I'm working for a startup and we are using a Virtual Private Server to host the web application and have been given a plethora of Linux flavors to choose from.

Which flavors are better for which kinds of web applications and why?

  • talk to us more about your app, what's serving it, what's the db, what's the stuff that links it together? the more details the better please.
    – Chopper3
    Jun 15 '09 at 17:35
  • Chopper3, I was hoping to leave it open so that the question would be useful to other people in a similar situation. However, these meta-answers so far are not very useful :-( I don't want to know how to pick a distro, What I was trying to ask is which distro is the sports car and which distro is the SUV.
    – jawilmont
    Jun 15 '09 at 20:30
  • Ask a meta-question, get a meta-answer.
    – womble
    Jun 15 '09 at 22:22

11 Answers 11


That's like asking if there's a preferred type of car for driving across country. It's all about your preference (I like gentoo personally). Pick the one you know best. If you don't know any of them, I might go with Ubuntu for its large support base.

I would add that you should read up on securing the server because with an entire VPS, you have a large attack surface that you're responsible for keeping closed.

  • 4
    I agree with Tom, pick what is more comfortable for you. I will choose CENTOS, just for its similarity to RedHat Enterprise.
    – Geo
    Jun 15 '09 at 15:24
  • 3
    Make notice that Ubuntu is basically the same as Debian, documentation for either will in most cases fit both.
    – pauska
    Jun 15 '09 at 15:38
  • I agree with Tom as well. We are kind of in the same boat as we are starting to investigate migrating some windows IIS boxes to LAMP and are researching Ubuntu Server for it.
    – AudioDan
    Jun 15 '09 at 15:48

There's definitely a preferred flavor. It's the distro you know best, so that your maintenance costs will be as low as possible.

Do not listen to people that will tell you "Distro X is the best". They just happen to know this distro best, therefor they are probably using a lot of the convenience tools that come with the distro to manage it.

So use the distro you have the most knowledge of, don't listen to anyone else giving you advice that Distro X is better than Distro Y.

Go with FreeBSD, OpenSolaris, Plan9, LFS or whatever you know, just don't go with something someone else knows

  • 4
    Agreed. But, don't pick a distro that's desktop oriented. You do need a distro, and a community, that's server oriented. Jun 15 '09 at 15:29
  • @JosephKern what does it mean for a distro to be "desktop oriented"? Sep 11 '13 at 5:08

Most answers are going to say: Whatever you feel most comfortable with.

But here's a few real answers:

  • CentOS
  • Ubuntu Server

Why these distros? Active communities. Server focused. Free.

Patches and stability need to come before features. Especially if your next meal is coming from the money you hope to be making from this application/server.

Next you can begin to look at other factors:

  • Are the packages you need for development at the correct version?
  • How good is the documentation?
  • How hard is it to download and compile other packages you might need?
  • Do they offer any unique configuration or management tools? Project Spacewalk comes to mind.

Then after a few years, you can be comfortable with one you've chosen.

"The one you're most comfortable with." arguement pushes new admins away from linux. Too much choice can be as harmful as too little. IMHO.

  • 1
    I run Arch Linux on my VPS. But I'm crazy like that. Jun 15 '09 at 15:24
  • Joseph, Thanks for giving a real answer - but can you expand on it? Why would I choose Ubuntu Server over CentOS or vice versa? Or are the security, performance and software compatibility profiles of most distros similar enough that it doesn't really matter?
    – jawilmont
    Jun 15 '09 at 20:33
  • I expanded my original answer, hope it helps. Comfort levels are subjective, but patching and design goals are not. Picking a distro that wants to be a server is far easier than forcing a desktop distro into a server role. Jun 15 '09 at 23:37
  • Strongly agree with Joeseph's post. If you have to ask, those are the two distro's you should be starting with. Similarly, if you have to ask, either is as good as the other until you develop your tricks and toolbox toward one. For instance when you cross into the "dozens" of servers build automation becomes important. The RHEL/CentOS community has Cobbler/kickstart which I pretty much can't build an environment without now. The Debian/Ubuntu community doesn't have a clear standout tool. They seem to all homegrow (not that cobbler setups don't inevitably become highly customized).
    – cagenut
    Feb 9 '10 at 20:20

My criteria are:

  1. distribution I am comfortable with
    • good track record for fixing security bugs quickly
    • 5 years support ( I don't want to upgrade my distribution every 6 months)
    • widely used, so I can get good documentation for stuff that is not already supported by the distribution

I use Mandriva on my Desktop, but because of 3. and 4., I use CentOS for my servers (uses RPM like Mandriva)


In addition to the information given in other comments, you might check out DistroWatch. It has some useful information that might help you compare distros.

  1. Make a list of criteria
  2. Install the distros that match your criteria and find the one you feel the most comfortable with

Some things you will want to consider:

  • Support period: short (months) or long (years)
  • Support availability: Do you want to purchase support or is community only support ok?
  • Software availability (can you get the apps you need in the version you want?)
  • Manageability: it is easy to manage/administer the distro or do you need to check and manual/manpage every time you need to tweek something.

Now, if you do want a list:

  1. RedHat Enterprise Linux (must be purchased to get updates, long term support)
  2. SuSE Linux Enterprise (must be purchased to get updates, long term support)
  3. CentOS (RHEL based, long term updates, purchased support available but not required)
  4. Ubuntu Server Long Term Support (LTS) (new kid on the block, long term updates)

Debian is another distribution popular for servers, but I haven't tried the latest version so I can't comment on it.

If your planning to install purchased software, make sure to check what distributions it supports.


Shameless plug, I link to my answer to a similar question on StackOverflow:

"Best Linux Distribution for Programming"



But a general advice is to go with the server editions that a lot of distributions has, you don't want bleeding edge in your server room....


My favorite is FreeBSD. Your mileage may vary.

  • Not quite Linux though.... :-) In many cases it (or OpenBSD, or Solaris) could be the right answer to the question the OP didn't ask : what's the best OS for the software I want to run? However, he did specifically say that they have a "plethora of Linux flavors to choose from." He might not be able to get FreeBSD from the provider he's looking at.
    – mfinni
    Feb 9 '10 at 18:46

One thing that isn't being mentioned but probably should be is which approach scales best. You may be a small startup now (and thus you have no money and a free distro is best), but if the company is really successful, you probably need to scale your system up rather rapidly and at that point you will likely want paid support for your server farm.

For this reason, I would select CentOS since it is a rock solid distro and your application will seamlessly transition over to Red Hat Enterprise Linux if and when the time comes.


Slackware. The only way to fly.

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