What Is The Difference Between CentOS And Ubuntu Server?

CentOS and Ubuntu

Those choosing a Linux distribution for their virtual private server or dedicated server have an almost limitless number of options. Because the Linux ecosystem is open source, anyone with the necessary skills can build and release their own distribution. There’s even a distribution called Linux from Scratch, which is a set of instructions for putting together a distribution from source — although I wouldn’t recommend anyone uses it for their web hosting server.

In spite of the number of Linux distributions, two are dominant on servers: CentOS and Ubuntu Server. They are both excellent choices, but when choosing between them it’s useful to know the ways in which they are different. I want to have a quick look at the origins of each and the differences between them.

Ubuntu is based on the venerable Debian distribution. CentOS is a free clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The respective origins of each distribution shape the most important difference from a user’s perspective: the package management system.

Ubuntu uses Debian’s .deb format and the tools created to manage it, namely apt-get and its siblings. CentOS uses the RPM format and the yum management tool. They are different, but more or less equivalent in functionality. Users who learned Linux on a Debian derivative will be more comfortable with apt-get, and those familiar with Red Hat systems may prefer CentOS, but if you’re new to Linux, the package managers aren’t really a strong differentiating factor.

RHEL is fairly conservative when it comes to upgrading software, privileging consistency and security over being on the cutting edge. Ubuntu is less conservative with a shorter release cycle, so new software will almost certainly land in the Ubuntu repos before CentOS users get it. Which a user prefers depends on their specific use case.

A major factor that might influence web hosting clients to choose CentOS is web hosting control panel compatibility. Within the web hosting industry, CentOS dominates, and most web hosting control panels, including InterWorx and cPanel, focus on RHEL derivatives like CentOS. If you plan to offer web hosting services using a control panel, then CentOS is probably your best bet.

As I mentioned, CentOS has a longer release cycle; it also has a much longer support cycle. Ubuntu’s Long Term Support releases, which are released every two years, have a support life of 5 years. CentOS 6 was first released in 2010, has had 5 minor point releases, and will be supported until November 2020. If you value consistency and a long support cycle, CentOS is an excellent choice, especially now that it has officially become part of Red Hat.

There are a number of other minor differences between the two with regard to security philosophy (Ubuntu forces sudo use by default and disables the root account), packages, and development, which don’t have much of an impact on the vast majority of users.

It might appear that I’m in favor of CentOS, but Ubuntu Server is also an excellent choice and can do everything that CentOS can. However, CentOS is the preferred distribution in the hosting industry, so if you want your server to be compatible with the majority of that industry, it’s the safe choice.

Image: Flickr/Eduardo Quagliato

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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  • Bemarenina


  • http://www.thinkingandcomputing.com Yifei Teng

    True stroy. Packages on CentOS are virtually eons obsolete!

  • Dan Bennett

    Interesting points for both. Being a long term user of Ubuntu/Debian distros for personal use and CentOS commercially I was unsure what to use for my own hosting. Great article!

    • https://tronko.es/ m3nda

      You talk like if you are sure now. You only say that you got it, but didn’t share wich one and why did you choose it. I’ve used both and actually i choose Ubuntu because im more familiar with it. When i come to problems in CentOS i need a browser ¬¬ to solve them. CentOS is RHEL, but i don’t need that. Any linux is good enough to run a web server. If you guys care about ram, install a basic debian then build your own scenario.

  • http://gk.palem.in/ Gopalakrishna Palem

    What about their size differences? E.g. how much they vary in terms of RAM requirement and core OS disk size? That info could be useful for hosting these VMs on AWS or Azure while making a choice.

  • Shashi Kumar

    Can you explain , Which one is best for Development Purpose and which one is easy to use for Developer.

  • Sarmed Rahman

    Personally, I like working with both of the fantastic operating systems. However, I find Ubuntu documentation is more widely available compared to CentOS

  • lsatenstein

    If you are looking for support, which group would have the larger members, and when comparing them two, which could more quickly provide corrective or improvement ideas?

  • http://julianjupiter.blogspot.com/ Julian V. Jupiter

    CentOS is not a clone but a build of RHEL. A build is to use and build the same or most of the codes while a clone is to copy the features but without using the codes, i.e, developing from scratch. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Keith

      I don’t believe the the common usage of clone is so strict to be limited to copy features but without using the code. Certainly a different field, but animal clones most certainly reuse virtually all DNA code, minus mitochondria DNA. The parallel is that CentOS uses virtually all RHEL code, minus RH branding and labels.

  • Naurelijs

    I like both, but more CentOS

  • http://raptor.hk Raptor

    how about cluster performance between these two?

  • shivanand mitakari

    Thanks for sharing.. I got pretty clear idea, I was in favor of ubuntu for for choosing as a host for VPS, but I think I need to consider CentOS also.. :)

  • jadoux

    I still believe that Ubuntu is the way to go for application servers, and CentOS for webhosting servers, to each its advantages, but if you think you will be fetching a lot of scripts/apps from repos Ubuntu is your choice, if you need a serious webhosting horse, then it is CentOS

  • http://unixweb.de/ Joachim Hummel

    CentOS 6 was first released in 2010, has had 5 minor point releases, and will be supported until November 2020. Its not correct. Because ONLY Security Fix are supported until 2020 but NOT Bug Fixes. Bug Fixes only supported by 2 years . You can read this about this Frontpage https://wiki.centos.org/FrontPage

    • Trevor Benson


      I suggest you look at the RHEL page that actually describes how RHEA vs RHSA & RHBA are handled https://access.redhat.com/support/policy/updates/errata.

      RHEL, being the upstream distribution for CentOS, covers “Production Phase 1” for 4 years, this is when RHEA, RHBA & RHSA errata is produced. If you look at production Phase 2 & 3 (which takes you all the way to year 10 after release) both RHSA (security) and RHBA (bugs) errata/patches are released, but no more RHEA (enhancements) are produced. Since CentOS is a downstream product (and part of the actual RHEL team now) these patches are also released for CentOS.

      Actually reading the CentOS FrontPage lists that a “new version” is released about every 2 years. I’m guessing you misinterpreted the statement that “CentOS version is maintained for up to 10 years (by means of security updates” as if CentOS does not patch bugs after 2 years, but this actually does not mean that bugs are not patched after year 2. Please become more familiar with a distributions actual patching cycles before posting invalid or misinterpreted information.