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What operating system does your web host use—and why does it matter? CentOS is one of the most popular operating systems among web hosts. A free and versatile OS based on the popular open-source Linux system, CentOS is a robust and affordable choice for hosting resellers and others who prefer a Linux-driven server.

One of the many factors that goes into choosing a web host is which operating system (OS) drives your host’s servers. Generally, you’re going to be deciding between a Windows-driven server, or one running some version of UNIX (or the popular open-source version of UNIX, Linux).

Unlike your personal computer, you may not give much thought to what OS your servers are running, as long as it keeps your website up and running. But the OS your host uses can affect how your website performs, what kind of controls you see on the backend, and what kinds of applications and content your site can use.

That’s why it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what OS options are out there, and how they can affect your hosting experience.

What Exactly is CentOS Hosting?

CentOS is short for “Community Enterprise Operating System." The software is a free community-supported computing platform, derived from the source code of a Linux distribution created for commercial applications called Red Hat Linux.

Linux-based hosting is very common in the server setups of Web hosting resellers, including popular hosts like Bluehost, InMotion, and JustHost. In fact, your current host might be using it right now to run their servers.

Though it can be a great OS for private users, Windows isn’t ideal for running servers (though there are other benefits to Windows hosting depending on your needs). A web host that uses a Windows-run server might be easier for the host to set up, but would require more RAM and other resources to run your website—possibly running up your bandwidth, and your bill.

On the other hand, a Linux-based server will take a bit more know-how to set up and configure properly, but the lightweight, low-overhead nature of the Linux OS makes it ideal for running servers.

And unlike other Linux distributions, CentOS is targeted for commercial purposes rather than tinkering or “hackability" by its users. The developers of CentOS are more conservative, placing a priority on consistent performance, security, and compatibility rather than trying to be cutting edge and keep up with all the latest developments. As a result, CentOS has a longer release cycle between versions, and is generally more polished, stable, and reliable than other Linux distributions.

Benefits for Hosting Resellers

As a primary operating system for web hosting resellers, CentOS is often used to support both Web Host Manager (WHM) and cPanel installations.

If you’ve ever gone “behind the scenes" to set up your website, create accounts, add content, or install applications, you’ve probably used a control panel application like WHM or cPanel to do so. Both WHM and cPanel are optimized for Linux, so a host with CentOS is a good choice if you prefer using one of these control panels.

If you’re planning to resell hosting on your own site, cPanel and WHM are the primary components you’ll want to add to your CentOS installation.

In a nutshell, WHM hosting allows you to create and manage hosting accounts for your clients. You can then use cPanel (managed by you via WHM) to give your customers a control panel they can use to set up and maintain their own hosted sites.

Other Benefits to CentOS Hosting

CentOS is not limited to hosting resellers, of course.

As a fully-featured Linux variant, CentOS can be used to set up blogging, ecommerce and multimedia content solutions (including podcasting) for your site.

It also supports all of the most popular coding and scripting languages, and their frameworks, such as PHP, Ruby on Rails, Perl, Python and Common Gateway Interface (CGI). Whether you want to write a small custom script for your WordPress installation or build multilevel database management applications, CentOS has you covered.

CentOS is supported by most hosting providers, especially those specializing in customers who resell hosting themselves. As one of the industry standards for Linux, pricing generally falls in line with other Linux-driven hosting packages. Be sure to check with your hosting provider for complete details.

CentOS Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is CentOS?

    CentOS is an enterprise-level Linux operating system. It's one of the most popular operating systems among web hosting companies for Linux servers.

  • What does “CentOS” stand for?

    CentOS stands for "Community Enterprise Operating System,” referring to the fact that it’s community-developed and designed for enterprise-level use.

  • Does CentOS web hosting cost extra?

    No; CentOS is a free, open-source operating system, which is one of the reasons it's so popular among web hosts.

  • Which hosting companies use CentOS?

    CentOS is the third most popular Linux OS for web servers in the world. Many of the biggest hosting companies use CentOS for their servers, including Bluehost, InMotion, and JustHost.

