What Is The Difference Between CentOS And Ubuntu Server?

CentOS vs UbuntuThose 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.

Overview of Ubuntu: A Decades-Long Legacy in Linux

Ubuntu is based on the venerable Debian distribution. Originally developed as a desktop Linux distribution, it is nevertheless among the most powerful distros on the market. It offers a fast, frequent update cycle with regular bugfixes, and a powerful set of package groups diverse enough to fit just about any server hosting requirements.

Management of these diverse package groups are made simple through Ubuntu’s unified package repository. Administrators considering Ubuntu are able to quickly and easily switch between different distributions until they find one that fits. In spite of this versatility, however, it is not without its weaknesses, which I will discuss momentarily.

Overview of CentOS: Get Ready To Put On Your Red Hat

CentOS is a free clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which has the distinction of being the most widely-supported distribution in corporate IT. This immediately puts it ahead of Ubuntu in terms of support. Moreover, because of its similarities to RHEL, working with CentOS means you’re developing expertise in an incredibly widespread, incredibly dominant distribution.

That alone gives strong points in CENTOS’s favor.

It is also extremely stable and secure. Though this might perhaps be unusual for a community-driven platform, this makes it an ideal choice for any server that’s Internet-facing, especially ones which host sensitive data. CentOS is made even stronger by the fact that it has official Red Hat support, as well.

What’s The Difference?

As you can see, 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. Even so, if you work in an industry where security is a critical consideration such as finance, healthcare, or government, such features are attractive – even if they don’t necessarily put Ubuntu ahead of CentOS in terms of security.

Additionally, Ubuntu’s wealth of features means it tends to be somewhat heavier than CentOS. And because it’s developed on Debian – a distribution made more for experts than anything – it can also get very complicated, very quickly. This means that if you don’t have a team of Linux experts on-board, your IT department could wind up feeling extremely overwhelmed.

Final Word: CentOS vs Ubuntu

So, which of these servers is the superior choice? If you’re choosing to host a server, should you go with CentOS or Ubuntu? The jury is still out, if you can believe that.

I should explain. It might appear that I am in favor of CentOS. The truth is, Ubuntu Server is also an excellent choice and can do everything that CentOS can.

CentOS may occasionally be behind the curve, but it’s also incredibly reliable. You might not get all the new bell and whistles, but you will enjoy support by the majority of the hosting industry. If compatibility, reliability, and stability are critical considerations, CentOS is the safe choice.

That said, for Amazon’s EC2 platform, Ubuntu Server shows some serious power. So if you’re running something with EC2, go with Ubuntu. If you want a bleeding-edge distribution (and don’t mind a few bugs) go with Ubuntu. If your server footprint isn’t an issue, and you don’t mind not always having widespread support, go with Ubuntu.

But at the end of the day?

It all really comes down to personal preference – which system does your team want to use? That’s the question you should seek to answer more than anything.

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

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  • Bemarenina

    First!

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • Diego Rosa dos Santos

      That is a point to be considered

    • Ubuntu consumes less than 100MB, nearly like 70MB right after having a fresh installation. so it works fine even on 128MB VPS as long as swap is enabled, but 256MB is recommended for a webhost without any control panel . and it needs at least 1GB space, but at least 2GB is recommended for a production website.

  • Shashi Kumar

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

    • Brett Zenker

      CentOS.. I’m a developer for 5-7 yrs.. Been much more reliable.

  • 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?

    • Ubuntu. It has more support.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

      Joachim,

      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.

  • Sovereign_Citizen

    So, the difference here is really just that one is:

    Debian based and the other is RHEL based

    everything else you mention is a derivative of the first point.

    Congratulations, you are not informative at all.

  • Joe

    Difference is that CentOS is needlessly more complicated and sucks!

  • Brett Zenker

    I’ve always used CentOS.. Don’t have much experience with Ubuntu but I’ve had awesome success with CentOS. Most of the important pieces with a web server have to do with the Processor, Memory, SSD hard drive; more than the Linux dist. I’d recommend CentOS. Plesk is also a great control panel but I’ve heard cpanel is good as well.

    http://www.alltech4u.com

  • As I found Debian consumes less RAM, roughly 60 to 70MB, whereas Ubuntu consumes nearly 100MB and sometimes go above 100MB. Not sure about CentOS, but Ubuntu is better as it has large community, large support, a lot of applications/scripts, easy to use, easy to configure, less frustration, support newer hardware/software and thus can gain full potential of newer software. if you want longer support, then simply use LTS version which stands for Long Term Support, the current LTS version is 16.04 and it supports until 2021.

  • I have faced a lot of freezing issues in Ubuntu server (with GUI) when I let the server running for a long time. Now, I want to switch to CentOS 7 server. My only requirement is : I want to always run the system without crash or freezes. I need suggestion if it is good idea to switch from Ubuntu to CentOS. I heard it is a clone of Red Hat and hope that it is more stable than Ubuntu.

    • AJ Smitty

      First, ditch the desktop (GUI). That could help out a ton in freeing up resources. I have a Ubuntu Server running my NAS using software raid and Plex and a few other service 24/7/365. The only time it ever gets shut off is when the power goes out. It has yet to freeze up on me, I have had it up and running over 4 years. CentOS is great for stability and security, but for newer applications and updates Ubuntu has those. If you still choose to run a Desktop (GUI) on CentOS you will still use more resources than you need to. If you can, please do not use a Desktop, unless you need to run GUI applications (which I am not sure why you would do this on the server version of these since any server based application would have a console based version) there is no need for a Desktop (GUI).
      I guess knowing more about what you needed it for, we could help you out more. I use CentOS for my more serious web and database servers, but for my personal servers, it is quicker to get a Ubuntu Server up and running.

  • I am a beginner when it comes to self hosted platform, and I can say because of your words, I am going for CENTOS at least for this moment. Maybe, when I am sure of Ubuntu, I can transfer my property back to Ubuntu.

    Thanks for your work brother
    Olawale Daniel

  • Akhil Karkera

    Have built a Chatbot. been using a digital ocean server there is an issue when i run my code on CENTOS while the same code runs perfectly on UBUNTU server