When purchasing a VPS you’ll be given the choice of an operating system to use on your server. This choice is usually quite easy for most experienced users but can be quite daunting if you have no prior experience in managing a Linux based server before.
Normally the main choices of an operating system are CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu with their respective versions. We’ll hopefully give you the information you need to make the best choice for your use case or even give experienced users a refresher.
So here’s some info about each distribution.
Ubuntu is currently one of the most popular distribution available in the Linux world as of now and for many reasons.
It is based on the Debian (unstable branch) operating system and is maintained by Canonical with a new release every 6 months. As it is based on the unstable branch it gets the benefit of newer, up-to date software although it isn’t production ready in the eyes of the Debian developers, even the LTS version.
Ubuntu is used by many beginners to Linux as Ubuntu has possibly one of the best user communities (not developers, which Debian wins hands down) out of all the Linux distributions on the internet. For example they run the Ubuntu community forums which are a great resource for new users to get help with problems they are having or just general advice about their systems setup.
Ubuntu has an LTS release which they maintain for 5 years after release, this is great for running servers and offers a good middle ground to the older packages of Debian release and the Debian unstable branch.
CentOS (Community ENTerprise Operating System) is a very popular operating system based on RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
CentOS is built with stability in mind, it accomplishes this by opting for the most stable version of a program instead the latest and greatest. CentOS has a much smaller selection of programs available in their package repositories but makes up for this with the EPEL repository which contains a lot of the missing software you may need.
The EOL of CentOS releases is also very long meaning you won’t need to risk breaking systems by updating them to the latest release every few years like Ubuntu, the current EOL for CentOS 7 is 2024 which is 10 years from its original release date.
CentOS might also be worth leaving alone until you have more experience in working with Linux in general, it can be complicated at times due to its enterprise design (although there are thousands of guides online).
Personally, Debian is my favourite. It is also one of the oldest, still maintained Linux distributions available currently.
Debian is the base for many Linux based operating systems that you will find today, it uses the popular apt package manager and is able to install .deb files.
Debian is known for being rock solid stability wise and also incredibly secure compared to rival distributions. Debian provides security updates for over 10,000 packages that are readily installable compared to Ubuntu’s which only provide security updates for just 1000 packages.
Debian also has a very good method for new releases. Instead of releasing software on a deadline which may not be completely finished or full of bugs, they do not set release dates until it is completely ready. Although this sounds good it can be very unreliable meaning each release may get 24 months of support or 20 years depending on whether the developers decide the release is ready or not.
On small servers with 256MB of RAM or smaller then Debian is the way to go. It has the smallest footprint out of the 3 distributions on this list.
So what should I choose?
The choice is really yours in the end.
If you want rock solid stability with an operating system built from the ground up for enterprise then CentOS may be a good choice for you.
If you’re new to using a Linux based machine then Ubuntu is the best for you. You can take advantage of all the guides directed at Ubuntu and not to mention the huge community following behind Ubuntu in the various forums.
If you’ve used Ubuntu for a while and want something more reliable, or have a very low resource system then Debian is a great choice.
All of these distributions work similarly so it’s your choice in the end!
Think there is something we should change? Leave a comment!