CentOS vs Debian – Summing Up The Debate For the Perfect Server OS

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Choosing a Linux distribution for your server is a serious consideration.

You should clearly know what services you expect from the OS and what services and software you’d run on the server. In addition, you should also consider your technical expertise and how much time you’d have for server management.

When choosing Linux distribution as your server OS, you would run into the debate of CentOS vs Debian. You’ll find dedicated fans with a long list of benefits for their favourite distribution.

If you are a beginner or a seasoned server administrator looking for a reliable Linux distro for your server, you’ll find both CentOS and Debian on the list. This article will take a closer look and compare the two distros on the critical points of the CentOS vs Debian debate.

Let’s Start With The Introductions

Before going into the details of CentOS vs Debian, it is essential to introduce the two options. CentOS and Debian are very popular Linux distributions with at least a decade of upgrades and features. As a result, you get a very refined OS optimized for server performance.

CentOS

CentOS stands for Community Enterprise Operating System. It was initially released in 2004 as a fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It’s a free distribution suitable for enterprises and servers with heavy computational workloads. Thanks to its strong RHEL connection, CentOS ensures stable performance, regardless of the workload. As such, it is the preferred choice of many hosting providers.

Server management is the core use case for CentOS. It uses RPM-style packages and the YUM package manager to ensure maximum compatibility with the FOSS ecosystem. The reliability comes from the fact that CentOS tends to use slightly older packages that have already been tested for bugs and security problems. Similarly, updates to CentOS are much less frequent than other distributions, such as Ubuntu and Debian. Although it comes under RHEL, CentOs is available under an open-source license and comes with community-led support.

Debian

Debian is one of the oldest Linux distributions and was first released in 1993. This distro is often chosen for its stability, reliability, security, and a massive community of users. Over time, it has been used as the base for dozens of other popular distros, including Ubuntu.

Unlike many other Linux distros, Debian uses two types of kernels- Linux kernel and FreeBSD kernel. In addition, it uses .deb packages and the APT utility for package management. It is incredibly versatile and works well on different architectures. As a result, it is often used as a server OS where administrators need to extract maximum performance from older hardware. Unlike CentOS, Debian isn’t backed by a corporation and is entirely community-supported.

CentOS vs Debian: The Major Differences

The debate around CentOS vs Debian has been going on for as long as the two distros have been used as server OS. We have chosen the following points to highlight the differences between the two.

Installing the Distro

For many uses, the installation process is the first point of contact. In addition, many use it to measure the OS’s user-friendliness.

For many uses, CentOS offers a much more friendly installation process, with a modern-looking installer that quickly takes you through the various stages of the process. The download package contains all the packages and drivers required for getting the server up and running.

On the other hand, the Debian installer only contains the essential files, and the user often has to download drivers as a secondary download (often after the installation finishes).

The installation process is relatively easy for experienced server admins because they often automate it. However, for many first-timers, the ease of installation is an essential requirement.

Release Cycles

The release cycle is an essential point in the CentOS vs Debian debate. The two distros have very different ways of handling release cycles.

Debian offers two major versions: Stable and Testing. As you can guess, the Stable version is recommended because it is the best fit for almost all uses. It is also supported for a significant duration of three years.

CentOS used to follow a similar release cycle. However, it has switched to CentOS Stream, where the distro gets a continuous release closely following RHEL.

For CentOS vs Debian debate, the release cycle is an important decision point because it affects all areas of using the distro as the server OS. For instance, you need to check the release cycle to ensure your business apps are supported in the upcoming release.

The release cycle is also essential for businesses that use these distros as the primary OS for their servers. The decision directly affects resource planning and budgeting.

Package Management

Package management is an essential aspect of using a Linux distro. Everything you use is an app that requires you to download a package. A package manager not only downloads the package but also ensures that your server has the latest version installed. As such, you need a package manager that you can use effectively for server administration.

Debian comes with several package manager options, including dpkg and Synaptic. Synaptic is considered a better option because of the GUI that flattens the learning curve for beginners. When it comes to package managers, Debian is flexible, and you can even use the RPM package manager with it.

CentOS uses the RedHat Package manager, RPM. As you can imagine, this is due to CentOS’s roots in the RHEL.

