Choosing the Best Linux Server Distro (2021)

Are you in the process of choosing a Linux server distro (distribution) for your next project? This article will help you decide by pointing out the strengths of the top Linux server distributions in contention.

If you are looking for a Linux desktop distro, look at this post instead: Choosing the Best Linux Distro for Desktop.


Best Linux Server distro 2021

Linux server distro - selection guide

When choosing a Linux server distro, the first rule to remember is that there’s no single “best” choice. Instead, there’s a best-suited option based on your specific preferences and requirements. With this in mind, let’s begin.

Best Linux server distros sorted by the following categories:

  1. Free General Linux Server Distros.
  2. Free Enterprise-sponsored Linux Server Distros.
  3. Paid Enterprise Linux Server Distros.


Best Linux Server Distros – Quick Overview

Arch Linux = A rolling release distro with very detailed documentation regarding setup.
CentOS = is a 100% compatible rebuild of RHEL. in full compliance with Red Hat’s redistribution requirements.
CentOS Stream or CentOS 8 alternatives.
Debian = 20+ years of experience with over 60,000 packages. Ubuntu LTS server is based on Debian SID.
Fedora Server = short-life cycle distro for the use of the latest software.
OpenSUSE = Focuses on creating usable open-source tools for software devs and Sysadmins.
Oracle Linux = features Oracle’s “Unbreakable Kernel” and zero downtime patching.
Red Hat Linux (RHEL) = targeted toward the commercial market with training and support.
SUSE Linux Enterprise = provides interoperability with Windows and other platforms.
Ubuntu Server = Specific server edition, extremely popular with commercial support available.


Free General Linux Server Distros

The following are commonly used to get started quickly. These distros are popular on servers, virtual machines, and desktops. These distros are perfect for beginners and even advanced Sysadmins.

Ubuntu Server edition uses the same APT repositories as the Ubuntu Desktop Edition. The differences between them are the absence of an X Window environment in a default installation of the server edition and some changes to the installation process. Canonical offers commercial support for Ubuntu Server.

Debian comes with over 50,000 free packages available. Debian launched back in 1993 with its first stable release in 1996; as such, it’s incredibly stable and secure. Many other Linux distributions are Debian-based, including Ubuntu.

Arch Linux comes as a minimal base system that can be readily utilized as a server. Popular server software is available in the official repositories, even more in the AUR, and the wiki contains much detailed documentation regarding sever/software setup. It’s a rolling-release distro.

Also noteworthy: MageiaGentoo, and Slackware.


Free Enterprise Linux Distros

These distros are also open source but benefit from a relationship with commercial Linux companies. The following recommended Linux server distros are open source, enterprise-based, or funded by commercial Linux parent companies.

CentOS is for Sysadmins who need enterprise-class operating system stability without the cost of certification and support. CentOS is a 100% compatible rebuild of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) in full compliance with Red Hat’s redistribution requirements. UPDATE: For CentOS Stream or CentOS 8 Linux server alternatives, see: What CentOS alternative distro should you choose?

OpenSUSE is an independent Linux distribution sponsored by SUSE Linux and other companies. Development is focused on creating usable open-source tools for software devs and Sysadmins. Tools and apps include YaST, Open Build Service, openQA, Snapper, Machinery, Portus, and Kiwi.

Fedora Server is a Linux distribution developed by the community-supported Fedora Project and owned by Red Hat. Fedora Server is a short-life cycle distro that enables system administrators to use the latest server-based technologies.

Oracle Linux is an enterprise-class Linux distribution supported by Oracle and built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Some of the unique features of Oracle Linux include a custom-build and rigorously-tested Linux kernel called “Oracle Unbreakable Kernel,” tight integration with Oracle’s hardware and software products including most database applications, and “zero downtime patching” – a feature that enables administrators to update the kernel without a reboot.

Also, check out: ClearLinux.


Paid Enterprise Linux Server Distros.

If you require enterprise Linux for advanced features and commercial support, these commercial distributions will be THE best to work with. Contact them by email or phone for more information.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is a Linux distribution developed by Red Hat and targeted toward the commercial market. All of Red Hat’s official support and training and the Red Hat Certification Program centers around the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform.

SUSE Linux Enterprise is an interoperable platform for mission-critical computing. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server provides interoperability with Windows and other platforms, and it provides a secure foundation for a broad range of edge, departmental, and data center needs.


Other noteworthy Linux server Distros

ClearOS, CoreOS, OpenwallScientific LinuxTurnkey Linux, and Univention. If you feel I’ve missed a great option, please add it in the comments section below. Include the website link and a specific focus or advantage of that distro.

Reference: Distrowatch – a handy website you can use in your search/research. 

Last update: April 27th, 2021 – Removed CentOS 8 and Linked to CentOS Stream and CentOS 8 alternatives. 

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