There are hundreds of different versions of Linux. For web servers, the two most popular versions are Ubuntu and CentOS.

If you’re new to hosting a dedicated server, you may be familiar with Linux, an open-source operating system that powers most of the Internet. Linux OS handles basic tasks like file management, networking, and running applications.

Unlike Windows, Linux is developed under an Open Source license. Where Windows forbids users from taking apart the software to see how it works, Linux encourages users to do so. This has helped create online communities building and improving the core Linux operating system.

This article will exaimine the differences of CentOS vs Ubuntu.

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An overview of Ubuntu and CentOS

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that’s based on Debian Linux. The word Ubuntu comes from the Nguni Bantu language, and it generally means “I am what I am because of who we all are.” This represents Ubuntu’s guiding philosophy of helping people come together in community. Canonical, the developers of Ubuntu, sought to make a Linux that was easy to use, and which had excellent community support.

Ubuntu boasts a robust application repository. It is updated frequently and is designed to be intuitive and easy to use. It is also highly customizable, from the graphical interface down to web server packages and internet security.

CentOS

CentOS is a Linux distribution based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). The name CentOS is an acronym for Community Enterprise Operating System. Red Hat Linux has been a stable and reliable distribution since the early days of Linux. It has mostly been used in high-end corporate IT applications. CentOS continues the tradition started by Red Hat, providing an extremely stable and thoroughly-tested operating system.

Like Ubuntu, CentOS is highly customizable and stable. Because of its early dominance, many conventions are built around CentOS architecture. For example, many cutting-edge corporate security measures are implemented in RHEL and are easily adapted to CentOS’s similar architecture.

Features of CentOS and Ubuntu

One key feature for CentOS and Ubuntu is that they are both free. You can download a copy for no charge, and install it on your dedicated server.

Each version can be distributed or downloaded to a USB drive, which you can boot into without making permanent changes to your operating system. A bootable drive allows you to take the system for a test run before you install it.

One of the central features of CentOS is reliability and stability. Because of this, the core operating system is relatively small and lightweight compared to it’s Windows counterpart. This helps improve speed and lowers the size that the operating system takes up on the hard disk.

Centos vs. Ubuntu For Development

CentOS also takes longer for the developers to test and approve updates. CentOS releases updates much slower than other Linux variants. However, if you have a strong business need for stability or your environment is not very tolerant to change, this can be more helpful than a faster release schedule. Due to the lower and slower support for CentOS, some software updates applied automatically. A newer version of a software application may be released, but may not make it into the official repository. If this happens, it can leave you responsible for manually checking and installing security updates. Less-experienced users might find this process too challenging.

Ubuntu, as an “out-of-the-box” operating system, including many different features. There are three different versions of Ubuntu:

  • Desktop version, which is for basic end-users;
  • Server, web hosting over the internet or in the cloud
  • Core, which is for other devices (like cars, smart TV’s, etc.)

A basic installation of Ubuntu Server should include most of the applications you need to configure your server to host files over a network. It also adds extra software, like open-source office productivity software, as well as the latest kernel and operating system features.

Ubuntu’s focus on features and usability relies on the release of new versions every six months. This is very helpful if you prefer to use the latest software available. But, can be a liability if you have custom software that doesn’t play nicely with newer updates.

Features: Ubuntu vs. CentOS

Basic architecture

As mentioned before, CentOS is based on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux architecture, while Ubuntu is based on Debian. This is important when looking at software packages. Both versions use a package manager to resolve dependencies, perform installations, and track updates.

Ubuntu uses the apt package manager and installs software from .deb packages. CentOS uses the yum package manager and installs .rpm packages. They both work about the same, but .deb packages cannot be installed on CentOS – and vice-versa.

Another detail is the structure of individual software packages. When installing Apache, one of the leading web server packages, the service works a little differently in Ubuntu and CentOS. The Apache service in Ubuntu is labeled apache2, while the same service in CentOS is labeled httpd.

Stability, Security, and Updates

Ubuntu is updated frequently. A new version is released every six months. Ubuntu offers LTS (Long-Term Support) versions every two years, which are supported for five years. These different releases allow users to choose whether they want the “latest and greatest” or the “tried-and-true.” Because of the frequent updates, Ubuntu often includes newer software into newer releases. That can be fun for playing with new options and technology, but it can also create conflicts with existing software and configurations.

CentOS is updated infrequently. This is in part because the developer team for CentOS is smaller. It’s also due to the extensive testing on each component before release. CentOS versions are supported for ten years from the date of release and include security and compatibility updates. However, the slow release cycle means a lack of access to third-party software updates. You may need to manually install third-party software or updates if they haven’t made it into the repository.

Both CentOS and Ubuntu are stable and secure, with patches being released regularly.

Software

If you’re strictly going by the number of packages, Ubuntu has a definitive edge. The Ubuntu repository lists tens of thousands of individual software packages available for installation. CentOS only lists a few thousand. If you go by the number of packages, Ubuntu would win.

The other side of this is that many graphical server tools like cPanel are only written for Red-Hat-based systems. While there are comparable tools in Ubuntu, some of the most widely-used tools in the industry are only available in CentOS.

Support and troubleshooting

If something goes wrong, you’ll want to have a support path. Ubuntu has paid support options, like many enterprise IT companies. One additional advantage, though, is that there are many expert users in the Ubuntu forums. It’s usually easy to find a solution to common errors or problems.

