Best Linux Distribution for a webhosting VPS
Linux distributions are like religions for some people. They swear by one and will argue to the death that it is superior to all others. With people holding such strong feelings it can be difficult to find the Linux distro which is best for your virtual private server (VPS). The truth is, it largely depends on what you plan to do with the VPS.
If you plan on hosting websites on your VPS then Linux is an excellent operating system. Linux webservers host the majority of the Internet's websites. Linux is free and there is a vast number of sites, forums and documents which will help you get your server setup in the most efficient way possible.
The first step in running a Linux webhost is to choose a version of Linux. There's a whole ton of distributions. Because Linux is free and open source software, anyone can take an existing distribution, clone it, change it, and release it as it's own new distribution. This is one of the best things about free software. However, this also makes the choice of which distro to use all that more confusing. To help with the overwhelming feeling, here are the best linux distributions for a webhosting VPS: Debain or CentOS.
That's it. Just Two. The reason is simple. For a webhosting server you need stability, security and dependability. Your server must be on at all times without issue. Debian and CentOS both offer all of the above. They are conservative distributions with a proven track record. They are also two of the most popular distributions, with huge community support and tons of documentations. There are plenty of how-to guides and forums to ask questions.
A webserver is always on and always accessible to the outside world. This makes it a prime target for hackers and botnets scanning the Internet. If you have an server that is accessible from the outside world, it's going to get scanned, poked and probed for vulnerabilities. That is a fact. Because of this, you need to have a conservative operating system which runs tested and secure software.
If you are running a VPS which hosts websites, you want it to be as stable as possible. You want the websites you are hosting to always be available. Stability is Debian's strong point. The developers who maintain Debian thoroughly test software before adding it to the repository. The components are about as bug free as you can find.
Debian uses the apt package/repository system.
Because of the focus on stability, you will not find the latest software available in the official repositories. Cutting edge stuff is included only after a period of time has passed, during which bugs have been removed and the software has been well tested. Once all this happens, it may be added to the repository, however, by then the software is no longer cutting edge or new. It simply takes time to ensure that software is stable.
Debian does provide an "unstable" repository for those who do need newer software.
CentOS is similar to Debian in its focus on stability. It too is a conservative distribution which will not have the latest cutting edge software. It will however stay running without the bugs or issues you may find when using new software.
CentOS is compatible with Red Hat Linux, and uses the same RPM package/repository system. The Red Hat team actually helps develop CentOS. This means there is a professional enterprise level group working on the CentOS distribution. It also means that even though it may not be officially supported, a lot of enterprise level software will run on CentOS.
It's a very secure operating system and used for mission critical servers well beyond those which host websites. Because of its close ties to Red Hat it is especially good for those looking to run enterprise level software.
The close relationship between Red Hat and CentOS can also create a nice addition to your resume. Because so many enterprises use Red Hat Linux, having experience managing CentOS will give you a nice set of skills many larger companies are looking for.
One of the main differences between CentOS and Debian is the package/repository system. They both do the same thing, but they do it somewhat differently. For many Linux users, the choice of operating system simply comes down to which package/repository system they are used to.
But what about Ubuntu, Fedora, Gentoo, etc?
You may be surprised to find only two distributions on this list. As stated earlier, there are a ton of different flavors of Linux. But the above two are all you need to get choose between to run a great webserver.
Ubuntu is a great OS. It is based on Debian and is run on a lot of desktops. It is especially good due to its ease of use. If looking for a desktop version of Linux, Ubuntu is a great choice. However, Ubuntu also likes to use the latest software. This means potentially unstable, untested or insecure software. That is not the kind of thing you want on a webserver.
Fedora is a less conservative version of CentOS. Again, it's good for a lot of things, but for a webhost you want the most secure and well tested software. This makes CentOS a better choice than Fedora. You can certainly choose to run Red Hat Linux instead of CentOS as your webhost, but generally that will be overkill. Red Hat is a version of Linux which requires a paid license. There is little Red Hat can do that CentOS cannot do in terms of webhosting. Because of this, Red Hat is probably unnecessary for a webhosting VPS.
There's other distros, like Gentoo. Gentoo is very customizable. But it's not the best distro for someone who doesn't already know a ton about Linux. And if you are experienced enough to use Gentoo as a webserver, then you probably would not be reading this article. Gentoo is better suited as a way to learn more about Linux, not as an operating system running on the Internet all day and night.
So which is better, Debian or CentOS? If you are already familiar with one type of package/repository system, go with that. If not, flip a coin. Seriously, both are great, and you wont be wrong to choose either. Personally, I use Debian because I run Ubuntu on my desktop. It keeps things consistent in terms of using the operating systems.