Which Linux distro to use for webserver

Hello, (my first post on forums)

I just tested linode & am very impressed on what they have to offer. I"ll be using Apache as a webserver but not sure which linux distro to use: Ubuntu or CentOS?

So far I was with shared hosting (with cPanel) which was running CentOS linux.

Although, I never had access to root-level, all (shared) web-hosting companies I used in past (7 years?), have CentOS linux.

I have Linux headless (no GUI) Ubuntu server machine at my home for experiments & learning. I access it remotely within my home private-network via SSH & SMB.

I'm comfortable with Ubuntu (& CLI) been using Ubuntu since 2007. Whereas I never used CentOS or RedHat.

Why CentOS is preferred linux distro for webserver? (Apparently linode homepage says that more than 50% of customers have Ubuntu server on their linode.) My concern is Ubuntu doesnt go well with webmin & I may have to stick to SSH :(.

Do we have alternative to webmin?

Thank you.

18 Replies

@Main Street James:

You can configure a small disk image "master" (eg, 10% - 20% of your allotment) and install the distro of your choice. Add all your updates & extras (but not your control panel software). Then clone this disk image a few times and install a different control panel on each. Test each option out until you decide on one. You can even install Ubuntu on one "master" and CentOS on another.
You mean having virtual machines inside single linode? Is it allowed? wow!

@johnycage:

You mean having virtual machines inside single linode? Is it allowed? wow!
No, that's not what I meant. I'm sorry if I didn't explain it well.

You can only boot one disk image at a time. If you set up multiple disk images - and boot them one at a time - you can start with the same "base disk image (or images)" and then experiment with various configs and/or control panel installations. This lets you save time as well as makes sure everything is the same when you start each "test".

I've chosen Ubuntu, since I run it on a local server like you do, and it seems to enjoy robust guide support here at Linode and a larger (or maybe more vocal) user base when it comes to searching for help on the Internet when something goes wrong. As a perpetual newbie to Linux, one thing that never ceases to frustrate me is that the different distros seem to have different locations for everything, so it's hard for me to remember where anything is, on top of remembering the differences between the various languages I need to know (Perl, PHP, JavaScript, etc.) so I like consistency when I can manage it.

I run webmin on my home server and all my linodes but at this point I almost never use it. I like the front-end to CSF/LFD, that's about it.

Is there a "best" distro? Maybe depends on what you are doing. If you're not running S3 or Google, probably whatever makes it easy for you to manage the system and keep up with updates and security patches is the "best". That's how I see it, anyway.

And welcome to Linode. :)

Edit: SSH is your friend. Soon enough it'll just be part of your regular toolbox.

johnycage - you mention cPanel in your post. cPanel only works on Redhat and derivatives, so it isn't supported on Debian/Ubuntu etc. That's why all the web hosts offering cPanel shared hosting use Redhat/Centos/Scientific etc.

There is no major benefit using Apache in Centos compared to using Apache in Ubuntu; at the end of the day it's Apache and will do what you want :)

Personally I prefer and use Debian but have to administer Redhat boxes at my workplace. If you are comfortable with Ubuntu then stick with it.

Go with what you are most comfortable with right now. If you are interested in something else, play around in a VM on your PCs. Once you learn the intricacies between different flavors, you can then make an educated decision. You're most familiar with Ubuntu, so go with that. There is no real /preferred/ distro for a particular task, but rather what is preferred for what task comes down to the individual.

With your question structured as it is, it will just start the stereotypical "ermegerd, mah distro pwns urz!!$#@!!!".

Personally I prefer Ubuntu because of the 5 year LTS support cycles. It makes planning major upgrades a lot easier.

Centos is 7 years if memory serves but uses older packages (which is to be expected) and has a smaller default package repository.

Really it's up to you, but I'd suggest something with a decent support cycle.

We are using both CentOS and Ubuntu on production Linodes. They are similar enough that there's only a small learning curve moving from one to the other.

From a website management perspective the software you'll interface with the most is your control panel. I've run webmin on Ubuntu without any issues (though I didn't really like their user interface). There are several free or low-cost control panel options (though I regret putting Kloxo on a production server and will be phasing it out by the end of the year).

You can configure a small disk image "master" (eg, 10% - 20% of your allotment) and install the distro of your choice. Add all your updates & extras (but not your control panel software). Then clone this disk image a few times and install a different control panel on each. Test each option out until you decide on one. You can even install Ubuntu on one "master" and CentOS on another.

