I'm planning on setting up a VM linux box.

It needs to be as light weight as possible - no need for GUI.


  • It will be connected to VPN
  • It will be running maintenance scripts on mysql server every night and schedule backups. (we have custom java programs that doing all that maintenance stuff).

Preference: - Debian (due to Apt and ease of maintenance) - RH (same as above with RPMs)

What I have found so far: LUbuntu and Puppy. (DSL doesn't seem to be maintained anymore?)

EDIT: Puppy - not what I'm after. Just tried it, its awesome as a USB stick desktop. Not lightweight server.

Questions: Has anyone had any experience with those or perhaps similar requirements? Are there any better linux distros that are made especially to be lightweight servers?

  • Define "lightweight"...
    – pbm
    Mar 5, 2012 at 22:31
  • Lightweight hdd space wise, no gui, need purely basics (openvpn + java, openssh for communication). I would give it max of 512 RAM maybe 1GB of data.
    – Luke
    Mar 5, 2012 at 22:46
  • 1
    SUSE Studio could help to create a custom VM image with just the software you'd like.
    – sr_
    Mar 6, 2012 at 10:30

4 Answers 4


So choose Debian or RedHat or anything you know. Every distro that has "minimal" installation profile and can be installed without X will be good. If I remember correctly minimal Debian installation is about 500-600 MB of HDD and 512 MB of RAM is enough to run console environment.

  • I'm going ahead with minimal Debian installation.
    – Luke
    Mar 6, 2012 at 1:02

From your stated goals, it's clear that 'lightweight' is the wrong adjective to describe your prospective distribution. While we're lacking in clear definitions, you really need a 'minimal' installation.

'lightweight' would be for resource constrained systems, but could include many modern features. Like for example, Puppy Linux has a complete environment.

'minimal' refers to a type of installation, which by nature is 'light' on resources.You should be fine installing packages manually, after the distro installation.

I would consider doing a Debian NetInstall. If Ubuntu was not months away from a new LTS release, I would consider a Ubuntu LTS NetInstall .


Gentoo is pretty good for lightweight. It also forces you to compile everything, and you can tweak your compilation options, so you can choose what to compile in and how, which means it is good for speed too.

The only downside is that it forces you to have compilation tools available, which may be an issue for a production server. If this is a local testing server however, then Gentoo may be a good choice.


Arch Linux is right up your alley, dubbed

a lightweight and flexible Linux® distribution that tries to Keep It Simple.

You start with very little and packages are precompiled (if you stay out of AUR).

  • I heard a lot about Arch Linux, never got around to it though. Not sure if I have enough time to learn new disto though.
    – Luke
    Mar 6, 2012 at 2:48
  • I am evaluating Ubuntu minimal and ArchLinux, and the installer for ArchLinux is a little too minimal. It just drops you at the root prompt, with no instruction or guidance. If you do 'ls', then you see a Install.txt file that hints at what to do next, but it is 100% manual. Lightweight is not the word -- vacuuum is a better adjective. Nov 26, 2012 at 20:28
  • ArchLinux stands by it's slogan, but if you want a lightweight distro that doesn't take much effort/time to get up and running, then Ubuntu minimal is the way to go. I recently used in a project and got up and running in no time.
    – laebshade
    Nov 29, 2012 at 1:53

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