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What is CentOS?

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CentOS is an open source project that releases 2 distinct Linux® distributions, CentOS Stream and CentOS Linux.

CentOS stands for Community ENTerprise Linux Operating System. It’s an acronym used in the names of the open source community, multiple working groups, and 2 Linux distros.


When referred to by itself, CentOS is the project, the community of people who participate in it, and everything enabling them to work on CentOS project outputs.


CentOS special interest groups (CentOS SIGs) are smaller groups within the CentOS project that manage specific components within—or uses of—the Linux distros. CentOS SIGs can be focused on storage, virtualizationcloud computing, and more.

CentOS Stream

A Linux distro that is the upstream development platform for upcoming Red Hat® Enterprise Linux product releases.

CentOS Linux

A Linux distro derived from source code released by Red Hat.

Both are open source Linux distros and part of the overall enterprise Linux ecosystem. CentOS Stream serves as the open source development platform for upcoming releases of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. CentOS Stream is what will become Red Hat Enterprise Linux, while CentOS Linux is derived from source code released by Red Hat.

CentOS Stream tracks just ahead of Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases and is continuously delivered as the source code that will become minor releases of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. CentOS Stream makes Red Hat Enterprise Linux developmental source code available so that community members have a place to contribute and test code in tandem with Red Hat Enterprise Linux engineers. Its community members—along with Red Hat partners and ecosystem developers—can download, adapt, submit patches, and suggest changes that could be included in the next minor release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. 

CentOS Linux is downstream of Red Hat Enterprise Linux—most often used for development and deployment—and doesn't have a contribution model.

Including the Fedora project, the open source development cycle of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is:

  1. Fedora: The upstream project on which future Red Hat Enterprise Linux major releases are based.
  2. CentOS Stream: A preview of upcoming Red Hat Enterprise Linux minor versions.
  3. Red Hat Enterprise Linux: The official, hardened, and fully supported enterprise operating system product.
  4. CentOS Linux: A community-supported and -produced Linux distro derived from source code released by Red Hat.

CentOS is an open source project. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is an enterprise open source product.

CentOS Stream, CentOS Linux, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux are all different Linux distributions, and there are many technical, support, and developmental differences between them.

  • There are thousands of technical differences, like variances in binary execution paths. 
  • The support structures are different. CentOS Stream and CentOS Linux support is provided by the goodwill of other users and contributors. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is supported by full-time engineers and staff.
  • The way they all invite, test, and commit source code modifications are different. Red Hat Enterprise Linux contributions are channeled through CentOS Stream. CentOS Stream contributions can be suggested by anyone, but contributions are only accepted and committed by Red Hat engineers. CentOS Linux doesn’t have a contribution model.


The CentOS community is not going away. Community contributors will continue being able to collaborate on open source Linux distributions as part of the CentOS Stream project, which will continue being an important part of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux development process.

CentOS SIGs will continue their activities within the community, based on the direction of each groups’ members and organizing leaders. Anyone can seek the CentOS governing board’s approval to start a new SIG.

CentOS Stream will continue being the open source development platform and main development pipeline of Red Hat Enterprise Linux minor releases. 

  • CentOS Stream 8 is part of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 development process and updates will continue through the full support phase of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 lifecycle.
  • CentOS Stream 9 launched in 2021 as part of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 development process with a similar update cycle.

CentOS Linux source code will remain available to the public on git.centos.org, but builds of  CentOS Linux 8 will end in December 2021. Organizations and communities providing CentOS Linux-like operating systems—such as Rocky Linux, Amazon Linux 2, and Alma Linux—will need to be consulted directly since Red Hat and CentOS maintain no involvement in these efforts. The CentOS governing board decided to end-of-life CentOS Linux on the following schedule:

  • CentOS Linux 7 updates will continue alongside Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 support lifecycle through June 2024.
  • CentOS Linux 8 updates will continue through December 31, 2021.
  • CentOS Linux 9 will not launch.


Qualifying individuals and organizations have access to several programs that provide Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscriptions at no cost (depending on certain variables). Red Hat tooling to support the migration is available and fully supported, as is the resulting deployment.

  • Individual developers can sign up for a no-cost Red Hat Developer subscription.
  • Red Hat customers may qualify for a no-cost Red Hat Developer subscription for teams.
  • Open source projects, communities, and other nonprofit software groups engaged with open source may qualify for a no-cost Red Hat Open Source Infrastructure program. 
  • Academic institutions and non-profit research institutions may be able to access Red Hat Enterprise Linux at a reduced rate through the Red Hat Academic Program.

CentOS Stream is an upstream open source development platform which allows you to develop, test, and contribute to a continuously delivered distribution that tracks just ahead of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

As an option in between Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS Stream lets users contribute to the development of the next version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and enables testing of supported software and hardware in advance of the release.

CentOS Stream includes the kernel and all user space components, and is where the primary RHEL + 1 development occurs. It enables a quicker route to market for ISVs, IHVs, OEMs, and Red Hat layered products.

There are 2 main ways to start using CentOS Stream.

Migrate from CentOS Linux 8 to CentOS Stream 8 using the following commands : 

[root@centos ~]# dnf swap centos-linux-repos centos-stream-repos

[root@centos ~]# dnf distro-sync

Download CentOS Stream here.

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