Third-party providers often manage CentOS support. It provides excellent documentation, plus forums and developer blogs that can help you resolve an error. In part, CentOS relies on its community of Red Hat users to know and manage problems. The CentOS Project is open-source and designed to be freely available. If you need paid support, it is recommended that you consider paying for Red Hat Enterprise licensing and support.

Ease of use

Ubuntu has gone to great lengths to make its system user-friendly. The graphical interface is intuitive and easy to manage, with a handy search function. Running utilities from the command line is straightforward. Most commands will suggest the proper usage, and the sudo command is easy to use to resolve “Access denied” errors.

CentOS is typically for more advanced users. There seems to be less hand-holding in CentOS – most guides presume that you know the basics, like sudo or basic command-line features. These are skills you can learn working with other Red Hat professionals, or by taking certifications.

choosing a server os CentOS vs Ubuntu

Difference Between Centos and Ubuntu Support

Where CentOS shines is in its dedication to supporting its customers. A CentOS operating system is supported for ten years from the date of release.

New operating system releases are published every two years. This can help lower the total cost of ownership since you can stretch a single operating system cycle for a full decade. In this case, support refers both to the ability to get help from the developers, and the developers’ commitment to patching and updating the software.

Ubuntu has a different support model.

With a new release coming out every six months, it’s not feasible to offer full support for every version. Regular releases are supported for nine months from the release date. It’s assumed that regular users will upgrade to the newest versions as they are released.

Ubuntu also releases LTS or Long-Term Support versions. These are supported for a full five years from the installation date. These releases have ongoing patches and updates, so you can keep an LTS release installed (without needing to upgrade) for five years.

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Usability and Performance

Like most Linux versions, CentOS uses a package manager. In CentOS, the package manager is called “yum,” which is a derivative of the original RPM package manager. The mechanics and the syntax (system commands that are typed into a terminal) are different from other package managers. But the overall usage is similar.

With CentOS built around the Red Hat architecture, many old-school Linux users find it more familiar and comfortable. CentOS is also used widely across the Internet at the server level, so using it can help improve cross-compatibility. Also, many CentOS server utilities, such as cPanel, are built to work only in Red Hat Linux.

One flaw with CentOS is a steep learning curve. There are fewer how-to guides and community forums available if you run into a problem.

An Ubuntu server is more focused on usability.

Where CentOS has some help and community support, Ubuntu has a solid support knowledge base. This includes both how-to guides and tutorials, as well as an enthusiastic community forum.

Ubuntu uses the apt-get package manager, which uses a different syntax from yum. But functions are about the same. Many of the applications that CentOS server use, such as cPanel, have similar alternatives available for Ubuntu. Finally, Ubuntu Linux offers a more seamless software installation process. You can still tinker under the hood, but most commonly-used software and operating system features are included and updated automatically.

Ubuntu’s regular updates can be a liability. They can conflict with your existing software configuration. It’s not always a good thing to use the latest technology. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else work out the bugs before you install an update!

considering supporting of an operating system

Background Of Linux Red Hat

To understand where CentOS came from, it’s helpful to understand the history of Red Hat.

Red Hat was a popular Linux operating system that was created in 1994. It was built by a company named Red Hat, who introduced two significant innovations.

The first was to set up the Red Hat Package Manager software. Before package managers, administrators had to build software manually from the published source code. This feature saved a lot of time and had become a central feature for most Linux distributions.

The second innovation was to offer a fee-based support program. Administrators could pay a licensing fee, and Red Hat experts would help users solve technical issues. In 2004, Red Hat Linux was discontinued in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which continues to this day. As part of the open-source license agreement, RHEL made its source code available. However, the primary distribution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is fee-based and includes support.

Around the time that RHEL was implemented, a group of developers took the source code and repackaged it. They created an independent board of directors and offered a free, fully-functional operating system called CentOS. As CentOS is based on Red Hat, and Red Hat Linux had such a strong following, CentOS is a popular Linux distribution among experienced users.

Ubuntu has a similar history. Ubuntu is a derivative of a previous version of Linux, called Debian. Debian Linux was one of the earliest operating systems based on the Linux kernel and was launched in 1993. In contrast to Red Hat’s for-profit model, Debian managed under the GNU project. GNU is an ideology that seeks to give freedom and control to computer users.

The first version of Ubuntu was released in 2004. It releases predictable upgrades every six months and includes a variety of applications and user features. The name “Ubuntu” comes from the African Nguni language, and means “humanity towards others.” In this spirit, Ubuntu Linux strives to be usable, secure, and stable right out of the box.

Ubuntu Linux is owned by Canonical Corporation, which maintains the software. Canonical also offers fee-based support, in addition to a wide variety of free web-based support.

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Bottom Line: Centos Or Ubuntu For Web Servers

Your decision should reflect the needs of your web server.

If you’re more of a beginner to Linux, or if you like working with the newest features, Ubuntu may be a better choice for you. If you like implementing new software and technology as it’s released, Ubuntu might hold the edge for you. The software installation and update processes are more intuitive than Centos. Also, there’s plenty of online help in case you get stuck. Plus, the frequent version updates include many features that can encourage you to explore and learn more about Linux.

If you’re a seasoned pro and comfortable with using the Terminal, or are familiar with Red Hat Linux, CentOS is an excellent choice for you. If you hate dealing with updates breaking your server, CentOS might be a better fit for you. Likewise, if you’re looking for fewer disruptive changes or longer support terms, you might lean towards CentOS. CentOS is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a lighter, more streamlined operating system.

Either way, you shouldn’t worry about one being better than the other. Both are approximately equal in security, stability, and functionality – the only way one is “better,” is if it’s better for you.