While Linux might not be the favored(User Friendly) operating system for casual users, it’s the go-to choice for most developers and programmers. Its customizability, open source nature and stability are just a few of the many reasons. It also supports a wide collection of programming languages, including C, C++, Perl, Ruby, PHP and more.
Linux is a more practical OS that was explicitly designed with programming and developers in mind. The best Linux distros for developers provide an easy, stable, and secure environment for coding and programming applications for the internet, Android, and the cloud.
While Linux has a reputation for being primarily for coders and programmers, over the past couple of decades there have been moves to provide versions of Linux that are more friendly to ordinary users, such as by providing more of a graphic user interface (GUI) and be less reliant on command line use.
There are over 500+ Linux distros to choose from, so even experienced users may seldom struggle to find their current project’s ideal flavor.
Linux distributions can vary hugely from one another, even though they are based on the same source. And if you’re looking to learn more about Linux distros, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 Best Linux distros for developers. This guide will focus on the key features that make them ideal for programming/development purposes.
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Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distros for all kinds of users, from Linux newbies to seasoned campaigners.
For programmers, the Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) release provides a stable development environment that they don’t need to upgrade every six month. In fact, Ubuntu is the chosen distro of the Android Open Source Project for building source files.
The Android build is regularly tested using the most recent versions of Ubuntu. The distro’s official website hosts several tutorials, guides, and other resources aimed to impress the development and programming prowess of the distro.
Owing to its popularity, you can find virtually all the development and programming tools and libraries in official Ubuntu’s repositories or in a Personal Package Archive (PPA).
With the introduction of the snap packaging format, installing new software is a straightforward process. Furthermore, Ubuntu has a developer friendly command-line tool called Ubuntu Make that you can use to download several developer friendly tools.
Manjaro, an Arch-based Linux operating distro, aims to support various environments and a graphical installer to fulfill your requirements. Manjaro takes out the worry of installing and administering an Arch-based system by including a solid set of custom tools and utilities.
The distro is available in multiple editions with various desktop environments.
There is a KDE edition for a Qt developer, which ships with tools including the Qt Designer and Qt Assistant to help with development.
Moreover, it features a utility to help users select real-time kernels. Overall, it is one of the best Linux distros for development.
3. 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 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.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) free community edition CentOS is an awesome RHEL alternative. You’ll find the majority of its features but packaged in a free distro.
Access to its YUM package manager as well as the Red Hat Software Collections (RHSCL) repo which comes chock-full of open-source databases and the likes makes CentOS a nifty pick for programmers.
With commercial RHEL software available on CentOS for free, this stable enterprise environment-caliber Linux OS is a fantastic choice.
Why CentOS Is Great for Programmers and Developers:
- Access to RHSCL
- RHEL community edition
- YUM package manager
- Stable and secure
If Linux were a tree, Debian would be a ring on the outer edge of the tree, since it is one of the oldest Linux distros around. Besides being one of the oldest Linux distros, Debian also has the development/programming-friendly features listed below:
- Debian has unparalleled stability, thanks partly to its age. Additionally, the Debian Free Software Guidelines are very particular about which programs, tools, and packages make it to the stable version.
- This “strictness” means unstable packages rarely make their way into Debian, which annihilates system instability, making Debian one of the most stable programming distros – every developer/programmer knows that very few things are worse than a system crash mid-work.
- Debian also has two other key things going for it. First, it has one of the most comprehensive lists of development tools, like editors, VIM, emacs, nano, IDEs, Eclipse, Netbeans, CodeLite, etc. Secondly, the Debian community is one of the most “gung-ho” you will find anywhere.
- The Debian Wiki and website is buzzing with manuals and tutorials for just about any programming question or issue you may have. Moreover, Debian has an easy-to-use bug-tracking system that makes it easy to report issues and get help from other developers and the community.
Nitrux is an interesting addition to this list while being something based on Ubuntu. Overall, it features some unique tools like ZNX to manage your distributions and MauiKit (a UI framework to help you develop applications with cross-platform support).
It may not be suitable for every user (or developer) out there – however, it is indeed a unique Linux distribution that you can take a look at.
You can learn more about Nitrux in our interview article with its founder.
7. Puppy Linux
Puppy Linux is an extremely lightweight distro that has separate editions based on Ubuntu and Slackware.
The entire OS is small enough to be run entirely in RAM, which makes it extremely fast and responsive. You can also anchor the distro to your hard disk as well. Despite its small size, there’s no beating Puppy for out of the box functionality.
The distro ships with apps and utilities for virtually all the functions you can perform on a desktop. There are multiple mechanisms for installing apps in Puppy. One of the most convenient ones involves SFS (SquashFS) files, which are compressed environments that package one or more apps and all their required dependencies.
