11 Best Linux Distros for Programmers
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Linux offers more than just desktop operating systems; you’ll find a version configured for almost any use, including programming.

Because Linux distributions are open-source, functional, and packed with tools, Linux offers a thriving environment for developers and programmers. Furthermore, Linux maintains compatibility with virtually any programming language.

Here are the best Linux distros for programmers.

1. Ubuntu

best linux distros operating systems for programmers

Ubuntu ranks among the most popular for everyone from beginners to seasoned Linux pros. For developers and programmers, Ubuntu LTS, or long-term service, provides additional stability.

A Debian-derivative, Ubuntu continually grows its loyal following. Michael Dominick, CEO and founder of The Mad Botter INC, an amazing productivity bot, prefers Ubuntu for its stability.

Because Ubuntu offers Snap packages for simple, straight-forward installation, it’s a fantastic distribution channel. Additionally, Ubuntu uses the .deb package manager which witnessed widespread adoption.

Moreover, Ubuntu remains compatible with many software options for programmers. Its massive user base means there’s a bevy of support. With a smattering of Ubuntu derivatives including Lubuntu, Xubuntu, and Kubuntu, it’s a top choice for programmers. Ubuntu is an OS which keeps users coming back.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Hugely popular, excellent support, stability, and ease of use.

Download: Ubuntu

2. Pop!_OS

Pop!_OS - Best Linux Distros for Programmers
Image Credit: okubax/Flickr

From Linux PC manufacturer System76 comes Pop!_OS, a Linux operating system tailored to developers, programmers, and makers. Benjamin Flanagin, lead developer at Vague Entertainment reports that he happily uses Pop!_OS because it’s the most stable GNOME 3 distro he’s encountered. Dominick also approves of Pop!_OS for its shared characteristics with Ubuntu.

As such, System76’s Pop!_OS is one of the best Linux distros for programmers. Although Pop!_OS sports a lovely look, we found that it’s best for System76 hardware users or those who simply enjoy its aesthetics. Additionally, we ranked Pop!_OS as one of the best Linux distributions on the market overall, not just for programming.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Fantastic stability, GNOME 3, similar to Ubuntu.

Download: Pop!_OS

3. Debian

Debian - Best Linux Distros for Programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Since most Linux OSes spawned from Debian, it’s a fantastic OS for programmers. In fact, the ultra-popular Ubuntu is based on Debian. You’ll benefit from a super stable distribution with .deb package management compatibility. Its testing branch features up to date software. Debian’s repositories are top-notch, there’s a thriving community, and you can use apt-get as well as build-dep.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Solid user base, very stable, foundation for many popular Linux operating systems.

Download: Debian

4. CentOS

CentOS - Best Linux Distros for Programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is a Linux operating system developed by tech giant Red Hat. CentOS is a neat RHEL alternative. Most commercial RHEL software runs with ease on CentOS and you’ll find YUM package management. Plus, CentOS boasts an impressive repository, as well as Red Hat Software Collections (RHSCL) for dynamic languages and open-source databases.

As such, CentOS offers the ideal space for programmers focused on enterprise development and programming in general. Aside from programming, CentOS presents a solid server operating system as well.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Great for use in enterprise environments, a well as development of enterprise apps.

Download: CentOS

5. Fedora

Fedora - Best Linux distros for programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Similarly, Fedora is another community edition variant of RHEL. Benefits include updated packages, plus automatic configuration. With Fedora, there’s a six-month release cycle, and upgrades are painless. As FossBytes reports, even Linux creator Linus Torvalds opts for Fedora over the likes of Ubuntu or Debian.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Like CentOS, this is a great choice for enterprise applications.

Download: Fedora

6. Kali Linux

Kali Linux - Best Linux distros for programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

If you’ve ever watched USA’s hit series Mr. Robot, you’re likely familiar with Kali Linux. A Debian-based Linux operating system, Kali Linux hones in on the security niche. Since Kali targets penetration testing, it’s packed with security testing tools. For instance, you’ll find John the Ripper, a password cracker, pen testing suite Aircrack-ng, and web app security scanner OWASP ZAP.

Thus, Kali Linux is a top choice for programmers, particularly those focused on security. Further, Kali Linux runs well on the Raspberry Pi. Since programming resources are popular for the Pi, Kali is an awesome Raspbian alternative.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Lots of utilities for penetration testing, web app security, and more. Debian-based and incredibly stable.