  • What are the benefits of using CentOS as a server's operating system?

    CentOS is so popular because there are numerous benefits to using it as your server's operating system. CentOS is stable, reliable, and secure, which keeps website vulnerabilities and application bugs to a minimum. Since it’s a Linux distribution, it's compatible with common web hosting software and programming languages. CentOS also has an active community of supporters and developers, and is open-source and available for free.

  • How does CentOS compare to non-enterprise Linux operating systems?

    CentOS is derived from the code of one of the most popular Linux distributions, Red Hat Linux, and like Red Hat is developed for commercial application rather than for home users. CentOS has a long release cycle between versions, and its development prioritizes performance, security, and compatibility over keeping up with the latest developments in technology.

  • Is CentOS the same as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)?

    While CentOS is derived from Red Hat's publicly available code, they aren't exactly the same. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is developed and maintained by the company RedHat, and is available commercially for a fee. RHEL includes government certifications for production deployments, as well as customer training and support. CentOS is a community-run Linux distribution derived from RedHat, but available for free. While the community is very active, there is no direct customer support available.

  • How does CentOS compare to Ubuntu Server?

    CentOS is more stable than Ubuntu, which comes with all the latest untested packages and libraries and may have bugs. Ubuntu Server is based on the Debian distribution of Linux, while CentOS is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Ubuntu is less conservative about upgrades, and has a shorter release cycle than CentOS. cPanel does not support Ubuntu Server as an operating system; only CentOS, Red Hat Enterprise, and CloudLinux.

  • Is CentOS compatible with cPanel?

    Yes, CentOS is one of the three operating systems supported by cPanel. With CentOS, you can run both cPanel and WHM, making it an ideal operating system for reselling hosting. Using WHM and cPanel on a CentOS-run server, you can easily create and manage your customers' web hosting accounts.

  • What coding languages does CentOS support?

    CentOS supports all common Linux-compatible coding and scripting languages including PHP, Ruby on Rails, Perl, Python and Common Gateway Interface (CGI). It will not support Windows languages such as Microsoft Visual Basic or ASP.NET.

  • Are there any downsides to CentOS hosting?

    CentOS does have some limitations, but whether they will affect you depends on what your hosting needs are. Since CentOS is a Linux operating system, it will not support Windows features such as Microsoft SQL Server, ASP.NET, or Visual Basic. And because CentOS is a community-managed project, there is no official support or certification programs, unlike with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

  • How does CentOS web hosting compare to Windows hosting?

    Most web hosts run on Linux servers, but Linux servers don't fit everyone’s needs. If you need to run Microsoft languages such as ASP.NET, Visual Basic, or work with MS SQL or MS Access databases, you'll need Windows hosting. However, CentOS hosting is ideal if you need to use Linux-supported languages like PHP, CGI, Perl or Python, or work with MySQL databases.

  • Can CentOS be used on VPS (virtual private server) hosting and dedicated server hosting as well as shared hosting?

    Yes, you can use CentOS on any type of server. However, depending on your host, you may need to install CentOS on your own server yourself. If your web hosting company provides managed hosting services, they may be able to install CentOS for you at your request.

  • How do I install CentOS on my web hosting server?

    Many web hosts come with CentOS already installed, and depending on your host company and the hosting package you choose, you may not have access to be able to change or install an operating system. If you do have access and want to install CentOS, the exact process will again depend on your host. Check your host’s website or contact customer support to make sure you're able to install CentOS, and to get your host’s specific instructions on how to do so. If you're installing CentOS on your own server, you can check the documentation on the official CentOS website for installation tutorials.

  • Where do I go for support if I need help with CentOS?

    Your web hosting company may be able to help you depending on the type of plan you purchased. Alternatively, you can access the wiki on the official CentOS website for tutorials, tips and tricks, and answers to frequently asked questions about CentOS. The CentOS Project also runs several online forums and mailing lists where you can get additional help for specific issues.

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