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I want to know if the box is Fedora Core 4 or Redhat 9, or CentOS, etc... not if it has Kernel 2.6.x

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

On modern systems you should be able to look in /etc/lsb-release

mojo-jojo david% cat /etc/lsb-release 
DISTRIB_ID=Ubuntu
DISTRIB_RELEASE=9.10
DISTRIB_CODENAME=karmic
DISTRIB_DESCRIPTION="Ubuntu karmic (development branch)"

This should be the LSB mandated way of finding out the distribution across different Linux distributions.

You should not rely on /etc/issue, as it is used for the login message, and someone might change it.

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1  
on centOS 5.3 that file doesn't exist, but the bin directory provides provides lsb_release as a command alternative – Zak Oct 5 '09 at 23:21
    
lsb_release is not available on Fedora (21 Workstation) base image – ACyclic Mar 25 '15 at 16:58
    
From the Wikipedia Linux Standard Base page: "The command lsb_release -a is available in many systems to get the LSB version details, or can be made available by installing an appropriate package, for example the redhat-lsb package on Red-Hat-flavored Linux distributions such as Fedora.[2]" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_Standard_Base – Jeremy Hajek Sep 14 '15 at 1:25

This perhaps?

[dummyuser@d400 ~]$ ls -l /etc/system-release
lrwxrwxrwx. 1 root root 14 2009-06-04 19:05 /etc/system-release -> fedora-release

[dummuser@d400 ~]$ cat /etc/system-release
Fedora release 11 (Leonidas)

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Ahh answer to my own question..

cat /etc/issue

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1  
this won't be a reliable way of checking for the server version because any sysadmin can modify the contents of that file. I modify the /etc/issue and /etc/issue.net files to display the company name and legal notice (and explicitly remove the distro name & version info)( – Roy Rico Oct 5 '09 at 23:12

ahh, even better, and *nixwide:

lsb_release -d

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