Linux-based operating systems are the most sought after and best suited for developers and programmers. They use Linux distribution to get their work done swiftly and create something new. But their major concerns while choosing a Linux distro for programming or software development are compatibility, power, stability, and flexibility.
Distros like Ubuntu and Debian have managed to establish themselves as the top picks when it comes to the best Linux distro for developers. Some of the other great choices are openSUSE, Arch Linux, etc. If you intend to buy a credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi, Linux-based Raspbian is also a perfect way to start.
Why Is Linux Best For Programmers And Developers?
Even though there are tons of Linux distributions that are aimed at beginners to make things easier, the majority of the crowd still uses the Windows operating system. There are many reasons behind this, but that’s an inspiration for some other article.
But the Linux-based operating system is still the best Linux distros for programming and development purposes. If you want to learn new technologies such as game development, web development, Blockchain, or Machine learning, Linux is the best choice because it is free to use and open-source.
You don’t need to spend tons of money to buy software, licenses, and OS. Additionally, you can freely download it and even its source code to make changes as per your convenience and build a personal system to suit your development environments.
You can customize the terminal, try different text editors, and install the desktop environment of your choice. Moreover, most programming languages (if they aren’t limited to a particular OS) work on Linux. Last but not least, Linux expertise is in great demand, hence, knowledge of Linux surely helps you earn some extra points while looking for your dream job.
Having established that Linux is great for programming, software, games, blockchain, or web development purposes. Let’s get started and tell you some of the best Linux distros for programming and all developers. But before that, don’t forget to check out our other useful lists of best Linux distributions for specific purposes and use cases:
11 Best Linux Distros For Programming In 2020
Here is the list of the best Linux distros for developers and programming:
- Debian GNU/Linux
- Arch Linux
- Manjaro Linux
- Kali Linux
1. Debian GNU/Linux
Debian GNU/Linux distro is the mother operating system for many other Linux distributions. Its latest ‘buster’ release arrived recently with more powerful features. In any discussion of the best Linux distros for programmers, Debian and Debian downstream distros find a special place.
The reason behind Debian’s status as a developer’s operating system is a large number of packages, which are aimed at stability and security. If you’re beginner, it also has tons of tutorials out there to solve your issues and get better at whatever you’re doing. Here, I’d also like to mention the Debian testing branch (don’t let the word testing scare you), which has all the latest software and it’s pretty stable. It’s highly recommended for advanced programmers and system administrators.
Please note that if you are a beginner Linux user and you’re learning the basic nuances of coding, Debian isn’t the perfect programming operating system for you. For that, you need to look for beginner-friendly Linux distros such as Ubuntu 20.04, Linux Mint, or Zorin OS.
Why use Debian for programming?
If you want a rock-solid stable system whose repositories have tons of open source goodies, go for Debian. Also, it’s popular .deb package management is another plus point.
Ubuntu is the most popular and commonly used Linux distro for web development, python, and other purposes. Over the years, thanks to the support provided by Canonical and open source community, Ubuntu has grown to become one of the highlights of the Linux desktop scenario.
Due to its popularity and continuous development, this Debian-derivative is heavily used in cloud and server applications. It also ships in multiple flavors with different desktop environments and features to gratify the different needs of people.
For all your development purposes, getting .deb packages won’t be a tough task. Its own Software Center has tons of free applications that make it a great Linux OS for programming. Its LTS version remains supported for 5 years and provides the stability of a fixed release. Notably, many programmers disliked its Unity desktop environment but others still love it. But, due to some recent changes, Ubuntu has switched back to GNOME desktop.
Why use Ubuntu for coding and development?
The most popular open-source operating system has a huge user community to help you out at every step. A polished experience is provided by regular LTS releases that are quick to fix issues. Ubuntu also supports the popular .deb package management system.
openSUSE, which can easily give Ubuntu a run for its money due to its professional and timely development, is a very stable operating system for programming. This Linux distro is available in two versions — Leap and Tumbleweed.
