Five rock-solid Linux distros for developers

Developers want power, flexibility, stability, and ease, and these Linux distributions have it all

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When installing OpenSuse Leap, the first detail to note is how the system is partitioned. By default, the root partition is formatted with BtrFS for enhanced system protection, with a separate home partition formatted with XFS for flexibility. BtrFS confers certain developer-friendly advantages: You can take snapshots of the file system and roll them back, or you can even boot straight into a snapshot to pick up where you left off.

Another developer-specific advantage BtrFS provides is subvolumes, which treat a subdirectory as if it were its own file system, complete with its own snapshotting. Leap’s setup configures several application-specific subvolumes; MySQL, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, the spooler, logs, and Mailman all get their own subvolumes by default. Of course you can add your own subvolumes during setup, or if you want to drop back to plain old ext4 or XFS, you can do that as well. Note that the interface for adding subvolumes at setup time is buried several levels down in the setup GUI. Still, it’s nice to have this kind of flexibility available right out of the gate.

Also available at setup time are a number of user environment options—not only GNOME and KDE, but also Xfce, LXDE, Minimal X, Enlightenment, and plain old text mode.

Leap’s out-of-the-box repositories include both open source and non-open-source software, although the collection of software available in those repositories is a little thin for developers. Eclipse isn’t included, for instance, but Suse provides an online software catalog with one-click installers for a great many applications (including Eclipse). The installer automatically subscribes you to the relevant repository to keep updates fresh.

I mentioned BtrFS snapshotting as one of Leap’s big advantages. Leap includes Snapper, a graphical tool that lets you drill into a specific snapshot, determine exactly what changed, and roll back changes selectively (file by file, directory by directory) or all at once. Snapper will be handy if you find that the contents of a given directory were silently munged a while back, but you only want to restore that particular change on that particular directory without interrupting any other workflow.

There is no section in Leap’s release notes that is aimed explicitly at developers, so you’ll want to comb through the whole document to see if there’s anything developer-related. The System Upgrade section in the release notes for Leap 42.2, for instance, explains that /var/cache is now its own BtrFS subvolume on fresh installs, and provides instructions for how to make such a change on an existing system.

Each major, left-of-the-decimal-point release of OpenSuse Leap is supported for at least 36 months, until the next major version of Leap is available, according to Suse’s documentation. Minor releases, with version changes to the right of the decimal point, come out annually and are supported for 18 months.

If you want to spin your own edition of OpenSuse Leap, Suse provides an excellent OS build service called Suse Studio. You can use an existing edition of OpenSuse Leap as a base image, outfit it with any number of software packages, make multiple changes (such as adding files to the resulting image or running specific scripts after the image is built), and distribute the results in nearly any image format. You can pick one of thousands of pre-existing OS images to use off-the-shelf or to clone as the basis for your own production.

suse IDG

OpenSuse’s Snapper tool provides convenient access to BtrFS snapshots, which offer a handy option to undo problems that might arise while doing development work.

This story, "Five rock-solid Linux distros for developers" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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