CentOS vs Debian: The Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of a Linux distribution are not the actual benefits or shortcomings of the distribution itself. Rather, it is how the distribution matches the requirements of a user.

The following list of pros and cons is meant to give you an idea of how CentOS and Debian can be a good fit for your requirements.

Pros and Cons of Centos

Pros

  • Major versions of CentOS are generally released after a decade, making it more stable and reliable. RedHat frequently releases minor patches to keep the current version secure and solid.
  • Larger community support.
  • You can ensure easy updates of the system and security with YUM.
  • As it has Red Hat backup, most of Red Hat’s instructions work the same for CentOS, like a package manager.
  • Easy and quick deployments

Cons

  • Upgrading to the latest major version is complex, and even the officials from the support community advise doing a fresh install of the newer version instead of just upgrading to avoid any data loss and errors.
  • Since the major versions of CentOS are released after long periods, some updated applications have trouble running on CentOS. Instead, users are stuck using the older versions of those applications to run correctly on it.
  • It has a weak user interface.
  • Does not support as many architectures and file systems as Debian does.

Pros and Cons of Debian

Pros

  • Debian has a user-friendly interface, and it is growing very rapidly.
  • Debian supports many libraries, filesystems, and architecture.
  • Debian has regular version releases in a relatively shorter period but still enough to test bugs; hence, they are also very stable.
  • Debian has many options for customisations.
  • Easy to upgrade Debian from one stable release to another.
  • It has the largest repository for the software as compared to any other distribution.

Cons

  • The terminal is a bit challenging for new users to get them working for the first time and is less user-friendly.
  • It does not have an enterprise version like other distributions that offers you to work with large companies and their projects.
  • Enterprises and Vendors prefer CentOS over Debian due to the Enterprise friendly feature missing in Debian.
  • Support for Debian mainly comprises an active community. There is no single organization responsible for providing support for Debian, like Red Hat Enterprise Limited in the case of CentOS. However, Debian does give a list of people who operate individually to provide support. There are also downstream versions of Debian, like Ubuntu, that provide organizational support, but that is only a commercial distribution of Debian.

CentOS vs Debian: The Comparison Table

CentOS Debian
More stable and supported by a large community Relatively less market preference, supported by Debian individuals
Used by mission-critical and enterprise servers Catching up fast. A lot of people are betting on it.
Does not support many architectures multiple architecture support as compared to other distributions.
CentOS versions are maintained for 10 years meaning there is great support for enterprise applications. A certain amount of Linux knowledge is required to work with Debian particularly to install new software and do customizations.
New versions are released usually after a long gap. New versions are released with a gap of two years.
CentOS supports minor version upgrades, such as CentOS 7.8 to CentOS 7.9, but does not support (or only weakly supports) major version upgrades, such as from CentOS 6 to CentOS 7 or CentOS 8. Upgrading from one stable release to another is easy.
Have a complicated GUI Has desktop-friendly applications and GUI
RPM package format and YUM/DNF as the package manager DEB package format and dpkg/APT as the package manager
CenOS does not support ZFS.  ZFS support is available through 3rd parties Debian provides ZFS file system support
CentOS has limited packages. Debian has a vast amount of packages in its default repository.

The Right Server OS Fits Your Goals

Choosing the distribution that is best for you comes down to technical requirements, internal resources, support options, and business decisions.

If you must run on an RHEL-compatible distribution for application reasons, CentOS is the winner. If your engineering team’s experience is with distributions that use DEB packages, Debian would be a wise choice.
If you are looking for something to run your Enterprise applications or need to set up servers, you do not regularly need to update your systems, and you want a stable operating system, then CentOS is one you should go for. On the other hand, if you are looking to install an operating system on your desktop and want a daily driver, easy to use, easy to upgrade, and most importantly, an up-to-date OS, then Debian is the best option for you.

Conclusion

This article sums up the Centos vs Debian debate. Obviously, the choice between the two becomes much simpler if you have any experience with either of the distributions.

It is up to the users to determine which distribution suits well for their requirements. Undoubtedly, both distributions are preferred to install on their server. Today, CentOS is being used to run several servers more than any other distribution to run the server. If you consider the ease, CentOS has more stability and features than Debian.