centos vs. ubuntu
July 15, 2020

CentOS vs. Ubuntu

Operating Systems

Important Differences: CentOS vs Ubuntu

Two major Linux distributions today are CentOS and Ubuntu. While at the core they are both Linux, there are quite a few differences between the two.

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, with support being being an extra service that can be purchased.

CentOS Servers vs. Ubuntu Servers

CentOS 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 & Ubuntu Security and Updates

CentOS is updated infrequently, usually with security and bug fixes for every major version. Each major version is supported for ten 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.

Origin of CentOS

CentOS is based off Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). 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 with maybe a one or two month lag. CentOS seems to target the server market more.

[Looking for a CentOS guide? Find out what you need to know here]

Origin of Ubuntu

Ubuntu is based off Debian. Debian started in 1993, with the first stable version released in 1996. Ubuntu was first released in 2004. Ubunut packages are based on packages from Debian’s unstable branch, but are not necessarily binary compatible, so may need to be rebuilt to be used on Ubuntu. Ubuntu tends to be more desktop oriented than CentOS.

CentOS System vs. Ubuntu System

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, though those specific tools are different between the distributions. Thus, there is some distribution specific knowledge that is not easily transferable between the two.

CentOS Ubuntu Packaging

CentOS uses the RPM package format, and 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.


There are quite a few differences between Ubuntu and CentOS, and the distribution that is right for you would depend on your typical usage. The team at OpenLogic can help your organization make that decision. Learn about OpenLogic’s CentOS support or connect with us today!