1. Overview

In the realm of open-source operating systems, Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux stand out as two prominent contenders. In essence,  both distributions share a common lineage, tracing their roots back to the Linux kernel. However, they diverge significantly in their approach, target audience, and overall philosophy. Both are widely used in various environments, but they have distinctive characteristics that cater to different needs.

Understanding the key differences between Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux is important for individuals and organizations seeking to select the most suitable platform for their specific needs.

In this tutorial, we’ll delve into the main ways Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux differ, exploring their specific features, package management systems, support models, and more.

2. Distribution Roots

In this section, we’ll understand the background of both distributions, target audience, and use cases.

2.1. Background

Ubuntu, developed by Canonical Ltd., emerged in 2004, with its name derived from an African philosophy emphasizing humanity to others. Ubuntu’s development philosophy is centered on user-friendliness and accessibility, making it a popular choice for personal computers and home users.

On the other hand, Red Hat Linux, created by Red Hat Inc., has been around since 1995. Initially focused on server applications, Red Hat has gradually expanded its reach to desktops and cloud environments. In addition, the company behind Red Hat Linux attempts to emphasize the stability and reliability aspects of its products.

This makes Red Hat Linux a preferred choice for businesses and organizations that demand robust performance and long-term maintenance.

2.2. Target Audience and Use Cases

Ubuntu’s user-centric approach caters to a broad audience, including beginners, casual users, and enthusiasts. Furthermore, its desktop environment is designed for ease of use. Even its package management system, apt, facilitates simplified software installation and updates. Moreover, Ubuntu’s versatility extends to server applications, with flavors like Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Cloud offering specialized configurations for enterprise deployments.

Red Hat Linux, on the other hand, aligns with the requirements of larger organizations and businesses. In addition, its stability and reliability make it a staple in data centers, where mission-critical applications demand uninterrupted operation. Red Hat’s certified support ensures that organizations have access to expert assistance when issues arise.

3. Package Management

One of the fundamental differences between Ubuntu and Red Hat lies in their package management systems.

To start with, Ubuntu utilizes the Debian Package Management System (DEB) for installing, managing, and removing software packages. Essentially, this system employs tools like apt and dpkg to handle package dependencies and ensure compatibility across the system. Finally, DEB is known for its ease of use and compatibility with a vast library of software packages.

On the contrary, Red Hat Linux employs its own package management system, the RPM Package Manager (RPM). In essence, RPM utilizes the rpm file format and specialized tools such as rpm, yum, and dnf for package management. Finally, RPM is renowned for its stability and robustness, making it well-suited for server environments.

These package management differences extend to the commands used for installing, updating, and removing software. For instance, while Ubuntu users typically use apt-get, Red Hat users would employ yum or its successor, dnf.

For example, let’s see the htop package installation on Ubuntu:

$ sudo apt-get install htop

Now, we can check the same installation in Red Hat:

$ sudo yum install htop

Next, let’s understand these commands in depth:

  • sudo command to grant superuser privileges in case we’re not logged in as the root user
  • apt-get is the command we use on Ubuntu to install a package
  • yum is the command we use on Red Hat to install a package
  • htop is the package name

While the front-end mechanics are similar, they aren’t always equivalent. For example, apt-get update only refreshes the available package list from the configured repositories, while yum update and dnf update actively update older packages.

Of course, the backend and format for package management differ even more.

4. Init Systems

The init system is responsible for initializing and managing system processes. In practice, Ubuntu traditionally used Upstart, based on SysV, while Red Hat adopted SystemD.

Ubuntu’s initiation into the Linux world featured Upstart as its init system. However, since version 15.04, Ubuntu transitioned to SystemD, marking a significant shift in its initialization process. In fact, systemd, known for its speed and efficiency, has become the default init system for many Linux distributions.

4.1. Ubuntu Upstart

In Ubuntu before version 15.04, the service command had various operations to manage and monitor services:

  • start
  • stop
  • restart

For example, let’s try to start the Apache web server on Ubuntu:

$ sudo service apache2 start

By utilizing the service command, we’re able to manage the Apache web server.

