There are hundreds of Linux distributions. A lot of them are customized for specific usage such as robotics, mathematics etc.
Does this mean there are specific Linux distributions for programming as well?
Yes and no. When Linux was originally created, it was mainly used by programmers at that time. Linux has changed a lot since its inception but it is still an excellent choice for development.
Technically, you can choose any one of the best Linux distros available out there for programming.
However, in this article, I thought of considering some factors like reliability, stability, software availability, ease of installation and user experience to list some of my personal favorites for programmers and developers using Linux.
So, no matter whether you want to just use a code editor, create virtual machines, deploy containerized apps or just anything relevant – you will find the listed distros helpful.
Best Linux distributions for programming
You don’t have to stress a lot to select any one of the following mentioned. If the distro is actively maintained, has a decent community that helps keeps the packages up-to-date, and is reliable, you should be good to go.
To help you save some time, I shall filter some options in no particular order of ranking.
Ubuntu is considered one of the best Linux distributions for beginners. But it is also an excellent choice for an advanced power user, or a developer. Ubuntu is suitable for all.
It is easy to use and you will also find most of the tools/packages available in the default repository. They also have the Snap packaging that makes installing programming tools even easier.
You should stick to its LTS releases to get reliable software updates for years. Do note that Ubuntu has several official flavors available based on different desktop environments.
You can refer to our guide to decide which Ubuntu version to choose.
openSUSE is tailored for developers and system administrators with in-built functionalities to help you manage systems, utilize containerization technologies included, and a bunch of useful features for programmers, developers, and sysadmins.
It has a great community, a solid development sector, and a completely professional attitude.
A regular openSUSE release is maintained for several years and thus providing it the stability.
If you want a rolling-release cycle, they also offer openSUSE Tumbleweed edition- which is a bleeding-edge distro for developers who want everything up-to-date as fast as possible.
Fedora has a release cycle of 9 months. This is great for developers who can’t afford to be left with an older version for too long.
You get two variants, one for your workstation and another ready for servers. Similar to openSUSE, Fedora also aims to help developers or programmers to get things done.
If you’re looking to utilize open source tools, you will find almost everything you need to use just a click away. It also features GNOME Boxes to help you create virtual machines easily. I’ve also covered a quick article to help you update Fedora, in case.
It is also worth noting that you can deploy containerized applications with its built-in Open Container Initiative (OCI) image support.
Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu – however, the overall experience feels solid and smooth enough over the real deal.
Of course, it is subjective, but if you’re curious, you can check out a subjective Pop!_OS vs Ubuntu comparison to learn more.
The software repository is maintained by keeping developers in mind. So, you will find more tools available by default and most of them should be up-to-date as well. The GNOME experience and the workflow of the distribution have also been tweaked for coders/developers.
So, you must give it a try before deciding the best for yourself!
5. elementary OS
elementary OS is yet another Ubuntu-based Linux distribution. It is indeed one of the best Linux distros out there – however, if you are a developer looking for something that gets things done while also having a great user interface (macOS-ish), this could be your choice.
It also features its own app store where you can choose to pay for the free apps while having some cool features like picture-in-picture mode and so on.
Not just limited to the looks and features – but it is stable enough and useful for developers as well.
Talking about Arch, why not try something that’s simpler and yet based on Arch?
If you are someone who does not appreciate a lot of steps (or troubleshooting) to set up things, you might be better off with Manjaro.
Manjaro is fast and also supports various desktop environments to suit your requirements. You will also find the repository good enough for developers. I’m not sure – what you work on but not just the overall platform but the Manjaro community is quite active to help users when needed.
7. Arch Linux
Ok, so this one will require a fair amount of time and patience on your part just to set up. But it’s worth it.
Arch Linux comes with just the Linux kernel and the package manager, Pacman. You don’t even get a graphical interface. You build on the base, picking components as per your preference. The result of this is a highly personalized operating system that contains everything you need and nothing that you don’t.
Arch Linux is known for it’s bleeding edge, up to date repository. The operating system itself is completely reliable. The rare issues regarding stability creep in when you install unsupported packages from the Arch User Repository (which can be avoided by being cautious while dealing with AUR). This too affects only the software in question and not the OS itself.
Every debug info and instructions are well documented in the Arch Wiki which honestly is the best documentation any Linux distro has. So any issue you may face can be repaired easily by following very beginner-friendly instructions provided in the Arch Wiki.
Building a personalized operating system with Arch Linux is the way to go – but if it’s not something you want to invest your time on, you can try the next alternative as well.
Debian is unquestionably one of the best out there (considering the fact that Ubuntu is based on Debian).
You should have every important tool/package available for Debian to utilize for your work. Debian may not be a pretty OS – in terms of its user interface when compared to Pop!_OS. But, you can customize it to fit your requirements.
No matter whether you are a novice or an expert developer, Debian has a decent learning curve for all that helps you make the most out of it.
Raspbian is yet another useful distro based on Debian for developers/programmers using Raspberry Pi for their projects.
It includes most of the essential software for programmers like Python, Java, Scratch, and so on. So, give it a try!
Nitrux is an interesting addition to this list while being something based on Ubuntu (but not exactly).
Overall, it features some unique tools like ZNX to manage your distributions and MauiKit (a UI framework to help you develop applications with cross-platform support).
It may not be suitable for every user (or developer) out there – however, it is indeed a unique Linux distribution that you can take a look at. You can learn more about Nitrux in our interview article with its founder.
These would be my picks as the best distros for programmers and developers. It’s completely alright if you prefer something else than the ones mentioned in this article – as long as it helps you get the job done, it’s all good.
Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.