Gentoo: A Linux Distribution Where You Compile Your Own Optimized Software

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gentoo linux reviewThe sheer number of different ways in which Linux can be run is astounding, as there are plenty of choices to go around. While there are plenty of distributions which rely on either the .deb or .rpm package formats, there’s also a handful which use their own formats, if any at all. One of those distributions is very unique compared to most others as the distribution’s developers don’t compile software into binary packages for easy installation.

Instead, this Linux distribution doesn’t care about how easy it is to install software, but rather have it work as well as possible on your system through machine-specific optimizations.

About Gentoo

gentoo linux review

Gentoo is a Linux distribution which is a completely original project and which has a very different approach to the structure of the distribution compared to most others. The idea of Gentoo is for all installed software to be self-compiled – that is, you download the source code to the software and compile it yourself on your own system so that the compiler can create the software for your exact system.

For most other distributions, software is already compiled on the developers’ servers and packaged so that the operating system can easily extract the package and move the binary files into the correct places. Those binary files are generally compiled for all systems using a specified architecture, but as they are not compiled on your system, they’re theoretically not as optimized as they could be.

Emerge

gentoo linux review

Although you’ll need to download all the source code that you need and compile it yourself, you won’t have to stay stuck with finding the source code yourself, compiling it the correct way, and keeping it up to date. Instead, Gentoo has an application called Emerge (to which an application called Porthole is the GUI) which works a lot like apt on Debian-based systems like Ubuntu or yum on Fedora.

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It can check different “repositories” for new or updated software, and list it in Porthole. Emerge, however, uses a ports system where each entry in the system is simply an .ebuild file which lists the commands that Emerge needs to run in order to download the source code and compile the software correctly. Whenever Emerge checks the ports system and finds that a newer version exists, it’ll update its software list and act accordingly.

Advantages & Disadvantages

There are a handful of advantages and disadvantages to this approach of installing hardware, so Gentoo is really only useful in certain conditions or if you’re a Linux pro who wants to give it a go. The advantage to this method of installing software is that it is all compiled on your system, so the compiler can account for all possible optimizations and make the software run as fast as possible.

It also makes the installation of software a lot more flexible if you know what you’re doing, which anyone less than a Linux pro probably won’t. Such flexibility and optimization leads to the possibility of some pretty cool projects, like the Misa Digital Guitar which runs on Gentoo Linux. Therefore, if you really need the last possible ounce of performance, Gentoo may be the way to go.

However, for more common users, there are several disadvantages which may not make Gentoo worth our time as a daily driver. For example, Gentoo is definitely not easy and is highly discouraged for a Linux beginner. Compilation also takes a good amount of time, even with a powerhouse CPU doing all the work. There’s a reason why most people compile the software on their own powerful servers and then simply package it up.

To remedy that situation, the Gentoo developers have made available a few pre-compiled binaries for software which is known to take forever to compile, such as Firefox or the KDE desktop environment. However, these kind of defeat the purpose of the distribution, so if you’re going to do that for almost all of your software, you might as well be using a (relatively speaking) traditional distribution.

Again, Gentoo can be a great choice for you if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for whatever you’re doing.

Conclusion

While I don’t see myself using Gentoo as a main operating system in the near future (or ever for that matter), it’s still a fantastic distribution which adds plenty of value and ideas to the Linux community. For those of you who plan on using or testing Gentoo out, I hope that you’ll be successful at whatever you’re trying to do. It’s always best to use the right tools for the job, and Gentoo can definitely fill that position.

What do you think about Gentoo’s approach? Which distribution’s approach do you like the most, or what do you think could be changed about Gentoo’s? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments (34)
  • Samyak Puri

    Gentoo is a good choice for anybody wanting to learn about linux in detail. Also it is a good distro which gives full choice of which software to be installed to the end user. Also as all the sofware is compiled on the end system so it is usually more faster than other distros. Also there is a good irc channel which provides good help for beginners.

  • Wolfgang Marcos

    I have been using linux for years now and I have installed Arch Linux about a week ago (I was a faithful Ubuntero). It was quite a challenge! But now everything is working fine, when I get used to the Arch-hardcore-way I’ll think about getting a spin on Gentoo.

    • Danny Stieben

      Good luck in your ventures!

    • Mike

      For beginners which would want to try Arch I would recommend Archpup. Very small (around 80 MB), fast, lightweight (uses around 50 MB on idle), persistion option enabled (you can save changes when you reboot), frugal install, etc.

    • Wolfgang

      I didn’t know about Archpup, gonna give it a spin, maybe I’ll use it from my USB drive to solve some issues that may arrive =]

  • Beirapadua Greaser

    Well after reading all of the above comments, I am definitely not gonna try this one.
    yup ,, im pretty sure, :D

  • Chase Calonne

    gentoo is a very good distro for learning about linux and how to use command line efficiently. It also lets you use your hardware with its maximum efficiency as well as you make the os as personal and customised for your use as possible.

  • Ron OHara

    I am a long time Gentoo user – and in a past life, built a business selling server appliance hardware generated using it … so flexibility and tailoring is a BIG advantage. Another less obvious benefit is that Gentoo is a rolling distribution, which eliminates the dreaded upgrade cycle of most distributions …..
    Currently I use Gentoo for my servers, and Linux Mint for my desktops ….. the compile time overhead is not an issue as far as I am concerned. It is the machine that is using time on that task – not me.

    • Danny Stieben

      I’ve always liked the rolling release model. Not sure why so many other distributions have issues with it.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.