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Fedora, RHEL, and CentOS

I have had many developers ask me which Linux distro is correct for their development. Many developers are hooked on Fedora – because many of them had it pre-installed on their Dedicated Web Servers or Virtual Private Servers by their hosting provider. I currently have two servers that have various versions of Fedora, so I don’t want to seem like I am knocking it at all. However, I try to steer serious developers away from Fedora to either Red Hat Enterprise Linux (which is not free) or CentOS (which is free).

There are several reasons for this. First, Fedora changes rapidly. A few years ago I rented a dedicated server from a company that came pre-installed with Fedora Core 3. Fedora Core 4 would be coming out in the next month. Within nine months, Fedora Core 5 was waiting in the wings and I was told Fedora Core 3 would be moving to “legacy support”. This means that only “absolutely essential” package updates would be offered. I griped to my server provider, but to no avail. I finally ended up upgrading a production box to Fedora Core 5 remotely via yum (never, never, never try it – I was up for 36 hours straight fixing it). I also have a server that I own that is here in the Savannah area. I set it up with Fedora Core 6 (because of some packages that I needed) only a few months ago – and Fedora 7 (they dropped the “Core” in the name) is already out (and testers are already working on 8).

Red Hat Enterprise Linux exists on an 18 month cycle at minimum. That means that you can trust that your operating system version will be valid for a year and a half from the date it was released. Red Hat also offers extended support for older versions years after they move out of the forefront (not sure of the exact time period).

The second reason is stability. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is what we use exclusively at work. There is a big reason for that. Red Hat supports it. What does this mean for the developer? It means that a company (such as Red Hat) is only going to release configurations that are fairly stable. It wouldn’t benefit them to release a configuration that would require thousands of hours of tech support calls. Fedora has many packages that are untested in an enterprise setting. Why is this important? To me it is important that I have as few calls as possible from my hosting customers at 3am because their website or email is down. I don’t want some new package interfering core services such as Apache, IMAP, or MySQL.

The third reason is Software Company Support. As many of you realize I am a big user of Adobe Products. I manage multiple Coldfusion-Linux servers. Coldfusion MX7 (and 8) can run on Fedora – but it is a painful process. RHEL can sometimes also be a painful process, but it is “Officially Supported” by Adobe. This means that there will be actual developers at Adobe working to be sure that it functions properly on your operating system. They will provide “hot-fixes” if needed (such as the one they recently provided for Apache 2.2.x).

I am sure that many of you have been interested in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but are turned off by the price. That is where CentOS comes in. CentOS takes the open-source SRPMS (Source RPM’s) from RHEL and compiles them into a working OS. What you get is a near exact version of RHEL (with different branding of course). For me, I use RHEL exclusively at work and CentOS for my personal business (still converting some of my old Fedora boxes).

Red Hat Enterprise Linux
The Fedora Project

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