CentOS and Ubuntu are two major Linux distributions. While at the core they are both Linux, there are quite a few differences between the two. That's why we compare the differences between CentOS vs. Ubuntu in this blog.
The biggest difference between CentOS vs. Ubuntu is where the distribution comes from. CentOS is sourced from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Ubuntu is based on Debian architecture.
Editor's Note: For the purposes of this blog, CentOS refers to CentOS Linux, not CentOS Stream.
All the Red Hat branding has been removed and been replaced with CentOS. It is usually compatible with RH software, and anything that will run on RHEL will run on CentOS. Red Hat’s first Linux distribution was released in 1995, with RHEL starting in 2000. RHL was discontinued in 2003 and merged with the Fedora Project to create Fedora. CentOS was created from RHEL 2.1AS in 2004. It tracks RHEL at usually a one to two month lag. CentOS seems to target the server market more.
With Red Hat discontinuing CentOS Linux and shifting focus to CentOS Stream, CentOS Stream vs. Ubuntu will be the more valid comparison going forward. While CentOS 7 will continue to be supported until June 2024, CentOS 8 is reaching end of life in December 2021.
CentOS Stream operates upstream from RHEL, meaning it's no longer a 1:1 drop-in replacement for RHEL. For organizations who are ready to accommodate rolling releases, and the benefits they can offer, CentOS Stream will still be a great distribution.
Debian started in 1993, with the first stable version released in 1996. Ubuntu was first released in 2004. Ubuntu packages are based on packages from Debian’s unstable branch, but are not necessarily binary compatible. So they may need to be rebuilt to be used on Ubuntu. Ubuntu tends to be more desktop oriented than CentOS.
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In our Decision Maker's Guide to Enterprise Linux, our experts give a high-level breakdown of the top Enterprise Linux distributions, discuss use cases, and provide considerations for deployment and use.
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For the purposes of this blog, we're going to compare CentOS Linux vs. Ubuntu. Here are five key differences:
Ubuntu is backed by Canonical, which means you can buy support contracts. CentOS has no official backing, but there are third parties that support CentOS, such as OpenLogic. Both distributions are free. Support is an extra service that can be purchased.
CentOS Linux is widely used across the internet for servers. Even Amazon’s Linux (Amazon Linux 1 and 2) is based off CentOS/RHEL, and is the basis of much of its cloud offering. Ubuntu is more often used for desktops.
CentOS Linux is updated infrequently, usually with security and bug fixes for every major version. Each major version is supported for 10 years from the date of release (based on the RHEL schedule). This is because of the extensive testing in each release.
Ubuntu is updated frequently, every six months. Support is offered for a version for five years. Because of this, software tends to be more recent, with newer software, but less stable.
Both CentOS and Ubuntu are Linux, meaning much of the core is the same. That being said, there are differences between management tools.
For example, manipulating network interfaces are done with the same tools, ip, ifconfig, etc. Both distributions have created helper programs to make managing those interfaces easier. However, those specific tools are different between the distributions. Thus, there is some distribution specific knowledge that is not easily transferable between the two.
CentOS Linux uses the RPM package format. A program called rpm is used to manage packages. A front-end tool called yum (updated to dnf in CentOS 8) was created to manage network repositories, dependencies, and other combinations of actions.
Ubuntu uses the DEB package format. It uses a tool called apt (which is layered on top of apt-cache, apt-get, and dpkg) to manage DEB packages, just like yum/dnf is layered on top of rpm.
Both of these tools manage interactions between packages, allowing you to just use the one tool to do most things necessary. Very rarely will you need to use the underlying programs to manage packages.
There may also be differences in availability of packages for each of the distributions. Some vendors may only provide a package for Ubuntu or CentOS/RHEL. This may influence ones choice of which distribution to use. With containers this may not be as big of an issue as it used to be, since a container can be created with packages of one distribution and run on another. (Containers are out of scope of this article).
Software may also be called different, and managed differently. Different distributions may use different tools and packaging methods to manage software, along with naming conventions. For example, on Ubuntu, apache is called apache2 and uses some special scripts to manage virtual hosts and websites. On CentOS, it is called httpd, and manages the configuration differently.
CentOS Linux and CentOS Stream have use cases that make them preferable to Ubuntu. Alternatively, Ubuntu also has use cases that make it preferable to CentOS distributions. Choosing between the two should center on their benefits to your particular use case, and alignment with your overall business goals.
Working With CentOS? Get a Free Consultation on What to Do NextChanges to CentOS have a lot of organization asking questions about their options going forward. If you have questions, our team is offering a free, one-hour consultation for those impacted.Book Your Free Consultation
Changes to CentOS have a lot of organization asking questions about their options going forward. If you have questions, our team is offering a free, one-hour consultation for those impacted.
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Considering a migration to or from CentOS? Or simply need support for your Linux distribution? Our Enterprise Linux experts are here to help.
OpenLogic offers support for many versions of CentOS, including CentOS 6 Extended LTS, as well as enterprise support for CentOS 7, and the soon to be EOL CentOS 8.
When you choose CentOS supported by OpenLogic, you'll get:
Talk to an expert today to learn how we can help you migrate to/from CentOS, or support your EOL CentOS deployments.
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Lance has been working in the IT field for over 30 years, most of it concentrated on data centers and infrastructure. For the past 10 years he has focused on SaaS infrastructure, ensuring reliability, high availability, and scalability of systems. He has been working with CentOS related distributions for the past 25 years.