What's the best Linux distro for programming? We evaluated them and provided our insights here. In short, to help you find one that suits your style, we ranked our top six Linux distros.
What Is A Linux Distribution?
A Linux distribution, often referred to as a Linux distro, is a complete and packaged OS based on the Linux kernel.
But what is the Linux kernel? Great question! This is the nucleus of the OS as it interacts directly with the hardware of your computer, and it manages system resources.
However, the Linux kernel alone is not sufficient for most users, as it lacks many of the software applications and tools needed for everyday computing tasks.
A Linux distro includes the Linux kernel and a collection of libraries, software packages, system utilities, and graphical interfaces that make it a functional and user-friendly operating system.
Linux distributions are created and maintained by various organizations, communities, or individuals, and they often have their own unique features, package management systems, and software repositories.
Each Linux distribution has its own target audience, goals, and philosophy, so users can choose the one that best suits their needs and preferences.
Additionally, the availability of different desktop environments, package managers, linux commands, and software repositories within these distributions allows users to further customize their Linux experience.
Many employers still need talented programmers who know how to work with Linux — no wonder organizations keep releasing certification programs on Linux!
What Makes a Good Linux Distro for Programming?
A good Linux distribution for programming should provide a development-friendly environment that offers the tools, libraries, and resources you need for software development.
It also needs to cater to the preferences and requirements of you as a programmer.
For example, have you taken a Python course, and you're convinced that you need to spend all of your time at the command line?
Whatever your programming needs, here are some key factors we considered when looking for the best Linux distro for programming:
- Package Management: An effective package manager is essential. A well-chosen distribution should feature a dependable package manager that simplifies the installation, updates, and management of development tools, libraries, and dependencies.
- Software Repositories: Look for a distribution with extensive software repositories. This ensures a diverse array of software packages and libraries is readily accessible within its repositories, guaranteeing you easy access to the essential tools.
- Development Tools: Keep an eye out for integrated development environments (IDEs). Some distributions come equipped with pre-installed IDEs like Visual Studio Code, Eclipse, or JetBrains IDEs, enhancing your coding experience. Additionally, the availability of version control tools like Git is crucial for collaborative coding and efficient code management.
- Libraries and Frameworks: Ensure the distribution offers the necessary development libraries and frameworks for your programming needs. Popular libraries and frameworks like Qt, GTK, or TensorFlow should be accessible.
- Documentation and Community: Seek out a distribution with robust documentation and an active user community. Ample documentation and community support can be invaluable when troubleshooting issues or seeking guidance.
- System Stability: Consider the stability and reliability of the distribution. While cutting-edge distributions like Fedora may offer the latest features in a rolling release, more stable options like Ubuntu long-term support (LTS) are often preferred for long-term development projects.
- Customization: Assess the customization options available. Some Linux distributions, such as Arch Linux, provide a high degree of customization, enabling you to tailor the system to meet your specific development requirements.
- Desktop Environment: Evaluate the distribution's support for various desktop environments. The ability to select a desktop environment that aligns with your preferences is important, as the desktop environment can significantly impact your productivity and workflow.
- Security: Prioritize a distribution that emphasizes security. Regular updates and security patches are crucial for safeguarding your development environment.
- Performance: Take into account resource efficiency. If you are using older or less powerful hardware, consider a lightweight distribution to ensure optimal performance.
- Compatibility: Examine whether the distribution aligns with your target platforms or servers where your software will eventually operate.
What Is The Best Linux Distro for Programming?
To help you find the best Linux distro for programming, we’ll explore the most popular Linux distros for their history, uses, pros and cons, and system requirements.
You may already know some of these, as they're wildly popular even for beginners. Others require deeper knowledge and have a steeper learning curve.
Ready to talk Linux distros? Me too! Let's get started!
1. Ubuntu - Best Linux Distro For Beginners
Ubuntu added a repository, a site that stores downloadable and installable software.
On Linux, you can acquire the same program, but you'll have to download the source code, assemble it yourself, and then install it. Other bases exist, including fedora and arch. Ubuntu and Linux mint, a distribution based on Ubuntu, is regarded as the simplest and most user-friendly version of Linux among the several Linux variants available.
The desktop environments available include GNOME, Xfce, LXQT, LXDE, KDE, budgie, mate, cinnamon, and deepin.
