11 Best Linux Distros For Programming And Development [2021 Edition]

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Linux-based operating systems are the most sought after and best suited for developers and programmers. Most developers use different Linux distributions to get their work done swiftly and create something new, but as a former developer myself, one of my major concerns was: “Which Linux distro should I be looking at exactly?”

Similarly, some of the other 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. Don’t forget the credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi using which you can learn how to code and build interesting projects.

Why Is Linux Best For Programmers And Developers?

Firstly, there’s no such thing as “the best Linux distro for programming.” You can code on any GNU/Linux operating system as long as you know how to install the necessary development tools. But, we think Linux is best for programmers because; most web frameworks, tools, code editors are also open-source, just like Linux; hence, everything, when used together, feels like an ecosystem in itself and gives a good, seamless feel.

But why is Windows popular if Linux is so good? People normally still assume that things don’t function right out of the box like Windows. There are other reasons, too, like gaming which we have covered in the Linux gaming article. While you’re here, do make sure to check out our article on best Linux distros for gaming.

But a Linux-based OS 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 software licenses to get started; instead, you can download any open-source tool for free, make changes in its source code, and heavily personalize it to suit your development environments, and maybe make your own repository of the personalized version on GitHub.

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. Getting started with Linux now can slowly but surely help you in your career.

11 Best Linux Distros For Programming In 2021

  • Debian GNU/Linux
  • Ubuntu
  • openSUSE
  • Fedora
  • Pop!_OS
  • Arch Linux
  • Gentoo
  • Manjaro Linux
  • CentOS
  • Kali Linux
  • Raspbian

1. Debian GNU/Linux

debian cinnamon
Image Credits: Thomas Papp on Medium

Debian GNU/Linux needs no introduction. It is one of the most crucial distros not because it’s popular but because many other distros are based on its stable branch.

The reason behind Debian’s status as a developer’s operating system is a large number of packages and software support, which are important for developers. It’s highly recommended for advanced programmers and system administrators.

Please note that if you are a beginner Linux user and want to learn the basic coding nuances, Debian isn’t the perfect programming operating system. For that, you need to look for beginner-friendly Linux distros such as Ubuntu 20.04, Linux Mint, or Zorin OS.

2. Ubuntu

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
Ubuntu 20.04 LTS

Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distro when it comes to development. Over the years, thanks to the open-source community, it has grown to become one of the highlights of the Linux desktop scenario.

It is a Debian-based distro that is used in cloud and server applications. It also ships in multiple flavors with different desktop environments and features to gratify people’s different needs.

It is easy to get started with development in Ubuntu. Thanks to the .deb packages, your favorite apps and tools are just a couple of clicks away. Not to mention, its own Software Center has a lot 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.

3. openSUSE

openSUSE tumbleweed

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 the way to go.

One of the major advantages of openSUSE is its jYaST package management, making it easy to automate different tasks. Another great characteristic of this dependable Linux distro for developers is its software delivery method. My personal favorite thing about openSUSE is, you can head over to its software portal website and install anything in just one click. Its vast package database and supportive community is another plus point.

4. Fedora

CompNeuroFedora Lab
Fedora Edition—CompNeuroFedora Lab

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 in the Linux ecosystem.

Fedora comes in several editions, and the 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.

Moreover, Fedora only ships with open source components, making it a perfect choice if you’re a die-hard open-source enthusiast. Even Linus Torvalds prefers Fedora over Debian and Ubuntu. Moreover, you can share your problems in the Fedora forum and expect a solution to arrive quickly. As Red Hat backs fedora, you can also expect it to work without issues during the development process.

5. Pop!_OS

pop!_os 20.10

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 adopted the already flourishing GNOME desktop environment. Now, they’ve made their own desktop environment which they’re calling COSMIC, which is a GNOME-based environment with extra features.

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 programming tools natively.

To make your workflow more productive, Pop!_OS gives programmers a unique power with a keyboard-driven tiling window manager. Advanced window management, shortcuts, and workspaces enhance the user experience.

If you’re torn between choosing Pop!_OS and Ubuntu, do read our Ubuntu VS. Pop!_OS article.

Also read: Pop!_OS 20.04 Review: The Best Ubuntu-based Distro

6. Arch Linux

arch linux with kde

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 look no further. Arch Linux has a bleeding-edge repository that is always up-to-date. A one-time installation is sufficient, and every time a new version is released (very early every month), you need to update your packages to install the latest versions of the same.

Again, the community is always there for you if you need help. Overall, it’s a great distro for programming and advanced users.

7. Solus OS

solus os  - best linux distros for programming

And here comes Solus. We’ve mentioned it a couple of times in our previous articles. Powered by the Budgie desktop environment, it is one of the most cleaner looking and one of the best distros for programming as it comes with a lot of programming tools out of the box.

One of the hurdles you might face if you’re coming from using Ubuntu is the “eopkg” package manager. Understanding eopkg is no rocket science, but you’ll need to spend extra time learning it.

8. Manjaro Linux

manjaro linux - best linux distros for programming

Manjaro is the choice of people who find installing Arch difficult. It has an easy GUI installer, just like Ubuntu or Linux Mint which makes the installation process a whole lot easier.

It is the second most popular distro, according to Distrowatch, which, in itself, says a lot about the distro. Combining all the power of Arch Linux, it suits best for beginners looking for Arch alternate. Moreover, Manjaro comes in three editions GNOME, KDE, and XFCE, so you don’t miss out on your favorite desktop environment.

Manjaro’s development team has been doing a pretty great job with each release and making the overall experience more polished.

9. elementaryOS


Wait but, what’s the best-looking Linux distro doing on this list? While elementaryOS is an amazing Linux distro looks-wise, it’s also based on Ubuntu which is also one of the best Linux distros for programming. Hence, if you want a nice blend of programming and macOS-like feels, look no further and install elementaryOS.

elementaryOS was one of the first Linux distros that I tried when I was pursuing my CS graduation. I absolutely loved it and was glad that something like it existed as I was tired of constant Windows slowdowns on my potato PC.

10. Kali Linux

kali linux gnome dark theme
Kali Linux GNOME Dark theme

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 programmers looking for a Linux distro for programming and development.

It comes loaded with tons of pre-installed tools. However, let me clarify that it’s not designed for people who’re new to the Linux world. However, you’ll be fine using it if you’ve tried Linux and programming. Kali Linux also helps you gain knowledge that’ll surely help you excel in your career.

Just like other entries on this list, you can download its latest version and install it or dual boot from scratch.

11. Raspbian/Raspberry Pi OS

Raspbian os

Let me get straight to the point. The Raspberry Pi is the coolest thing that I’ve ever tried. The first time I showed it to my non-techie friends, their reactions were so precious, “Wait, that thing is a computer. You’re joking, right?” 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/Raspberry Pi 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. We have a complete series of how-to articles on Raspberry Pi so, do make sure to check them out if you’re interested.

If you want to buy a Raspberry Pi, decide after reading our Raspberry Pi 4 Model B review. (Psst… It’s the most powerful Raspberry Pi ever made)

So, these were some of the best Linux distros for programming and development. There are a lot of other distros, but we included the popular ones. These distros are like a drop in the ocean.

If you’ve used a distro that deserves to be on this list, do let us know. Also, make sure to check out our other best Linux distros articles.

Adarsh Verma

Adarsh Verma

Fossbytes co-founder and an aspiring entrepreneur who keeps a close eye on open source, tech giants, and security. Get in touch with him by sending an email — [email protected]
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