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April 16, 2024

Comparing CentOS Alternatives

Operating Systems

With CentOS 7 EOL just around the corner on June 30, 2024, many organizations are exploring CentOS replacements to migrate their current deployments and workloads. Recent shakeups in the Linux world have raised concerns about the long-term viability of some of the distros best positioned to fill the void left by CentOS.

In this blog, we give an overview of current CentOS alternatives, including CentOS Stream, commercial options like RHEL, and open source community-supported RHEL derivatives like Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux.

Editor's Note: This blog was originally published on November 18, 2021 and was updated and republished on April 16, 2024. 

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Why Replace CentOS?

CentOS 6 and CentOS 8 are already end of life (EOL), and the last community supported version of CentOS, CentOS 7, will reach end of life on June 30, 2024. That means no more releases or patches will be provided by the CentOS open source community project. The risks of EOL software are well-documented, which is why compliance policies often require proof of third party support. 

The CentOS project is now focused on CentOS Stream, which covers the ongoing updates, fixes, and enhancements upstream to RHEL. While migrating from CentOS 7 to CentOS Stream is recommended by the community, for organizations on CentOS 7 with business-critical production systems, migrating to a rolling release like CentOS Stream increases their risk. Other organizations might not be equipped for, or need, a distribution with constant updates, making a rolling release not particularly advantageous. In these cases, and because it means migrating to a new distribution, making the move to CentOS Stream might not be a viable option for everyone. 

In general, organizations have three choices:

  • Migrate off CentOS 7 before June 30
  • Risk staying on CentOS 7 post-EOL without updates or security patches
  • Find long-term CentOS 7 support until it's possible to migrate off
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CentOS Replacements Based on RHEL

For those who want to remain on a compatible, CentOS-like Linux distribution to make sure their existing applications remain operational, there are two distributions worth considering: Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux. After Red Hat announced changes to RHEL source code access in June of 2023, some worried about the future of these two projects, but both have thankfully found a path forward. 

Rocky Linux

Within days of the CentOS 8 EOL announcement, a small group led by CentOS founder Gregory Kurtzer announced a “bug-for-bug” compatible RHEL derivative called Rocky Linux.

Rocky Linux has gained a lot of attention within the CentOS community due to its connection to Kurtzer. The Rocky Linux community has steadily grown over the past few years, and there are numerous sponsors to the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation. The community has continued to put out Rocky releases typically within a few days or weeks of the upstream RHEL release. 

After Red Hat restricted access to the RHEL source code, Rocky Linux announced that they will remain a fully compatible, drop-in alternative to RHEL, and have found other methods to obtain source code that are, according to them, within the GPL open source license domain. 

For those interested in Rocky Linux, there are tools to facilitate the migration from CentOS to Rocky Linux 8.x or 9.x. 

Related blog >>Planning a CentOS to Rocky Linux Migration


AlmaLinux is another open source, community-driven Linux distribution that was created to fill the gap left by the discontinuation of CentOS. It's binary compatible with RHEL and supported by the AlmaLinux OS Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization. 

In response to Red Hat restricting access to the RHEL code, AlmaLinux has decided to work with the CentOS Stream community and contribute upstream to CentOS Stream and Fedora and from that work take the source code for AlmaLinux. 

The release lag for AlmaLinux has been short, with minor releases coming out typically less than a week after the corresponding RHEL release. 

Related blog >> How to Plan a CentOS to AlmaLinux Migration 

Editor's Note: OpenLogic is a sponsor of both the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation and the AlmaLinux OS Foundation, and is a technical support vendor for Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux.

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CentOS Stream

CentOS Stream is a continuously-delivered, intermediary (or bridge) Linux distribution that sits between Fedora and the stable releases of RHEL. It’s used to add new features and fix bugs and vulnerabilities with a focus on stability for production use. This work is then bundled and released to become versions of RHEL. 

Because of the rolling release aspect of CentOS Stream ahead of RHEL, teams need to have specific systems and practices in place in order to take advantage of continuously-delivered CentOS Stream builds. CentOS Stream also offers the benefit of early access to new features not available on RHEL or derivative distros like Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux. While access to new features is important, it might not be as stable as RHEL or derivative distribution releases. 

CentOS Stream provides a new option for contributors and community members to add functionality and innovation to future versions of RHEL. However, it's important to remember that CentOS Stream is not a replacement of CentOS Linux; it is a different Linux distribution that provides access to the ongoing development of RHEL. 

Related blog >>CentOS Stream Migration Checklist

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Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)

RHEL is the commercial, paid version of the Linux operating system created by Red Hat that, beginning with RHEL 9, is based on CentOS Stream. Previously, RHEL served as a tested and enhanced upstream version of Fedora Linux. Red Hat, however, decided to change that and move the development work between Fedora and RHEL to the open as part of the CentOS Stream project. 

RHEL is known for its enterprise-grade stability and security, with regular security updates that are available before they appear in open source versions. Unlike open source community Linux distros, a purchase of a RHEL subscription includes support and maintenance from Red Hat, including access to documentation. That said, RHEL’s licensing costs at scale have driven many organizations to use free, open source distributions like CentOS Linux, CentOS Stream, AlmaLinux, and Rocky Linux. 

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Other CentOS Alternatives

There are many CentOS alternatives that exist outside the RHEL ecosystem. I recommend downloading The Decision Maker's Guide to Enterprise Linux to compare features and use cases, or read my blog on how to choose the best Linux distro for your organization.

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Final Thoughts

For those who want to migrate from CentOS, there are a number of viable CentOS migration paths. Whether that’s paid, through distributions like RHEL, or through open source successors like AlmaLinux or Rocky Linux, teams should have no trouble making a migration from CentOS 7. But with CentOS 7 reaching end of life on June 30, 2024, teams will need to make a decision fast to avoid unpatched EOL CentOS 7 deployments.

Get Long-Term Support for Your EOL CentOS 

Not ready to migrate off CentOS? Get security patches for 5 years past end-of-life and protect your infrastructure with CentOS LTS from OpenLogic. 

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Additional Resources

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