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When I read through the differences between Cent, OpenSuse, and Fedora, they frequently say that Cent and Red Hat are binary compatible. My experience has been (debian/ubuntu) that regardless of distro binary files will run and packages are compatible if they use the same package manager. So why do these articles emphasize that Cent and Red Hat are binary compatible or are my assumptions wrong.

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You're question isn't clear, can you rephrase this? Are you asking if CentOS & RHEL (Redhat Enterprise Linux) are compatible w/ OpenSUSE? Don't forget that there is also Fedora (Redhat's development distro) too. –  slm Dec 29 '12 at 2:02
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Your assumption may be true for Debian/Ubuntu, since they share the same repositories. This is not true for RedHat, SLES or OpenSuSE. They may have different names for the same rpm-funtionality, or different versions with different compile-options... –  Nils Dec 30 '12 at 21:48
    
@Nils that's the kind of information I was looking for, thanks –  David Dec 31 '12 at 2:12

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Building on @John Siu's answer the terminology is confusing if you're not familiar with the Redhat technologies.

  • RHEL      - Enterprise Linux (commercial version of Redhat's OS)
  • CentOS   - Community version of RHEL (binary compatible with RHEL)
  • Fedora    - Bleeding edge OS built by the Fedora Project (Redhat sponsored community proj.)
  • RPM        - Redhat Package Manager

NOTE: RPM isn't a Redhat only technology, OpenSUSE uses RPMs as well and these are not necessarily compatible with RPMs built for one of the 3 Redhat based distros (RHEL, CentOS, or Fedora).

New technology usually shows up first in Fedora where it is worked out. Fedora distros usually have a shelf life of 6 months. At any time 2 releases are being actively supported, after which updating for it is dropped.

Once technologies have been proven out in Fedora they'll eventually show up in a release of RHEL. RHEL's shelf life is 10 years of production followed by 3 years of extended coverage. See here for full details.

CentOS is another community project that isn't sponsored by Redhat but does have their blessing. CentOS provides the same identical packages as RHEL with the RHEL branding stripped out and/or replaced with CentOS logos and branding. CentOS is sponsored by several customers that have very large numbers of computers but don't want to have to pay for a subscription of RHEL for each box. The CentOS project doesn't offer any support other than staying in lock step with updates as they come out for RHEL.

There are a lot of other distros that make use of RPMs for package management. Some derive from Redhat distros while other only make use of RPM the technology but are not compatible with Redhat distros in any way, such as openSUSE.

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You for completeness: Oracle Linux and Scientific Linux are RH-clones, too (also binary compatible to RH). –  Nils Dec 30 '12 at 21:46
    
Yes if you check out the wikipedia link that I mentioned it includes all the RH derivatives). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category%3aRPM-based_Linux_distributions –  slm Dec 31 '12 at 6:32

CentOS and RedHat are binary compatible because CentOS is RedHat without the RedHat logo.

Quote from CentOS own FAQ

CentOS exists to provide a free enterprise class computing platform to anyone who wishes to use it. CentOS 5 and 6 are built from publicly available open source SRPMS provided by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor, often referred to as "Upstream" or "The Upstream Vendor (TUV)". CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendors redistribution policies and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.). CentOS is designed for people who need an enterprise class OS without the cost or support of the prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. Neither the CentOS Project (we who build CentOS) nor any version of CentOS is affiliated with, produced by, or supported by the prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. Neither does our software contain the upstream vendor's product ... although it is built from the same open source SRPMS as the upstream enterprise products.

In About CentOS, the ftp sources are listed

ftp://ftp.redhat.com/pub/redhat/linux/enterprise/5Client/en/os/SRPMS
ftp://ftp.redhat.com/pub/redhat/linux/enterprise/5Server/en/os/SRPMS

That Upstream is RedHat. That's why they are binary compatible.

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