Rocky Linux: An Enterprise-Ready CentOS Replacement

The project's aim is to provide a community supported production-grade enterprise operating system.

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Rocky Linux

Rocky Linux is a Linux distribution that is intended to be a downstream complete binary compatible release using the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system source code.

The Birth of Rocky Linux

For a long time, CentOS was a reliable choice for a Linux-based servers, because it was effectively a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). All the features that made RHEL the dominant enterprise-class Linux were included in CentOS.

On December 8th, 2020, Red Hat, which had acquired the CentOS project, abruptly announced a change in its focus in the wake of Red Hat’s acquisition by IBM. They announced they would be shifting all of their investment in CentOS Linux from the popular downstream CentOS distribution.

This move also meant that CentOS would be upstream of RHEL, rather than downstream, so CentOS users would be in effect beta testers for RHEL. Since there were so many users relying on a CentOS version that would be unsupported sooner than they planned for, the community sensed a need for a new project.

In response, the original CentOS founder Gregory Kurtzer is leading the effort to create a new version of the distro, to achieve the original goals of CentOS.

Kurtzer told he was thinking about creating a new version of CentOS ever since Red Hat acquired it in 2014.

And then when IBM acquired it, you know, I was thinking about it even more, and then when CentOS was canceled, it seemed pretty clear that this needs to happen.

Gregory M. Kurtzer, Rocky Linux Founder

Confirming his words, Kurtzer wasted no time. Red Hat announced it was shifting focus from downstream build CentOS to upstream build CentOS Stream on December 8, 2020, and the very next day the Rocky Linux development effort was launched on Github. Over 650 contributors joined in less than 24 hours.

Why Rocky Linux?

Kurtzer started CAOS Linux, an RPM-based Linux distribution, around the time when Red Hat announced End-of-Life for their Red Hat Linux in favor of subscription-based Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Though RHEL was available only through a paid subscription model, the project’s source code was available to the public.

CentOS originated as a build of CAOS Linux, started by Gregory Kurtzer in 2002. One of the volunteers for the project, Rocky McGaugh, a developer of CAOS, volunteered to build a new distribution based on RHEL. They named it CentOS, for “Community Oriented Enterprise Operating System”. Since 2004 CentOS has been a free downstream clone of RHEL.

Thinking back to early CentOS days… My cofounder was Rocky McGaugh. He is no longer with us, so as a H/T to him, who never got to see the success that CentOS came to be, I introduce to you…Rocky Linux.

Gregory M. Kurtzer, Rocky Linux Founder

In short, the name Rocky Linux is a tribute to the late CentOS co-founder Rocky McGaugh.

Rocky Linux

By December 12, 2020, the code repository of Rocky Linux had become the top trending repository on GitHub.

The first release candidate version of Rocky Linux was released on April 30th, 2021. As of June 21, 2021, the general available (GA) version of Rocky Linux 8.4 has been released with the codename “Green Obsidian”. It attracted 80,000 downloads within first 72 hours after its official release.

Rocky Linux GNOME Desktop

The Rocky Linux installation is similar to CentOS and pretty much every other Linux installation program. If you’ve installed CentOS before then this will all look very familiar because it is the same installation process.

Related: CentOS 8 to Rocky Linux 8 Migration: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Rocky Linux is available for download for both x86_64 and ARM64 systems in various ISO images including DVD, Minimal and boot ISO images. The installation program is graphical even though the Minimal image only installs a console-based setup by default.

Rocky Linux Installation

Because both CentOS and Rocky Linux are built off of RHEL and with stability being name of the game, stability means older packages that are tried tested and true. Rocky Linux uses systemd as is in its software and comes with the XFS file system by default.

The distro use DNF (Dandified YUM) as a package manager. It is an upgrade of the now deprecated YUM package manager, which was the package manager for older versions of Red Hat Linux distributions such as RedHat and CentOS 7.

There is a symlink for yum to dnf in Rocky Linux, so you can still use the yum command as before, due to the fact that dnf uses most of the same command syntax as yum.

To learn more about Rocky Linux distribution, you can visit the project’s website.

Bottom Line

Rocky Linux appears to be gaining acceptance at a rapid pace. It actually has a really good chance of becoming a very widely used Linux distribution. Big names are keen to be associated with it too.

Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure are some of the companies sponsoring Rocky Linux. So, the future looks more promising than ever.

In conclusion, if you rely on CentOS and you don’t want to run CentOS Stream or pay for RHEL, you could very well consider Rocky Linux. Definitely, you’ll have a solid foundation for your server.

2 Comments

  1. With the fate of Red Hat Linux now officially doomed under the control of IBM, now would actually be the time to simply switch to the Debian ecosystem (including its derivatives such as ubuntu) instead of continuing to find workarounds.

    • Debian is not so well. I was using it for years in parallel with CentOS. Debian is too much in late for packages, doesn’t respect standards (e.g apache is not a webserver, it’s httpd. And the bad use of “sites-enabled” in contrast of all others distributions…). And .deb packages are not well tested at build time while rpmbuild is way more ensuring. Debian hasn’t a good iptables overlay like we have with firewalld and nftables (very important for containers). And there is no good support of podman. Debian is a nice distribution but I don’t recommend using it for strong and up to date production server.

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