Best of Technical Support

Our experts answer your technical questions.
Compatibility Between Linux Distributions

I have been feeling a bit confused lately about the different Linux distributions. Specifically, if they are compatible with one another. The two distributions I use are Slackware and Red Hat. I prefer the way Slackware handles some things and prefer the Red Hat method for certain other things. What I would like to know is if these two distributions (as well as the others) are interchangeable in any way. For example, would it be possible to install pkgtool on a Red Hat system and could an XF86_SVGA server from Red Hat work on a Slackware distribution? Could a Slackware kernel be used to boot a Red Hat system? —Steven M. St. Hilaire

The core of this question centers around Linux itself. As far as binary compatibility goes, that depends on your platform, not your distribution. If you use x86 binaries from all distributions, then yes, they are indeed compatible.

The problems you are likely to run into are conflicts in directory locations and library versions, which can happen in any binary distribution. The kernels from the various distributions will boot properly, but once Linux boots, it needs to perform some work to get the entire system mounted and operating.

Take two examples from your question. The XF86_SVGA server would most likely operate properly, if you had installed the entire Xfree86 installation from the Slackware set. If, on the other hand, you wanted to use only the X server from the Slackware distribution and use the Red Hat distribution to install the rest of the X system, you would likely run into trouble.

The second example is the Red Hat control panel. Yes, it would have difficulty with those items which you installed from Slackware. But you would not have trouble using it to control packages which you installed from the Red Hat distribution.

If you do this, be aware that you could be in for long nights working out the various incompatibilities. Certain things may work without trouble, especially third-party packages (such as some database systems) that come in specific formats for your convenience. Unless you are an experienced administrator, I would not recommend installing system-level facilities using a mixed distribution.

Instead, why not select one distribution and install the remaining items by compiling the source distribution? It will probably take somewhat less time to do because of the headaches you will avoid, and you will gain a much stronger understanding of how the various programs, system libraries and kernel facilities interact. —Chad Robinson, BRT Technologies


White Paper
Linux Management with Red Hat Satellite: Measuring Business Impact and ROI

Linux has become a key foundation for supporting today's rapidly growing IT environments. Linux is being used to deploy business applications and databases, trading on its reputation as a low-cost operating environment. For many IT organizations, Linux is a mainstay for deploying Web servers and has evolved from handling basic file, print, and utility workloads to running mission-critical applications and databases, physically, virtually, and in the cloud. As Linux grows in importance in terms of value to the business, managing Linux environments to high standards of service quality — availability, security, and performance — becomes an essential requirement for business success.

Learn More

Sponsored by Red Hat

White Paper
Private PaaS for the Agile Enterprise

If you already use virtualized infrastructure, you are well on your way to leveraging the power of the cloud. Virtualization offers the promise of limitless resources, but how do you manage that scalability when your DevOps team doesn’t scale? In today’s hypercompetitive markets, fast results can make a difference between leading the pack vs. obsolescence. Organizations need more benefits from cloud computing than just raw resources. They need agility, flexibility, convenience, ROI, and control.

Stackato private Platform-as-a-Service technology from ActiveState extends your private cloud infrastructure by creating a private PaaS to provide on-demand availability, flexibility, control, and ultimately, faster time-to-market for your enterprise.

Learn More

Sponsored by ActiveState