Linux Basics: What Linux Distro am I even running?

Believe it or not this is actually a pretty common question. When comparing the Linux ecosystem to that of Windows or Mac it can be very confusing to know exactly what it is you’re running – especially if you accidentally stumble into the whole Linux/GNU debate.

Before we get too far into it here is a bit of a primer on what we’re talking about. Just like Android (which coincidentally is also a Linux variant), companies and organizations take the Linux core, called a kernel, and package a bunch of useful software on top of it. This collection of software is known at the distribution (or “distro” for short) and is what you as a user will commonly download. For example Ubuntu, Fedora, elementary OS, Linux Mint and many others are all Linux distributions.

If you already have a computer running Linux, and you’re still not sure which version it is, there are a couple of different ways you can figure it out. Firstly you may notice the name and version when the computer boots up or presents you with a login screen. Many distributions also contain help or About documentation that can shed some light.

Linux Mint contains a Welcome screen. Notice the name and version in the bottom right corner of the window.

If you’re really stuck you may also be able to determine the distribution name from the terminal. There are quite a few different ways to do this, each presenting more or less information, but one such way is to print the contents of a special file called issue:

cat /etc/issue

This usually works on most distributions and will print something like “Linux Mint 19.1 Tessa” or whatever the name they’ve given it is for the thing you’re currently running.

Hopefully this gives you enough info to help figure out which distribution you’re currently on. Now if only I could figure out which distribution I want to be on… 🙂

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.