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Installing Linux on Your VPS: Template or ISO?

Recent events with SolusVM’s templates bring up an age-old question: should you install from a template or from an ISO?

What’s the Difference?

A template is provided by the provider, or more likely by someone upstream from the provider such as SolusVM.  You go into the provider’s panel, click the distro and version (e.g., “Debian 10”) that you want, and usually in less than a minute, your VPS is setup.  Configuration choices such as the hostname, IP address, disk layouts, etc. are all pre-configured for you.

On the other hand, if you install via ISO, it’s a much longer process.  You must:

  1. Mount the ISO
  2. Set the VPS to boot from ISO (CD ROM)
  3. Reboot
  4. Login to the console
  5. Step through the installer manually, answering various questions and typing in configuration choices
  6. After the install is done, you eject the CD, set the VPS to boot from disk, and reboot

Templates Seem a Lot Easier.  Why Would Anyone Choose ISO?

Many reasons:

  1. Users may not trust the templates.  The SolusVM issue illustrates why.
  2. There may not be a template for the particular distro or OS you wish to install.
  3. Although not as relevant today, in earlier times you could save bandwidth by installing packages from CD/DVD rather than having to download them over the Internet.  Today’s bandwidth is a bit more generous so this is less of a factor.
  4. There are some configuration choices that are difficult to change after install, such as disk configuration.  Installing from ISO gives you complete freedom.

What a Minute…Couldn’t the Provider Have a Bad ISO?

Yes.  However, many providers will let you upload your own ISO.

So Which Should I Use?

There’s no right answer.  For example, if you are a developer who is testing your software against multiple distros, it makes sense to use templates so you can quickly switch between distributions.  On the other hand, if you want complete control and would rather not rely on third parties, install from ISO.

There is no effect either way on future system updates.

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