Gentoo Linux: A Powerful Distro For Advanced Users

Gentoo Linux is a powerful and extensible Linux distribution that adheres to the original source-based package management in Linux.

It is not like other Linux distros. Where more fashionable distributions worry about fast installation and ease of use, Gentoo worries about efficient compilation and degrees of customization.

As a result, Gentoo Linux is one of the most advanced operating systems in the open-source world. It is a great way to learn about how your computer works. It is a unique, different, and powerful Linux distribution.

Gentoo is a bare-bones minimalist Linux distribution known for being hard to use and one of the hardest distributions to install. However, it is distributed as free and open-source software and follows a rolling release model.

In Gentoo, the user must configure everything. Unlike a binary Linux distribution, the source code is compiled locally according to the user’s preferences and is often optimized for a specific type of computer.

At the same time, precompiled binaries are available for some larger packages or those with no available source code.

What Kind of People Use Gentoo

Gentoo Linux with KDE Desktop Environment

Certainly, Gentoo isn’t a distro for new users. Instead, it is a distribution for perfectionists and hobbyists who want to know how their system works and how it gets that way, digging deeper into its configuration.

In addition, Gentoo is for the users who want to reach under the hood, get their hands dirty, and learn.

What Does Gentoo Mean?

This powerful Linux distribution is named after the fastest-swimming penguin, the Gentoo. The name was chosen to reflect the potential speed improvements of machine-specific optimization, which is a significant feature of Gentoo.

The History of Gentoo

Gentoo Linux was initially created by Daniel Robbins, a programmer, writer, and consultant from Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Enoch Linux distribution. The goal was to create a distribution without precompiled binaries tuned to the hardware and only included required programs. 

Over time, Daniel Robbins and Enoch gained a team of developers, and Enoch began to evolve into Gentoo Linux, but not before problems with GCC.

A POSIX thread bug in Glibc and the Linux 2.2 series of kernels led Robbins to abandon Gentoo during the latter half of 1999 and dip into the very different world of FreeBSD. This episode led to Gentoo’s development being influenced by FreeBSD’s ports system.

At least one version of Enoch was distributed: version 0.75, in December 1999. In addition, Gentoo Linux 1.0 was released on April Fool’s day, 2002.

In 2004, Daniel set up the non-profit Gentoo Foundation. First, he transferred all copyrights and trademarks to it. Then, he stepped down as chief architect of the project, wanting to spend more time with his family.

Robbins has gone his own way and now runs Funtoo, which he sees as a hacker-oriented upgrade of Gentoo.


The installation of a Gentoo Linux system differs much from the installation methods of more desktop-oriented operating systems and popular Linux distributions.

Knowing the technical specifications and being familiar with your computer’s hardware before installing Gentoo Linux is vital. This knowledge will guide some decisions you will make during the installation.

Gentoo’s download page offers a minimal installation CD and a hybrid ISO, which contains a graphical live Linux environment.

However, Gentoo does not have an easy-to-use graphical installer. The installation is instead done by following a step-by-step handbook, and it is time-consuming and not very friendly.

The steps are to partition your system and unpack a “stage 3” archive with a base system. Then all software you want beyond the base system has to be compiled.

A well-driven installation will result in faster code with less fluff and bloat. Of course, the installation may take hours or days, but the payoff is that it only happens once.

Software Management

Most Linux distributions come with the code precompiled. This is because the priority of a consumer-oriented operating system is a quick install and a running system that works.

In contrast, most essential Gentoo packages are compiled from source to the user’s specification and the hardware, and every installation is unique.

At the heart of Gentoo is a unique software distribution system called Portage. It simplifies Gentoo updates and enables users to build their entire system from the source, with complete control over which packages are or aren’t installed.

Portage is the official package manager and distribution system for Gentoo. It is similar to the BSD-style package management known as ports and was originally designed with FreeBSD’s ports in mind. In short, FreeBSD ports became the inspiration for Gentoo’s portage system.

Gentoo’s portage build system is highly configurable, which means that two Gentoo installations done by different people will differ in terms of how they work and what features they installed packages have.

The emerge command-line tool is the heart of Portage. The command is customizable with many options and modifiers. As a result, the emerge tool is an essential utility for accessing the features of Portage from the command line.

It is primarily used for installing packages, and emerge can automatically handle any dependencies a desired package has. In addition, the ebuild files describe how the source should be configured and installed, depending on variables set in /etc/make.conf.

How Gentoo Configures Software

Gentoo Linux gives you control over how and with what support programs are installed by using Use flags.

In short, Use flags allow you to enable or disable certain features of a package. For example, app-editors/emacs can optionally build with JPEG image support.

Gentoo USE flags

Great Documentation & Friendly Community

The Gentoo documentation is excellent. It usually tells you exactly what you need to know. For example, it will tell you which kernel modules you need to add and which USE flags to add.

In addition, Gentoo documentation provides a step-by-step process for installing, updating, or troubleshooting your computer.

The Gentoo community is friendly and helpful, especially those who help themselves, and the forums are busy with valuable information. The culture is not to hold your hand but to walk you through the process with helpful documentation.

Gentoo users are friendly and helpful. The community is one of the best things about Gentoo.


Some time ago, Linus Torvalds had shared,

I’m a technical person, but I have a very specific area of interest, and I don’t want to fight the rest. So the only distributions I have actively avoided are the ones that are known to be “overly technical.”

Gentoo and its derivatives are less well known than Ubuntu, Debian, or Red Hat (and their derivatives) because they receive less publicity and appeal to a different audience.

In conclusion, Gentoo is not about ease of use or making installation easier for the new user. It is for the hackers and delvers who want to explore and dive into their systems and swim further and faster.

Bobby Borisov

Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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