While openSUSE Leap is an LTS release that remains pretty up-to-date and guarantees stability, Tumbleweed is a rolling release for those who love the taste of the latest software. If you want to try the latest bleeding-edge hardware support, Tumbleweed is a way to go.
One of the major strengths of openSUSE is its YaST package management which makes it easy to automate different tasks. Another great quality of this dependable Linux distro for developers is its software delivery method. You can simply visit their website and directly install anything you like. Its vast package database and supportive community is another plus point.
Why use openSUSE as a programming Linux distro?
It’s a stable Linux distro with the very latest and tons of packages in the regularly updated repository. openSUSE’s YaST is one of the best package management systems that many people love.
Fedora is a community-driven project that delivers the most cutting edge operating system in several editions aiming for particular use cases. The best thing about Fedora is its primary sponsor, Red Hat Inc., which is a well-known company among the Linux ecosystem.
Its latest releases often inspire other Linux distributions to adopt new features and make changes. It has smart auto-configs and updated packages that make it a perfect programming operating system for developers. If you don’t like being stuck with an older version of an operating system, you can also upgrade or install the latest Fedora painlessly after every 6 months.
Moreover, Fedora only ships with open source components, which makes it a perfect choice if you’re a die-hard open-source enthusiast. Even Linus Torvalds prefers Fedora over Debian and Ubuntu. The Fedora forum and magazines are a very friendly platform to share your problems and know how to use Fedora and its tools. As Fedora is backed by Red Hat, you can also expect it to work without issues during the development process.
Why use Fedora for programming and web development?
Fedora comes in several editions and Fedora workstation is specially designed for developers. It is pretty stable and features numerous tools to configure the development environment. It serves mostly out-of-the-box on most hardware and its small release delivers all-new features, security, and bug fixes.
The US-based Linux hardware manufacturer System76 announced its custom Ubuntu-based Linux distribution called Pop!_OS in 2017. The company took this step after Ubuntu decided to ditch its homegrown Unity desktop environment and adopt the already flourishing GNOME desktop.
System76 calls Pop!_OS an operating system for developers, makers, and computer science professionals who use their machines to create new things. It supports tons of programming languages and useful programming tools natively.
To make your workflow more productive, the latest Pop!_OS 20.04 gives programmers a unique power with a keyboard-driven tiling window manager. Advanced window management, shortcuts, and workspaces along with GNOME 3.36 desktop enhance the user experience for developers to another level.
Why choose Pop!_OS for programming?
Ubuntu can do everything Pop!_OS can do. But its dedicated tools, attractive looks, and refined workflow provide a unique experience to attract lots of people.
6. Arch Linux
Arch Linux is a favorite Linux distribution for die-hard Linux enthusiasts who want full control of their operating system. If you want to start from the ground up, you can choose Arch Linux to build a customized operating system that could easily become a great Linux distro for programming and other development purposes.
If you love the rolling Linux distributions (here are some fixed vs rolling release differences), then you don’t need to look any further. Arch Linux has a bleeding-edge repository that is always up-to-date. Its one-time installation is sufficient and every time a new version is released (very early every month), you just need to update your packages to reach the latest version.
Even if you wish to do some penetration testing work, you can also convert your Arch Linux installation into a BlackArch installation by following some instructions. At some point, if you face any error, the whole Arch community is there for you with high-level skills to resolve any problem.
Why should programmers use Arch Linux?
Arch Linux is highly customizable to teach you a lot while getting your system ready. If you have experience with Linux, you should definitely try Arch and build your own personal system. Additionally, Arch Linux has the best documentation to look out for any information.
And then comes Gentoo. You’ll need a lot of investment from your side to get first hands-on. So, be prepared. If you need special compilation options on your executable files, you can give Gentoo a try as it does everything from source. It also lets you rebuild your entire system for your specific CPU architecture.
