What to switch to from CentOS?

With CentOS 7 end of life a half year away, I should choose something to move to. I’ve had a CentOS server here for eight years, and haven’t paid much attention to the alternatives. Anyone here have experience migrating yours from CentOS to Rocky, Debian, Ubuntu, AlmaLinux, or something else? How did you decide? How was the migration process?

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[My comments get lost or hidden by this system so I’ll add this as an “answer” but it’s really a continuation of the question]

Thanks for the answers so far! Those four - AlmaLinux, Rocky, Debian, and Ubuntu - are the four I was mainly considering, but it’s still unclear how to choose between them. I think there are really two separate choices to make:

  1. Go with a CentOS-like (Rocky or AlmaLinux) or Debian-like (Debian or Ubuntu) Linux?

2a. If CentOS-like, how to make the choice between Rocky and AlmaLinux?

2b. If Debian-like, how to select between Debian and Ubuntu?

Since the context of this question is a DigitalOcean droplet, that means a headless cloud VM instance. Window managers and related UI considerations, device driver issues, hardware compatibility, etc., are not relevant here, so it doesn’t matter whether these Linuxes have significant differences on those grounds for the purpose of this question.

Obviously for someone who has a strong preference already between CentOS and Debian-like Linuxes, choice #1 is easy. If I wanted to stick with something close to CentOS, then that would be an easy choice. But I actually don’t care one way or the other. Although the reason I need to pick a new OS is that CentOS going away means I can’t just keep what I have now, that does not mean I want to choose something just like it. I’m happy to use a different Linux.

So, can anyone say more about how to actually make those choices above, without regard to any pre-existing preference for or against CentOS or Debian? Why would someone pick a CentOS-like or Debian-like Linux vs. the other? What are the reasons to choose Ubuntu over Debian or vice versa? Rocky over AlmaLinux or vice versa? Not just positive statements about each one, but the actual contrasts, and the drawbacks of each choice.

Bobby Iliev
Site Moderator
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January 2, 2024

Hi there,

This is a great question! Indeed, switching from CentOS, especially considering its upcoming end-of-life, is an important decision that depends on various factors including your specific use case, personal preferences, and the specific needs of the applications you’re running.

Besides what has been mentioned already for AlmaLinux, here are a few more details to consider in case that other people come across this question in the near future:

1. Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux

  • Background: Both Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux emerged as direct responses to CentOS’s shift in direction (CentOS Stream). They aim to be compatible with RHEL, just like CentOS.
  • Advantages: Very similar to CentOS in terms of operation and management. If your applications and services are tightly coupled with CentOS’s way of doing things, these distributions will offer the smoothest transition.
  • Migration: As mentioned, the migration from CentOS to Rocky Linux or AlmaLinux can be relatively straightforward using leapp. Always remember to back up your Droplet before such a major upgrade.

2. Debian

  • Background: Debian is known for its stability and has a different package management system like apt with .deb packages compared to CentOS yum and dnf and .rpm packages.
  • Advantages: It has a large repository of software and is known for its robustness and stability.
  • Migration: Moving to Debian from CentOS would be more involved than moving to a RHEL-adjacent distribution, as there are differences in package management, file system layout, and default configurations. So you would need to manually transfer over your app and install and configure all of the necessary services.

3. Ubuntu

  • Background: Ubuntu, based on Debian, is popular for its ease of use and strong community support. It’s frequently updated and offers both LTS and regular releases. I personally have been using it for many of my projects.
  • Advantages: Great choice for users who value up-to-date software and a more user-friendly approach. It is also widely used in cloud environments.
  • Migration: Same as Debian.

Besides that, there are a few more things to consider:

  1. Make sure to assess the compatibility of your current applications with the new OS. This includes checking for available software packages and required libraries.

  2. An important thing to consider is the size of the community and the availability of support. Larger communities often mean better support and more readily available solutions to problems. This is why I quite like both Debian and Ubuntu.

  3. If you or your team are already familiar with a particular Linux distribution, this could reduce the learning curve and migration effort which is very important for all production use-cases. Though for me it is always fun to play around with a new OS.

  4. Look for distributions that offer long-term support, especially if you prefer stability over having the latest features.

Besides all that, always start with a detailed plan and backup your existing data and configurations in case that anything goes wrong. On that note, you could even set up a test environment to trial the migration process and iron out any issues before migrating your production system.

Hope that this helps!


Site Moderator
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January 2, 2024

Heya @cosdigitalocean,

I’ll recommend using AlmaLinux, it is considered the natural successor of CentOS with it being like 95% similar to CentOs, it’s still RedHat so that will help as well. This is a strong choice if you want minimal disruption and a similar environment to what you’re used to with CentOS. Migration should be relatively straightforward because of the binary compatibility.

As for the migration there is a tool called:

leapp upgrade

Which in theory should help you to upgrade your Droplet from CentOS to Almalinux but to be honest I’ve not had the chance to try it out but I hear it does work more often than not.

If it doesn’t work, you’ll just need to migrate the old way, create a new Droplet, and migrate the data you need.

Additionally, don’t forget to create a Backup/Snapshot before you begin as these operations often have issues along the way:

Snapshots are on-demand disk images of DigitalOcean Droplets and volumes saved to your account. Use them to create new Droplets and volumes with the same contents.

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