If you want to develop on Puppy you can use the devx SFS file that contains various development and build tools. Furthermore, the Puppy Linux wiki has a nice introduction to programming, which is a good starting point for new developers.
The page also shows you how to install support for over a dozen programming languages in your Puppy installation.
Fedora is one of the most futuristic Linux distributions. The distro is a community-driven version from RHEL. Owned by Red Hat, it is available in several editions known as Spins. It supports smart auto-configs and updated packages, making it a comprehensive programming operating system for developers.
One of the greatest advantages of Fedora is its release cycle of nine months, bringing all the new features to the latest build. Furthermore, Fedora only ships with open-source elements.
The Fedora forum and magazines are also a very friendly stage to share your difficulties and understand how to use Fedora and its tools.
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.
OpenSUSE is a Linux OS engineered with developers and sysadmins in mind.
Simple to install, you can download -devel packages with a one-click installer making OpenSUSE a spectacular programmer-centric distro.
You’ll have access to text editors such as Emacs and VIM, plus RPM package management, and CMake for build automation. With both fixed and rolling release options, OpenSUSE is perfect for programming needs
Why OpenSUSE Is Great for Programmers and Developers:
- Fixed and rolling release options
- YaST config tool
- Tons of programming tools and text editors like VIM, EMacs, CMake
11. Arch Linux
Although Arch Linux does not have the easiest installation process, it’s a developer’s dream. That’s because just about every interaction with it – installing packages, software, repositories, etc. – is a chance to work in the terminal.
And as we know, developers and programmers love working in the terminal because it’s the surest way to be productive. Besides, Arch Linux is one of the friendliest Linux distros for development and programming. Listed below are the reasons it’s one of the best.
Since it’s a DIY-centered distro, Arch Linux does not have any bloatware or unwanted software, which is one of the core reasons why die-hard Linux developers prefer it over other Linux distros.
Developers and programmers love customizing their working environments, something Arch Linux leans into – hard. This distro has a very DIY approach that allows you to customize which components, tools, software, services, and whatever else you want to install, or not, including your preferred desktop environment. This customizability is one of the things developers love about this distro because it makes it easier to build as nimble a development workflow as you want from the ground up.
Arch Linux is a rolling release distro, which developers love because it means keeping the system up to date is easy with just a few commands, thanks to the Pacman manager.
12. elementary OS
elementary OS is yet another Ubuntu-based Linux distribution.
It is indeed one of the best Linux distros out there – however, if you are a developer looking for something that gets things done while also having a great user interface (macOS-ish), this could be your choice.
It also features its own app store where you can choose to pay for the free apps while having some cool features like picture-in-picture mode and so on. Not just limited to the looks and features – but it is stable enough and useful for developers as well.
13. Sabayon Linux
In simple terms, Sabayon is to Gentoo, what Manjaro is to Arch Linux. Gentoo is a source-based meta distro that can help you create lightning quick bloat-free installation.
The catch however is that just like Arch, installing Gentoo isn’t for the faint of heart. The Sabayon Linux takes the best of Gentoo and wraps it in an easy to consume distro that caters to all kinds of users.
Sabayon Linux is available in multiple editions, based on different desktop environments. The project aims to deliver a fuller out of the box experience and despite being a bleeding edge rolling release, is pretty stable thanks to its Gentoo underpinnings.
The project is about to merge with Funtoo, which is led by the original creator of Gentoo Linux. Sabayon Linux ships with a few development tools, particularly for Python developers, but you can install more using Gentoo’s famed portage package management system.
Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu – however, the overall experience feels solid and smooth enough over the real deal. Of course, it is subjective, but if you’re curious, you can check out a subjective Pop!_OS vs Ubuntu comparison to learn more.
The software repository is maintained by keeping developers in mind. So, you will find more tools available by default and most of them should be up-to-date as well.
The GNOME experience and the workflow of the distribution have also been tweaked for coders/developers. So, you must give it a try before deciding the best for yourself!
15. Solus OS
Solus is special in that it’s one of the few Irish Linux distros, and also because it follows a curated rolling release model. The advantage of this is that once you’ve installed the OS, you can keep running updates rather than a major upgrade.
Solus, however, tries to avoid installing extremely recent packages and beta software to maintain system stability. 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. The distro advertises its use as an ideal environment for developers.
Solus supports several editors and IDEs such as Atom, Idea and Gnome Builder, as well as multiple version control systems including Git, Bazaar, and others through graphical tools like GitKraken and git-cola.
The Solus project website also claims that the OS supports a number of programming languages such as Go, Rust, PHP, Node.js and Ruby. So while the distro might not ship with very many tools out of the book, you can easily flesh it out with your development toolchain.
That’s pretty much it! So, there are Best Linux Distros for Developers and Programmers.
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