The installation process will teach you a lot about your system and its subtleties. One of the best parts about Gentoo, which is also a curse for some people, is its ability to configure what compilation flags packages should support. If we keep the ease part aside, Gentoo gives a developer power, stability, and flexibility — everything that he/she wants.
Distros like Gentoo and Slackware (and Arch Linux, to some extent) are hard to install and setup. The stuff that really needs to be automated is automated and the stuff that can teach you something is left manual. Having said that, if you’re having some experience in Linux and you wish to expand the shores of your knowledge, try Gentoo.
Why should programmers use Gentoo?
If you think you’re an expert and you love challenges, choose Gentoo. It’s also great for developing Linux packages and cross-platform applications.
8. Manjaro Linux
If you know how to set up your Arch Linux system, you don’t need Manjaro Linux. But if you want an Arch-based system that is easy to install and run, you can go for Manjaro. It has an easy GUI installer, just like Ubuntu or Linux Mint that also smoothens the update methods.
Manjaro is the newest distro on this list and it’s growing at a fast pace. Combining all the power of Arch Linux, it suits best for beginners looking for Arch alternate. Even if you want a distro with a particular desktop, Manjaro comes in three editions with each GNOME, KDE, and Xfce.
Manjaro’s development team has been doing a pretty great job with each release and making the overall experience more polished. One more thing, if you don’t want your programming Linux distro to be devoid of systemd, there’s an OpenRC spin for that. It also has a utility to let you select real-time kernels. You can also go for another Arch-based distro, Antergos. For many, Manjaro/Antergos is to as Arch as Ubuntu is to Debian.
Why use Manjaro for programming?
If you love the power of Arch Linux and a stable distro that just works, try Manjaro. You can also go for Manjaro-OpenRC if you don’t like systemd.
If you love everything about Fedora (and RHEL) but you wish to use an operating system with long term support, you need to use CentOS. It is also another community version of Red Hat available free to use.
As compiled from RHEL sources, CentOS can also run RHEL-based commercial software built for RHEL. It’s a must-try Linux distribution for those who are willing to test the working of the server on Desktop.
The installation and setup process of this Linux distro for programmers is almost similar to Fedora. To address your different software needs, it has a vast Red Hat Software Collection and CentOS repository. You can use its powerful YUM package manager to install and uninstall the application needed for your development.
Why use CentOS for development?
CentOS is a rock-solid Linux distro that’s perfect for programming and software development. If you’re doing enterprise development, look no further.
10. Kali Linux
Kali Linux, created by Offensive Security, is primarily preferred by ethical hackers to perform penetration tests on vulnerable networks and computers. But it can also act as a great companion for coders who are looking for a Linux distro for programming and development.
It comes loaded with tons of pre-installed tools. However, let me make it clear that it’s not designed for a beginner who doesn’t know his/her way around in the world of Linux. So, if you have some experience related to Linux and programming, you can try your hands on Kali Linux to brush up your skills.
Just like other entries on this list, you can download its latest version and install it or dual boot from scratch. It gives full control power to configure the distro according to your own convenience.
Why should coders use Kali Linux?
Kali Linux is the perfect combination of tools for ethical hackers and programmers. So, if you have these interests and they intersect, Kali is a great option.
With every new iteration, Raspberry Pi mini-computer is getting more powerful. This credit-card sized computer has become a viral hit in schools as it’s heavily used for Linux programming and teaching the basics of coding.
This modest computer’s official Raspbian OS comes loaded with tons of programming tools, connector pins, and other useful ports. This makes it a perfect Linux OS for learning embedded systems programming.
It has BlueJ, Geany, Greenfoot, Mathematica, Python, Node-RED, Scratch, and other tools for making your learning process more effective. Recently, it got a new Pixel desktop, which has improved the overall look of the OS as well.
Why use Raspbian for programming?
If you wish to learn to code and dive deep into the world of DIYing, you can’t do better than the combination of Raspberry Pi and Raspbian.
So, did you find this list of Linux distros for developers interesting? Which one is your favorite? Do let us know in the comments section below.