (Red Hat Package Manager, RPM) from RedHat is used as a package manager.
Both APT and YUM offer full-feature package management with network-based repository support, dependency checking, and resolution.
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Both CentOS and Debian distributions come with a GUI.
Debian is generally considered more suitable for Linux experts than for beginners. It assumes that the user initially has a certain level of knowledge about Linux development, and the installer gives the user a higher level of control and customization over their configuration. This is useful for advanced users as it gives them a more personal touch, but it can be a hassle for new Linux users. Therefore, the Debian user base is generally more technical.
Due to the lack of complex support from the community, it is difficult for Linux newbies to master CentOS. Instead, because it is based on enterprise-grade RHEL, CentOS is generally preferred by companies and web agencies that are already familiar with Linux distributions.
The differences between CentOS and Debian described in this article will help you to make the right choice of Linux distribution for working with your server. Both of these distributions perform excellently in their tasks—but, as with everything, they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, the choice between the two becomes much simpler if you have any experience with either of the distributions.
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Packagecloud is a cloud-based service for distributing software packages to your machines and environments. It enables users to store all the packages that are required by their organization, regardless of OS or programming language, and repeatedly distribute them to their destination machines.
Check out the packagecloud free trial to see how easy it is to distribute packages throughout your entire organization. Never worry about the scaling, consistency, or security of your packages again.