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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