My experiences have taught me to test & taste several distros and control panels before choosing one. It's a PITA to migrate a bunch of websites to a different distro or control panel once you realize that you should have done more testing.

I use Ubuntu. I'm also fine with using command line only. If you do use a control panel, you should make sure that it can't be easily hacked. Web control panels can be a serious risk if they aren't properly secured.

Such a warm welcome and positive response!!

I'm in love with this community already.

Thank you so much guys, you made my decision easier. :)

@MrNod I didnt know that cPanel is only compatible with certain distros. Thanks.

Glad to meet all you sys admins & webmasters :you-rock:

cPanel also costs money. If you can afford it, it's probably pretty good. I've only used it in limited capacity with Wikkii.

A warning about cpanel. It heavily customises your system, the only real way to remove it is to rebuild your server. I prefer webmin for control panels it uses the systems default package manager.

@obs:

A warning about cpanel. It heavily customises your system, the only real way to remove it is to rebuild your server. I prefer webmin for control panels it uses the systems default package manager.
Kloxo has the same issue: the only way to remove it is with fire, and lots of it.

@obs:

A warning about cpanel. It heavily customises your system, the only real way to remove it is to rebuild your server. I prefer webmin for control panels it uses the systems default package manager.

That's one of the reasons why I haven't seriously looked into installing a control panel. I'm not sure if it would work with the way that things are set up. For example with the web server, I have a series of files in sites-available that are each for a specific website, and I use a2ensite to enable them. I don't know if Webmin would work with that.

One thing that might make me consider installing it, with approval, is if it has a version that's restricted for other users so that I can create a free server side wiki host the way that Wikkii did. Does it have a web FTP client? I blame them for encouraging people to do bad things, but for a free wiki host I think it would be an important alternative to Filezilla and asking users to download it.

If it has a way to interact with databases, that would be good because the only option right now is ssh, so users would end up needing to use SQLite. It's better on our server than it was at GoDaddy, but it still gives database error not infrequently, and the only way to stop them, depending on what you get, is to add ?action=purge to the URL, which isn't going to be obvious to most users.

If you're curious about what other Linode customers have chosen, the stats are available here:

https://www.linode.com/about/

@Main Street James:

@johnycage:

You mean having virtual machines inside single linode? Is it allowed? wow!
No, that's not what I meant. I'm sorry if I didn't explain it well.

You can only boot one disk image at a time. If you set up multiple disk images - and boot them one at a time - you can start with the same "base disk image (or images)" and then experiment with various configs and/or control panel installations. This lets you save time as well as makes sure everything is the same when you start each "test".

There should also be an option for copying a disk image, so you can set up your server before you install a control panel, make copies of it, and then install different control panels on each one.

I run a web development business and have about 10 Linodes now…

I cant say which is the best OS but we have chosen Centos 6, and we use Virtualmin/Webmin to manage it.

I have had this setup for about a year or so, and we have not had any issues really. Nothing I can associate to the OS or Webmin anyway.

Previous/old hosts we have had Cpanel and we DO have issues with that, it seems when we have issues its related to Cpanel. We do have to occasionally restart Cpanel or Apache or something on these boxes, although they are older VPS, with Centos 5.

Eitherway I understand Webmin does not change any OS files, whereas Centos changes OS files and is depply integrated into it. You can remove Webmin and everything works, but you cant remove CPanel. Thats what I read, I have not tried it! I feel safer knowing the OS is unchanged.

You also save on CPanel licenses of course :). Saying that, I love Webmin so much I would pay. I do pay for Cloudmin, thats fantastic at managing mulitiple Webmin servers.

My old server hosts were managed servers with Cpanel, and I often had to raise support requests for them to sort something out. The Linode Webmin VPSs are NOT managed, but I dont think I have ever needed support on sorting out an issue, either because I was forced to find it myself or there was no issue.

The fact is, I feel safer with my unsupported Webmin/Centos Linodes than I do with my supported CPanel/Centos VPSs elsewhere! I certainly have more uptime.

As for Ubuntu… I think Centos updates are more stable and less frequent (again, its what I read so correct me if I am wrong!). So Ubuntu you may have the bleeding edge packages, but maybe they could be less stable than Centos tried and tested less frequent updates. What is important for a web hosting server is stability in my opinion. Centos still release all the necessary patches for security and bugs, and they are frequent, so problem there. Plenty of posts about this online though for more in depth comparisons!

I also find it easier typing yum than apt-get :)

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