Download: Kali Linux

7. Arch Linux

Arch Linux - Best Linux distros for programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

For a lightweight yet robust OS, try Arch Linux. It’s one of the best Linux operating systems for programmers with an adaptable and customizable foundation.

With Arch Linux, you can build customized packages and truly dig into the core operating system. Since it’s a minimalist distro, Arch comes with simply the Linux kernel and a package manager, Pacman. Unlike OSes such as Debian and Ubuntu, Arch lacks a graphical user interface (GUI) initially.

Considering its complex installation, Arch is recommended for advanced Linux users. Moreover, it’s suggested if you’re willing to slog through the ultimately rewarding but admittedly lengthy roll-your-own distro process. For an easier way to install Arch Linux, try Antergos.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Lightweight, customizable, and features a bleeding edge repository.

Download: Arch Linux

8. Gentoo

best linux distros operating systems for programmers
Image Credit: fforget/Flickr

Like Arch, Gentoo provides a means to take complete control of your computer. Again, there’s simply the package manager and a Linux kernel. Thus, virtually every element of the OS installation is up to you.

By compiling your own Linux distro, you gain an operating system tailored to your needs. This especially benefits programmers. Alternatively, install Gentoo the simple way with Sabayon.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Highly-flexible, completely customizable.

Download: Gentoo

9. NuTyX

Nutyx with a GUI
Image Credit: Nutyx

As a Linux operating system, NuTyX is highly-flexible. It affords complete control to the user, adopting the Linux from scratch mentality. NuTyX ships with a package manager and kernel, which lets users create a customized experience, from choosing a desktop environment to applications and more. It’s best suited for programmers that demand a tailored distro, armed with the patience to complete the involved installation process.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Linux from scratch methodology, very customizable.

Downloads: NuTyX

10. OpenSUSE

OpenSUSE - Best Linux distros for programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Though Ubuntu and Debian derivatives tend to dominate, OpenSUSE is a solid alternative. Notably, it’s superb for development and programming. There’s a LTS release, as well as Tumbleweed, a bleeding-edge iteration.

OpenSUSE yields an enterprise environment with an excellent package manager in YaST. It’s stable and provides plenty of software installers on its website. OpenSUSE includes both fixed and rolling release options, tons of desktop environments, and intuitive app installation making it one of the best Linux distros for programmers.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: Stable, up to date packages, and the ultra-powerful YaST package manager.

Download: OpenSUSE

11. elementary OS

Elementary OS - Best Linux distros for programmers
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Although Linux operating systems including Ubuntu are pretty user-friendly, elementary OS takes ease of use to a whole new level. The fairly recent Linux OS sports an understandable vision with its own desktop environment in Pantheon. Further, elementary includes its own GUI and apps. It’s super easy to learn. Because of its simplicity, Elementary OS is a best bet for programmers new to the Linux space.

Like many Linux desktop distros, elementary boasts a library of awesome default apps. Upon first boot, you’ll find goodies such as a mail app, photos app, and music app. If you enjoy elementary, you might appreciate ChaletOS and Manjaro as well, for their similar philosophy.

Why it’s one of the best Linux distros for programmers: User-friendly, incredibly stable.

Download: Elementary OS

The Best Linux Operating Systems for Programmers

Linux distros provide a superb environment for programming and development. Because Linux supports almost any programming language imaginable, it’s ideal for developers. Moreover, its plethora of tools makes Linux perfect for programming.

While some programmers prefer straight-forward yet robust Linux distros such as Ubuntu or Elementary, others require advanced Linux operating systems like Arch or Gentoo. Plus, you’ll find specialized OSes such as Kali Linux and even free enterprise-class Linux distros including Fedora and CentOS.

Seeking a fantastic Linux desktop environment for programming? Check out these tips to make use of Linux for programming. And be sure to take a look at this list of the best Linux software and apps The Best Linux Software and Apps The Best Linux Software and Apps Whether you're new to Linux or you're a seasoned user, here are the best Linux software and apps you should be using today. Read More .

Explore more about: Linux, Programming.

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  1. Eddie G. O'Connor
    April 2, 2018 at 5:54 am

    There IS no "best" version of Linux! While a lot of people might "agree" on a certain distro because they use it and its popular? Not everyone is of the same mind. Ubuntu might be great for some, and for others it might be a sugar-coated headache. Gentoo might be awesome for someone else, and a veritable health-hazard to another individual. The REAL "power" of Linux is: you can use WHATEVER you want....in whatever CONFIGURATION you want......with whatever ICONS.....DESKTOP....TERMINAL.....MAIL CLIENT.....WEB BROWSER....etc...etc. that YOU want!

