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I'm running a remote web server on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and want to host a local server with a copy of my LAMP web applications for in-house development. Is there any reason that I would need to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux on the local server, or can I safely run Debian (or another inexpensive distro) on the local server without worries about application incompatibilities?

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You can use a Centos in your developement environment. Centos is a free rebuild of Redhat source packages. For example,redhat 6.2 and centos 6.2 have the same version of all the packages, the same kernel; they are the same except the support and the cost.

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If you have a RHEL staging server, developing on any linux you like would be ok. Incompatibilities may arise (e.g. from the different distros shipping with different PHP versions) but you should be able to fix these issues on the staging server before rolling out your software to production.

If you don't have a staging server, maybe best thing is to use a free RHEL derivative distribution for development. CentOS is perhaps the most widely used RHEL derivative.

Debian on the other hand is not a RHEL derivative. While applications developed on Debian will run on RHEL, things like the package manager, configuration file locations etc are much different. So, when you roll out your application you may have to do quite a lot of googling to mirror your Debian environment to RHEL.

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You can run Debian, but keep in mind that things like packages, file locations, etc., will likely differ from what is available on Debian. You may notice slight differences in the program behavior depending on versions (i.e., Debian will typically have newer versions of packages than RHEL), but this should be negligible at best.

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I would not recommend using a totally different environment for development. Apache HTTPD, mySQL and PHP use different versions in different distributions and are different to configure. CentOS is the way to go - as indicated by other answers as well. – Nils Apr 20 '12 at 19:30
CentOS is certainly the way to go if you want an identical environment. However, I (for one) don't find CentOS to be a great development environment on my desktop, and much prefer alternative distros. Like my answer says, version differences aside, using Debian is very plausible provided you know the risks. – Andrew M. Apr 20 '12 at 23:51

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