In case we need to check the status of a certain service, we use the keyword status:

$ sudo service apache2 status

However, both Red Hat and Ubuntu now use the same commands to manage services. Let’s see them in practice.

4.2. Ubuntu and RedHat systemd

In recent versions of Red Hat and Ubuntu, the systemctl command is used to manage and monitor and control services:

$ sudo systemctl start httpd

In the above example, we used the keyword start to start the httpd service.

Consequently, let’s try to check the status of httpd:

$ sudo systemctl status httpd

Accordingly, we notice that the keywords start, stop, and restart to perform a certain action are the same. However, we need to opt between the service command and the systemctl command depending on the distribution we use. Still, service is usually an alias for systemctl on systemd distributions.

5. Release Cycles and Support

In this section, we’ll discuss the release cycles and support methodologies of both distributions. Also, Ubuntu and Red Hat cater to different user bases when it comes to support models.

5.1. Release Cycles

Starting with Ubuntu, it adheres to a specific release model, but it also maintains a separate HWE rolling release, meaning that new versions are released regularly with the latest updates and features. Accordingly, this approach provides users with access to the most cutting-edge software, but it also means that there is a higher potential for compatibility issues. Moreover, Ubuntu provides free support for desktop users but offers commercial support for server and enterprise deployments.

On the other side, Red Hat Linux follows a more traditional release cycle, with major releases every 6-8 months. This approach ensures stability and compatibility, but it also means that users may need to wait longer for the latest features. Furthermore, Red Hat provides paid support for all versions of Red Hat Linux, including the latest stable release and the extended support phase.

5.2. Community Support and Resources

Ubuntu boasts a vibrant and active community, with numerous forums, documentation resources, and online communities dedicated to supporting users and resolving issues.

Red Hat Linux also has a strong community, but its focus on enterprise environments means that support often takes the form of paid services from Red Hat or authorized partners. Additionally, Red Hat offers a wealth of documentation and training resources to help users navigate the platform.

6. Filesystem Hierarchy

Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux both adhere to the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS), a set of guidelines for organizing files and directories in a Unix-like system. As a result, this ensures that both distributions share a common structure and make it easier for users to navigate and manage files across different distributions.

Let’s take a look under the hood to understand the inner workings of any Linux distribution. Basically, the hierarchy of the filesystem is the same on both distributions regarding the main directories:

  • /boot:  contains files required for booting the system, such as the kernel
  • /dev: contains device nodes, which represent hardware devices attached to the system
  • /etc: contains system configuration files
  • /lib: contains shared libraries, which are used by multiple programs

Despite adhering to the FHS, there are some minor differences in the directory structure of Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux. For instance, Ubuntu places several additional directories within the /opt directory for specific software packages, such as the /opt/MATLAB directory for MATLAB. Red Hat may have similar directories within the /opt directory, but their names may vary.

Despite these minor differences, the overall file system hierarchy of Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux is remarkably similar. This consistency simplifies the learning curve for users transitioning between the two distributions. Finally, the shared structure also facilitates interoperability and compatibility between applications and scripts developed for one distribution on the other.

7. Summary of the Differences

In this section, we’ll summarize the differences discussed in the previous sections in a handy format:

Aspect Ubuntu Red Hat
Package Management APT with .deb packages RPM with .rpm packages
Filesystem Hierarchy FHS FHS
Init System Upstart (SysV), systemd systemd
Support Model Community-driven Enterprise-focused

Here, we analyzed the differences in terms of package management, filesystem hierarchy, init systems, and support model.

8. Conclusion

In this article, we went through a detailed explanation of the key differences and similarities of both distributions and understood their use cases.

Whether we prioritize ease of use and community support (Ubuntu) or demand enterprise-grade stability and support (Red Hat), understanding these key differences is essential for choosing the right Linux distribution for our needs.

In conclusion, while Ubuntu and Red Hat share common roots in the Linux ecosystem, their distinct features and targeted use cases make each suitable for different purposes.

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