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Old 01-15-2013, 07:48 PM   #1
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Question What is a Linux distro?

I'd heard of System V and Red Hat and such and always thought there were only a few variations on what Linux is. I come to this site as a Raspberry Pi user, new to Linux, but experienced with DOS and BASIC for over thirty years now. Now I'm learning C+.

Anyway ...

What does it take to be a offical Linux Distro? Why is Raspbian, the variation of Debian used on the Raspberry Pi, conidered an offshoot of Debian? What would be the requirements for Raspbian to be considered a Linux Distro on its own?

Am I even using the word 'Distro' correctly?
Old 01-15-2013, 07:55 PM   #2
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Hi and welcome to LQ.

A Linux distribution (distro) is a collection of software built around a Linux kernel. Most distros are more or less direct offshoots of other distros. What it means that in some ways they were based on other distros. Have a look at this map to see the whole situation. As you can see, Debian and Red Hat have most offshoots.
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Old 01-15-2013, 08:06 PM   #3
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Any operating system based on the Linux kernel can be considered a "distro" (short for distribtion).

The three oldest Linux distro that are still actively supported are Slackware, Debian, and Red Hat; all appeared about the same time. Most other distros are derived (that is, based on) one of those three. Along the way, there have been others that have come and gone.

The easiest way to determine the "basis" of a distro is the type of package management. *.rpm (rpm=red hat package manager) packages characterize Red Hat based systems; *.deb (Debian) packages characterize Debian-based systems. Slackware has its own tools, but, unlike RPM and DEB systems, does not do automatic dependency resolution (a "dependency" is a program or library that another program needs to run), though some Slackware derivatives, such as SalixOS, do.

The other major distinguisher is the "init" system, the organization of the boot process and of the configuration files in the /etc directory. Nevertheless, the fact that, say, Red Hat, uses one init system does not mean that all Red Hat-based distros will use the same one.

There some distros that are unique, things unto themselves, such as Gentoo and Arch.

The chart at this link will give you an idea of the relationships among distros.

There's a pretty good history here.

Hope this helps.
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Old 01-15-2013, 08:28 PM   #4
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Linux isn’t like Windows or Mac OS X. Microsoft combines all the bits of Windows internally to produce each new release of Windows and distributes it as a single package. If you want Windows, you’ll need to choose one of the versions Microsoft is offering.

Linux works differently. The Linux operating system isn’t produced by a single organization. Different organizations and people work on different parts. There’s the Linux kernel (the core of the operating system), the GNU shell utilities (the terminal interface and many of the commands you use), the X server (which produces a graphical desktop), the desktop environment (which runs on the X server to provide a graphical desktop), and more. System services, graphical programs, terminal commands – many are developed independently from another. They’re all open-source software distributed in source code form.

Linux distributions do the hard work for you, taking all the code from the open-source projects and compiling it for you, combining it into a single operating system you can boot up and install. They also make choices for you, such as choosing the default desktop environment, browser, and other software. Most distributions add their own finishing touches, such as themes and custom software – the Unity desktop environment Ubuntu provides, for example.

When you want to install new software or update to new versions of software with important security updates, your Linux distribution provides them in precompiled, packaged form. These packages are fast and easy to install, saving you from doing the hard work yourself.

Last edited by linux-sys-adm; 01-15-2013 at 08:30 PM. Reason: Source:
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Old 01-15-2013, 08:30 PM   #5
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Good stuff from frankbell.

Note also that Unix (eg Solaris, HP-UX, AIX etc) is not Linux (& neither are the BSDs), but they are all closely related eg

Think of them as work-a-likes, each with their own personality quirks.

Wikipedia's Unix page says
The Open Group, an industry standards consortium, owns the UNIX trademark. Only systems fully compliant with and certified according to the Single UNIX Specification are qualified to use the trademark; others might be called Unix system-like or Unix-like, although the Open Group disapproves[2] of this term. However, the term Unix is often used informally to denote any operating system that closely resembles the trademarked system.

and getting certified costs a lot of money, which the Linux groups don't bother with.

Speaking of many distros, have a look at

Last edited by chrism01; 01-15-2013 at 08:35 PM.
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Old 01-15-2013, 09:02 PM   #6
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"What does it take to be a offical Linux Distro?"

It takes almost nothing. A distro of linux only has to have some part of the kernel and maybe a file or two.

There is no rule that tells you what a distro is or is not. We tend to expect a few things. Things that I expect in most are some target use or distro statement about it's use and benefits. Another is some easy to hard way to get it running. After all only source code in a collection would not meet my expectations of distro. Another nice thing would be a way to track or install software. Not fully needed but generally available. At some point someone say's, "I'd like to make my own distro." So they put some work into it and offer it to the masses.
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Old 01-16-2013, 09:13 PM   #7
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Smile Thank you!

Thanks to all of you for answering. I especially liked the links to the timeline -- it let me see how all the distros are related.


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