Arch compared to other distributions

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This page summarizes some of the similarities and differences between Arch and other distributions. This question comes up repeatedly, and it would be nice to have a standard response. Please note that the best way to compare Arch to other distributions is to install it and try it yourself. Arch has a wonderful user community that is always willing to help new users. The summaries below are meant only to give you enough information to decide if Arch is really for you.

Arch vs Gentoo

Because the Arch installation is binary, it is much less time-consuming than a source-based Gentoo installation. Gentoo has more packages and lets you choose the exact version of a package you want to install. Both Gentoo and Arch allow binary and source-based packaging; however, Gentoo is mainly source-based while Arch is mainly binary-based. Both are rolling-release systems. Arch PKGBUILDs are easier to create than ebuilds. Gentoo is more portable out of the box as packages will get compiled to your specific architecture, whereas Arch is optimized for i686 and x86-64 only (although an i586 user-based spin-off project is underway). There is no documented proof that Gentoo is any faster than Arch or vice-versa. The Arch design approach is more focused on simplicity.

Arch vs Crux

Arch Linux was inspired by Crux. Judd once summarized the differences:

"I used Crux before starting Arch. Arch started out as Crux, pretty much. Then I wrote pacman and makepkg to replace my bash pseudo packaging scripts (I built Arch as an LFS system to begin). So the two are completely separate distros, but technically, they're almost the same. We have dependency support (officially) for example, although Crux has a community that provides other features. CLC's prt-get will do rudimentary dependency logic. Crux gets to ignore lots of problems we have too, since it's a very minimalistic package set, basically what Per uses and nothing else."

See this forum post for a user's impressions of both distributions.

Arch vs Sorcerer/Lunar-linux/Sourcemage

Sorcerer/Lunar-linux/Sourcemage (SLS) are all source-based distros, much like Gentoo is, but are originally related to one another. SLS distros use a rather simple set of script files to create package descriptions, and use a global configuration file to configure the compilation process, much like Arch's ABS system. The SLS tools do full dependency checking (including handling optional features) and package tracking (and uninstalling/upgrading). There are no binary packages for any of the SLS family, although they all can roll back earlier installed packages easily.

The install involves installing a base system (much like Arch's: i686-optimized, CLI and ncurses menus, only core tools), then recompiling the base system (optionally) afterwards. There is obviously no "standard" WM/DE/DM, and they do not install an X server during the base installation. But they do provide you with an easy way of installing one of several X server alternatives (X.Org 6.8 or 7, XFree86).

SLS has a very complicated history. The best write-up about it can be found here:

Lunar Linux:

Arch vs Rock

From Introduction

ROCK Linux is a flexible Linux Distribution Build Kit, i.e. it is a toolchain/framework for making your own Linux distributions. See also our Mission Statement. If you don't want to build your own distribution but simply are interested in a good general-purpose distribution, you might want to have a look at Crystal ROCK.

A distro based on being a build tool. VS Arch; again same issues as source based with time to compile, etc. Seems to work on many processors like SPARC, ARM, etc.

Arch vs T2

From Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why T2 when there is Gentoo?
A: T2, or more accurately, its precursor ROCK Linux, was already started in 1998 some month before Gentoo and also registered earlier on freshmeat - so the question should better be asked the other way around. Also on the technical side T2 allows for industrial strength development, permanent target definitions, cross builds, alternative embedded C libraries, and multiple init systems to choose from. Furthermore, T2 packages usually do not contain any code and are based on a key-value text file, making working and updating packages in T2 a snap.

Arch again competes by using binaries for i686 (fast without need to build everything). T2 seems to be a technically powerful competitor. Might beat Arch in a variety of roles since it can go down to embedded etc. One to watch.

Arch vs Graphical Distros

The graphical distros have a lot of similarities, and Arch is very different from any of them. Arch is text-based and command-line oriented. Arch is a better distro if you want to truly learn Linux. Graphical distros tend to ship with GUI installers (like Fedora's Anaconda) and GUI system-configuration tools (like SuSE's YaST). Specific differences between distros are described below.

Arch vs Slackware

Slackware and Arch are quite similar in that both are 'simple' distributions. Both use BSD-style init scripts. Arch supplies a package management system in pacman which, unlike Slackware's standard tools, offers automatic dependency resolution and allows for easy system upgrades. Arch is a rolling-release system. Slackware is seen as more conservative in its release cycle, preferring proven stable packages. Arch is more 'bleeding edge' in this respect. Arch is i686-only whereas Slackware can run on i486 systems. Both have a ports-like system available in addition to their regular package managers- the (unofficial) Slackbuild system is very similar to the Arch Build System (ABS), the latter being slightly more automated. Arch is a very good system for Slack users who want package management with automatic dependency resolution and/or more current packages.

Note: The Slackware project states on its General Info page that Slackware "uses -mcpu=i686 optimization for best performance on i686-class machines like the P3, P4, and Duron/Athlon", so it's possible that both are equally well-optimized.