In addition to Ubuntu, which comes with a modified version of the Gnome desktop environment, you can also get Kubuntu or Lubuntu. Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop environment, while Lubuntu uses the LXQT desktop. Finally, you can also use Xubuntu, which uses XFCE.
- Lots of variations for compatibility, including Ubuntu Server Addition, Ubuntu Studio, Edubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and JeOS.
- Left-side launcher allows easy program launching
- Intuitive user interface
- Keyboard shortcuts allow easy locating of apps and files
- Excellent audio, video, and photographic lens integration on the desktop
- Incompatible with modern video games (requires emulators that diminish graphics quality)
- Requires self-installation
- Challenging for users used to Windows or macOS
- CPU: 2 GHz dual-core processor or better
- RAM: 4 GB system memory
- Disk: 25 GB of free hard drive space
- Others: Internet access, DVD drive or USB port for installer media
2. Manjaro - Best for All-Around Linux Distro for Programmers
This distro includes Pamac and Octopi by default in Manjaro, allowing software installation with a graphical user interface. Our take? Manjaro is the best Linux distro for developers because of its many customizable tools. Some also say it’s the best Linux for programmers at an intermediate level, specifically.
Installing proprietary drivers with Manjaro isn’t too difficult because it quickly detects the hardware. Manjaro is for everyone, including regular users looking to get things done or developers looking for a productive environment.
- Based on Arch Linux, one of the oldest and top-rated Linux distributions
- Easy, single installation with rolling updates
- Compatible with Nvidia Optimus technology.
- Pre-installed Steam
- Has GUI to manage kernels.
- Repositories that offer extra built packages
- Not a server-oriented operating system
- Not a specialist OS like Kali or RHEL
- CPU: Minimum of 2 GHz processor
- RAM: 4GB system memory
- Disk: 30 GB of free hard drive space
- Other: HD graphics card and monitor, a stable internet connection
3. Arch Linux - Best Linux Distro For Advanced Programmers
- wifi-menu command for connecting to wifi
- (c)gdisk for partitioning
- SSH daemon for remote installation (great for installing from another computer with the ArchWiki open)
- contents of the arch-install-scripts package
Its installer disc contains tools to assist with system installation, such as pacstrap, genfstab, and arch-chroot.
Pacstrap adds a basic system hierarchy to the specified mount point and installed packages. Genfstab creates a fstab based on the currently mounted volumes under the specified root mount (takes care of mounting proc, dev, and others on the new system so you can continue configuring).
- Rolling releases promise the most up-to-date stable software.
- Easy maintenance and excellent stability
- Comprehensive instructions for each application, including a summary, installation, configuration, and troubleshooting
- Simple configuration, without any strange wizards that cause system malfunction
- Accessible third-party user package repository
- Slow installation with many steps
- No add-ons included
- RAM: 512MB system memory
- Disk: 2 GB of free hard drive space
- Other: A stable internet connection
4. openSUSE - Best for System Admins
- User determines their own server or desktop appearance
- Impressive amount of code available for each release)
- Autonomy for system admins that don’t care to follow the release's delivery plan
- Easy to download recent releases from upstream
- Online-Build-Service has numerous "add-ons" for various niche themes
- Easy to modify and distribute modifications without a ton of bandwidth
- Ability to build any hardware and for any distro using SUSE's OBS
- Limited documentation nowadays
- Some people adhere to very severe EU and non-GPL regulations
- Slow on dated hardware
- CPU: Pentium 4 2.4 GHz or higher or any AMD64 or Intel64 processor recommended
- RAM: 2GB system memory
- Hard disk: 40 GB of free hard drive space
- Other: A stable internet connection
5. Fedora - Best for Server Programmers
Fedora is a common suggestion for newcomers who want to try something other than Debian and Ubuntu-based distributions.
It resembles RHEL and CentOS, two of the most widely used server distributions. People frequently use Fedora as their primary operating system and as a bridge to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and CentOS.
- Newer kernel versions offer better hardware support
- Most recent Gnome shell
- Yum dependency management
- Background updates similar to Windows' Yum
- Offers a glimpse of Red Hat’s process
- Dependent on other repositories, such as rpm fusion, to obtain even the most fundamental software
- Usability is less impressive than other distros
- CPU: 2GHz dual-core processor or faster
- RAM: 2GB system memory
- Disk: 20GB of free hard drive space
- Other: A stable internet connection
6. Kali Linux - Best For Security Programmers
Kali Linux (formerly BackTrack Linux) was built on the Debian operating system, designed for sophisticated penetration testing and security auditing — the perfect combination for cybersecurity programmers. Its numerous tools are geared toward information security activities, including reverse engineering, computer forensics, penetration testing, and security research.
