The Red Hat extended family

Red Hat has spawned an outgrowth of corporate and community-based distributions. Here’s how these distributions are related and how they differ.

When Linux was just starting to be known in the late 1990s, Red Hat Linux was one of the top half dozen distributions, largely because of its unusually complete documentation and its efforts at making Linux accessible. That changed on August 11, 1999, when the company called Red Hat became the first Linux company to go public. Red Hat went on to become a multi-billion dollar subsidiary of IBM, and created Fedora Linux for its community-based distribution and testing ground for its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) product. More recently, because of Red Hat’s ending of CentOS development and the start of CentOS Stream, derivatives such as Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux were forked from RHEL. Add Fedora’s and RHEL’s derivatives, and the result is an ecosystem of inter-related distributions second only to Debian’s, but focusing on innovation and on networks and servers. How are these distributions related? How do they differ? Here’s a brief overview.

The Fedora Project

The Fedora Project [1] is the replacement for the original Red Hat distribution. Red Hat appoints the Fedora Leader and has half the seats on the Fedora Council, but appears to operate at arm’s length, with many decisions made by consensus or a majority, or by Fedora’s technical working groups.

Fedora mainly functions as an initial test platform for RHEL, with releases every six months. In this role, Fedora has been the first distribution to use many new technologies such as DNF, PipeWire, or Wayland, especially ones developed by Red Hat. Occasionally, these new technologies take a few releases to work smoothly in most circumstances, but Fedora remains one of the best distributions to learn about emerging technologies.


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