Arch vs Debian

Arch has a simpler design than Debian. Arch has fewer packages. Arch provides better support for building your own packages than Debian does. Arch is more lenient when it comes to 'non-free' packages as defined by GNU. Arch is i686-optimized. Debian's design approach focuses more on stability and stringent testing. Arch packages are more bleeding-edge than Debian Stable/Testing packages. Both have excellent package management systems. Arch is a rolling release, whereas Debian Stable is released with "frozen" packages.

Arch vs Ubuntu

Arch has a simpler foundation than Ubuntu. If you like to compile your own kernels, try out bleeding-edge CVS-only projects, or build a program from source every once in a while, Arch is better suited. If you want to get up and running quickly and not fiddle around with the guts of the system, Ubuntu is better suited. In general, developers and tinkerers will probably like Arch better than Ubuntu.

Arch vs RPM-based Distros

RPM packages are available from many, many places, but third-party packages often have dependency issues such as requiring an old version of a library. There is also confusion between RPM packages for Red Hat and RPM packages for Mandrake. (These are issues I had as a Linux newbie with Mandrake 8.2, and may not reflect the current situation.) pacman is much more powerful and reliable than RPM. It also appears that Red Hat et al have issues in not recommending upgrades to a major new release (example 3 to 4) without a complete reformat of the box. This can impact production installations.

Arch vs Fedora

Fedora is a spin-off from the Red Hat distribution and has continually been one of the most popular distributions to date. As such, there is a massive community and lots of pre-built packages and support available. Fedora is RPM-based. Arch uses pacman to manage tar.gz packages. Fedora famously doesn't attempt to support the MP3 media format due to perceived patent issues. Arch is more lenient in its disposition toward MP3 and other media. Fedora uses a graphical install. Arch uses an ncurses-based install. Fedora is very GUI-driven. Arch is a much simpler system than Fedora, relying on the user for manual configuration. Arch is i686-optimized. Fedora has a scheduled release cycle. Arch is a rolling-release system. The Arch design approach is geared toward lightweight elegance rather than automation. Fedora does innovate and recently earned kudos for integration of SELinux and GCJ compiled packages to remove the need for Sun's JRE.

Arch vs Mandriva

Mandriva (previously Mandrake), famed for its installer, is a very automated distro. It is RPM-based (discussed above). Arch allows much more freedom and with less hand-holding. If you are not afraid to learn, you will enjoy Arch, as it is more manually configured.

Arch vs SUSE

SUSE is centered around its well-regarded YaST configuration tool, which is a one-stop shop for most users' configuration needs. Arch doesn't offer such a facility as it goes against TheArchWay. SUSE, therefore, is seen as more appropriate to less-experienced users, or those who want a simpler life with expected functionality working out of the box.

Arch vs Frugalware

Arch is text-based and command-line oriented. Frugalware provides better multilingual support. Frugalware also provides more local documentation. Both use pacman, though their packages are not really very compatible. Frugalware doesn't support the JFS file-system by default. Frugalware is no longer based on Slackware but is rather a distro of its own, and it's promoted as an i686 distro.

Arch vs FreeBSD

The BSDs derive from Berkeley Unix. Freebsd therefore is not a Linux distro, but a replacement if you will. Software can be obtained using binaries or compiled using 'ports', a download-the-source-code-and-compile system that has inspired source-based Linux distros. BSD boasts that it is more of a system designed as a whole, with each app 'ported' over to FreeBSD and made sure to work in the process. The BSD license is more of a free-as-in-beer license than some prefer. Like Arch, packages seem up to date, and decisions are delegated to you, the power user. This may be the most interesting competitor to Arch since it goes head-to-head in package modernity and has a somewhat sizable, smart, active, no-nonsense community.

Arch vs NetBSD

NetBSD is a free, secure, and highly portable Unix-like open-source operating system available for many platforms, from 64-bit Opteron machines and desktop systems to handheld and embedded devices. Its clean design and advanced features make it excellent in both production and research environments, and it is user-supported with complete source. Many applications are easily available through pkgsrc, the NetBSD Packages Collection. Arch may not operate on the vast number of devices NetBSD operates on, but for an i686 system it may offer more apps. Also, the default installation method in pkgsrc is to pull and compile sources whereas Arch offers binary packages.

Arch vs OpenBSD

The OpenBSD project produces a free, multi-platform 4.4BSD-based Unix-like operating system. Our efforts emphasize portability, standardization, correctness, proactive security, and integrated cryptography. OpenBSD supports binary emulation of most programs from SVR4 (Solaris), FreeBSD, Linux, BSD/OS, SunOS and HP-UX. OpenBSD is perhaps the #1 security OS. Same differences for being a BSD vs a Linux.

Arch vs Zenwalk

Zenwalk is derived from Slackware and is convenient and modern. A major difference is that Zenwalk installs the packages the developers have chosen for you. That saves time if you like their choices but, at the same time, is a disadvantage in case you want to use something else.

Arch vs Gobolinux

Gobolinux has a unique package system in that it has none. The file system is reorganized so that apps all sit in a /Programs directory, and it works using some symlink magic. Get rid of Program X by rm -rf /Programs/X It does not seem to focus on i686 binaries and does allow source-based package installs.

Arch vs Minix 3

Arch is a complete distro with a modern community and hardware support. Minix 3 is a slim, usable advanced-research OS with some interesting features, e.g. the use of a microkernel.