- Includes over 600 penetrating instruments
- Adheres to the conventional file-system structure
- Supports multiple languages
- Compatible with various wireless devices
- User-friendly for those with a basic Linux background
- Single location to navigate, download files, and run programs
- Doesn’t allow you to save anything to your HD
- Has frequent bugs
- Penetration-oriented, making it difficult for beginners
- CPU: 32- or 64-bit CPU (single core) with 2 GHz speed or better
- RAM: 2 GB system memory
- Disk: 20 GB of free hard drive space
- Other: High-definition graphics card and monitor, a stable internet connection
What Is Linux?
Are you brand new to Linux and not sure what it actually is?
First off, you might benefit from taking a Linux course to gain basic skills, but even still, let's cover the basics right now!
Linux is an open-source kernel at the core of numerous Linux OS options, known as "Linux distributions" or "Linux distros."
In 1991, Linus Torvalds initiated the development of this iconic kernel, and since then, it has emerged as a cornerstone of the open-source software movement.
Linux possesses a distinct set of qualities and attributes:
- Embracing Openness: Linux adheres to the GNU General Public License (GPL), granting unrestricted access to its source code. This fosters a vibrant community of contributors who constantly enhance and refine the kernel.
- A Taste of Unix: With its Unix-like principles, Linux offers multitasking capabilities, multi-user support, a hierarchical file system, and a focus on command-line interfaces. These features render Linux equally adaptable for servers and desktops.
- The Kernel's Heart: The Linux kernel occupies a central role in the operating system by managing hardware resources, delivering system services, and facilitating communication between software and hardware components.
- The World of Distributions: Typically, Linux doesn't stand alone but comes bundled with various software packages, libraries, utilities, and a user-friendly interface in the form of Linux distributions. Well-known Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, and CentOS, to name a few.
- Compatibility at Its Core: Linux exhibits compatibility across a wide spectrum of hardware architectures, making it versatile and suited for diverse devices, from servers and desktops to embedded systems and smartphones.
- Stability and Trustworthiness: Linux has a reputation for its stability and reliability, making it a favored choice for environments where continuous uptime and dependable performance are paramount.
- A Security Forte: The open-source nature of Linux empowers the community to identify and rectify security vulnerabilities swiftly. Moreover, Linux distributions are fortified with robust security features and tools.
- Community-Driven Development: A global and diverse Linux community, comprising thousands of developers and enthusiasts collaborates fervently to nurture its development and provide unwavering support. This collective effort has given rise to a potent and adaptable operating system that continues to evolve.
Be sure to add these to your personal Linux cheat sheet!
To help you find the best Linux distro for programming, we've explored 6 popular Linux distros that are widely available in 2023.
When it comes to top picks, we landed on Ubuntu, Manjaro, and Arch Linux, as they're some of the most popular Linux distributions for programming.
Our guide also explored the details of each Linux distro, and I'd recommend you try a few Linux distros out before settling on a specific option.
After all, you might find that you get on better with some more than others.
Whichever you choose, I hope you now have a better idea of how to find the best Linux distro for programming.
Are you new to Linux but eager to learn more? Check out:
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which Linux Is Best For Programming?
The best Linux distribution for programming depends on your specific needs, but popular choices include Ubuntu, Fedora, and Debian.
2. Which Linux Is Best For Python Programming?
Many Linux distributions are suitable for Python programming, but Ubuntu, Fedora, and Manjaro are often recommended for their user-friendly environments and extensive Python support.
3. Which Linux Distro Is Best For Beginner Programming?
Linux Mint and Ubuntu are often considered the best Linux distributions for beginners interested in programming due to their user-friendly interfaces and abundant community resources.
4. Which Linux Is Best For C++?
Linux distributions like Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu are well-suited for C++ development, offering development tools and libraries for this language.
5. Which Linux OS Is The Fastest?
Lightweight distributions like Lubuntu, Xubuntu, and Bodhi Linux are known for their speed and efficiency, making them some of the fastest Linux operating systems available.