    'Nuff Said.

    • NixDev
      April 9, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      Exactly. Sadly these 'best' lists are always good for site traffic. It's not a knock on the author, just that with FOSS, "best" is extremely subjective due to the over-abundance of forks and re-spins out in the wild of pretty much everything.

    • NixDev
      April 9, 2018 at 3:24 pm

      Also, Kali Linux is built specifically for PenTesting, not so much programming. You can program on any *Nix system out there, but the distros built for a specific use case are best used Only for their use case, as that is the whole purpose behind their development to begin with. Not saying "you can't" only that "that's not exactly what it's for".

      • Eddie G. O'Connor
        April 9, 2018 at 5:24 pm

        Agreed! For instance, I do a lo of "programming & coding" on Fedora Linux......(well I'm LEARNING how to program and code!..LoL!) And that's not to say it can't be used as "just" a regular desktop OS. I also use OpenSuSE and CEntOS for programming practice as well. Even though one is more designed to be a server OS.......so you're right, there are distros that are "specifically built" to do some things a little better than others, and there are "generic" (or should I say "More User Friendly For The Average User"?) typs that are designed just to be used for "regular" PC activities!

  2. Guestsarebest
    March 22, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    I know I left salty comments. I'm just a turd that craves attention since i dont have any tide pods

  3. David
    March 22, 2018 at 2:45 am

    I'd say Deepin Linux... Easy to use, debian-based, very simplified settings, consumes little RAM compared to GNOME 3, and real easy on the eyes.

    I've been using it at work for a while and am truly satisfied

  4. thephilippinestoday
    March 21, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    why is linux mint not on the list? I am using it learning to program in python...

    • NixDev
      March 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      Because Mint is just a green coloured Ubuntu.

  5. Guestsarebest
    March 21, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    What an awful list. Next time have someone who programs on Linux actually pick the distros.

    • NixDev
      March 21, 2018 at 10:48 pm

      If you can do better, then by all means do it instead of squawking. I'm not a huge fan of the validity of some of these articles, but "best" is subjective. Use what works for you.

  6. Guestsarebest
    March 21, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    A list written by someone who has never programmed and has never used Linux.

  7. Johan Sundell
    March 21, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    Gentoo I have used for years thanks to its use flags and for me it has been perfect.

  8. murray
    March 21, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    This list should read: Top 5 Distros If You're Just Starting a Bachelor's or Master's in Computer Science And Haven't Touched Linux Before (and another 5 at the end if you're actually a programmer but have been living under a rock)

    • NixDev
      March 21, 2018 at 10:51 pm

      Not really. Just because someone is a programmer doesn't mean they want or need a "build it yourself" distro that they have to spend time compiling shit just to get their work done.
      When I'm working, I need a distro that just works out of the box and gets out of my way. Fedora does that just fine.

      • murray
        March 22, 2018 at 2:24 am

        So you're just complaining about Gentoo?

        • NixDev
          March 22, 2018 at 12:39 pm

          No, just at the other snobbery comments from the Linux hipsters and so called "elite" just because they don't use mainstream distros and think that somehow makes them better than everyone else.

        • NixDev
          March 22, 2018 at 9:26 pm

          No, just against the Linux elitist snobbery that likes to profess that "if you don't use Arch or Gentoo and compile everything from scratch, then you're a moron" type of comments on articles related to Linux and the uses. I've built Arch and Gentoo, and those are fine for a computer that isn't a production machine. However, when actual work needs to get done, I prefer to run an OS that doesn't need 12 hours worth of tinkering with in order to get it 'just so' before I can work. I need stability OOTB for work. As such Fedora, or Debian-based systems like Ubuntu work just fine.

      • Guestsarebest
        March 22, 2018 at 9:30 pm

        fedora f@g

  9. Brandon Regard
    March 21, 2018 at 10:45 am

    For whatever reason, I always read these distro top lists. Aside from the minor corrections, this one is spot on!

  10. r
    March 21, 2018 at 8:59 am

    LTS == Long Term Support. Not long term service.

  11. r
    March 21, 2018 at 8:58 am

    LTS == Long Term Support. Not long term service

  12. Luciano
    March 21, 2018 at 1:57 am

    Open suse is the best for desktop. CentOS the best for server.

    End. :)