Linux Distro Types Explained: Originals, Derivatives, Flavors

Linux Distro Types Explained: Originals, Derivatives, Flavors

If you’ve heard about Linux, you’ve probably heard terms like Fork, Derivative, and Flavor. They refer to different Linux distro types, so let’s learn more about them.

These terms are used to distinguish one type of distribution from another, and they are very helpful. First, they help you differentiate between how a particular Linux distribution will work from another one.

If you don’t know what these terms mean, don’t worry. In this article, I will break down these terms, explain what they mean and how you can use these terms to narrow down your options in picking the best Linux distribution for you.

Above all, two terms are like main hierarchy terms – Original distributions and Derivative distributions.

Original Linux Distributions

Making a Linux distro from zero involves a lot of work. But, in general, original distros are products of a massive community around them and lots of users.

Original distribution is a Linux distribution that is not based directly on any other distribution. So when we talk about original distros, we talk about the longtime stalwarts out there in the Linux world.

For example, Linux distros like Debian, Slackware, Arch Linux, Red Hat, Gentoo, SUSE, and Void Linux, would be considered original Linux distributions, as they’re not based on anything upstream.

They combine the Linux kernelGNU utilities, and application software into an installable operating system.

Original Linux DIstro

Sometimes they may share some similarities, as some of them are RPM-based distros, others are DEB-based, but that is another topic for the package management differentiation.

Derivatives (Forks)

A derivative distro is based on the work done in the original distro but has its own identity, goals, and audience and is created by an entity independent of the original distro.

Furthermore, derivatives modify the original distros to achieve the goals they set for themselves.

In other words, they do something different or add something on or take something away that makes it more suitable for a specific use case. In short, a derivative distro takes a copy and makes changes on top of the original distro and then distributes them as its operating system.

So, if you have a specific need that is better served by a derivative, you might prefer using it instead of the original distro.

Derivative Linux DIstro

In the derivatives section, we have a bunch of sub-tiers and sometimes even sub-tiers inside of those sub-tiers. For example, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which is based on Debian. Therefore, Linux Mint is a derivative of a derivative.

As this is open source, as you can see, if somebody isn’t satisfied with what their favorite Linux distro is doing, they can fork it and go their own way.


The flavor is a distribution based on another Linux distribution that the base distro has officially sanctioned to do it. In general, flavor distros are just like icing over the parent distro to fit the needs of a specific section of users.

Flavor Linux DIstro

Flavors of distribution have the same core packages as the original and share the same repositories as the original, but different packages are installed or configured differently.

They are the look of a distribution, i.e., its desktop environment. So, for example, Xubuntu is Ubuntu but with Xfce, and Kubuntu is just Ubuntu with KDE Plasma.

If you are interested, you can look at the Linux Distribution Timeline to see how many Linux distributions are related.

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

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


  1. Forks happen when the rebellious child disagrees with the upstream parents family. The Red Hat Manager (RPM) was forked into so many different RPM distributions, that the naughtily children needed RPM applications that cannot be used by others staying close to the original RPM operating systems.

    Similar forks with Gnome-2 had to be grown into Gnome-3. So competitors Mate and Cinnamon were created.

    Each breakaway ‘innovation’ may sometimes succeed. The Canonical brand had success with Ubuntu, but market forces shows it has its fork failures in Snap and Unity. This is the usual story with innovation, derived on harmony from the parent, or trying to be independent of the origins, as an incompatible fork.

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