Without doubt, Linux is the most popular operating system to run a web server. Linux is free, open-source, and highly configurable — exactly the combination you need to power the foundation for your computing needs in the background.
There are dozens of Linux distributions available on the market today and, when you’re setting up a new dedicated server, you have the absolute freedom of picking the operating system that works best for you.
The end users of your website or app are unlikely to notice the difference in Linux distribution — they are relatively equal performance-wise. The choice here really comes down to your personal preferences, needs of the business, existing hardware and software, and so on.
Let’s look at the most popular Linux distributions to see which one fits your needs better right now and in the future.
CentOS (community enterprise operating system) is a community-led clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which leverages its code without all the associated trademarks and fees.
If you’ve used shared web hosting before, chances are it was built on CentOS. In fact, if you want to use cPanel, you have to use CentOS.
This Linux distribution is a very popular choice for those who want something stable and lightweight, without lots of packages pre-installed.
Ubuntu is based on Debian and is highly-rated due to its simple installation process, efficiency, flexibility, and long-term support.
While it can be heavier than other distributions, there are lots of features (e.g. a built-in WireGuard VPN) and detailed documentation for best practices. Ubuntu also doesn’t need to be frequently updated — it’s long-term support versions can last up to five years.
You can run an Ubuntu server on x86 or ARM architecture. Commercial support and security audits are also available.
As one of the oldest Linux distributions, Debian has been at the roots of the open-source movement since 1993. It’s a stable and lightweight Linux distribution that doesn’t try to compete with others on features or frequent updates.
Debian supports a variety of architectures and has powerful packaging and bug systems, all of which makes it a popular choice for large institutions and government organizations.
While it’s not as popular as other distributions, OpenSUSE Leap is valued for its stability and flexible environment suited for power users with truly custom needs.
The distro can be installed with or without packages, which can then be controlled through the Zypper package manager. The good news is that there’s plenty of OpenSUSE Leap documentation available to guide you.
Red Hat Enterprise
Used and loved by major data centers worldwide, Red Hat is enterprise-ready, powerful and stable software with extensive support for cloud environments, big data, and visualization. In addition, lots of Red Hat’s features work right out of the box.
The only downside is that licensing fees are required for commercial use. But companies that use Red Hat tend to get more than what they pay for in terms of high quality of development, security, reliability, and support.
In many ways, Fedora is a testing ground for Red Hat and thus contains lots of experimental features not found in other Linux distributions.
Fedora is a community-driven project sponsored by Red Hat. Since it is updated frequently with the latest features and technology, it doesn’t have a lot of stability and commercial support.
For example, Fedora 33 is only going to be maintained for a month after Fedora 35 is released. Since new Fedora versions are distributed every six months, maintaining it requires a lot of effort compared to other distros, which might receive security updates for up to five years.
While not technically Linux, but more of a Unix-based operating system, you sometimes might see FreeBSD offered as a server option along with the popular LAMP configuration.
Although FreeBSD tends to rely on third-party development for new software utilities, the OS itself is known for exceptional security and stability, with support for all the widely used features you need to run a web server.
Still not sure which Linux distribution to choose? Dive into the specifics of CentOS, Debian, Fedora, FreeBSD, OpenSUSE, Red Hat, Ubuntu, and other distros offered by M5 Hosting. And don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions about various Linux distributions for your specific situation.