Slackware Vs. Gentoo: The Old School Linux Shootout

Slackware Vs. Gentoo: The Old School Linux Shootout


Slackware and Gentoo are both long standing Linux distributions with a strong reputation among Linux enthusiasts. Whilst more beginner-friendly distros exist such as Ubuntu, Slackware and Gentoo offer something different. Both systems have been developed with a commitment to simplicity and transparent design. This puts them poles apart from the more commercial Linux distros available for general consumption. If you’re seeking a customizable, hands-on Linux experience then both Slackware and Gentoo offer strong options. Before deciding which distro is the best fit for your next system, however, let’s compare Slackware and Gentoo to discover which heritage distro is right for you.


Executive Summary


Slackware and Gentoo are fantastic choices for experienced Linux users looking for a deep understanding of and control over their system. Both are committed to simplicity, transparency, and user customization. That said, the two distros have starkly different methods for achieving their highly customizable user experience. Slackware is renowned for its stability, conservative package management, and adherence to tried and tested methods. Conversely, Gentoo allows you to tailor every aspect of your installation via source-based package management. It offers an incredibly high degree of customization and flexibility, at the cost of some stability and user-friendliness. The final choice will likely depend on your experience level and preferences.


Slackware and Gentoo have been at the forefront of Linux development for over two decades. With so many Linux distros vying for users these days it can be difficult to choose the right one. Distros like Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora have made serious headway in the pursuit of user-friendliness. In doing so, they have raised the bar for Linux desktops. But for some, the ease and polish of these distros comes at the cost of control and transparency. Slackware and Gentoo have resisted the urge to compromise their principles and remain bastions of user configuration and control.

Binary Vs. Source-based Package Management

Binary Package Management

Binary package management is a system where precompiled software is bundled into easy to install packages. These packages contain both the software and its dependencies. Examples of package managers include DPKG and RPM which are commonly found on Debian-based and RedHat-based systems respectively. These managers greatly simplify the installation and dependency management of software by consolidating everything into a singular convenient package. New packages can often be installed by entering a single command into the command line. Since binaries are precompiled for specific hardware architectures, they are generally faster and more stable than their source-based counterparts.

Source-based Package Management

Source-based package management systems require users to build software from source code on their local system. Building software from source involves translating human-readable source code into machine-readable binaries. This process is generally more time consuming than binary package management since dependencies may first need to be built before the user’s desired program can be compiled. Source-based package management is more complex than binary package management and requires a good understanding of the underlying system and the programs being installed. The upside to this extra complexity is that it gives the user complete control over every single aspect of the software installation process. This flexibility allows the user to customize the software for their specific needs and hardware.



Renowned for its simplicity and stability, Slackware is a distro that prioritizes stability testing over the most up to date packages. Because of this adherence to time-tested infrastructure, Slackware users enjoy exceptional system stability. The price of this rock-solid stability, however, is a somewhat limited software selection when compared to other distros with more modern package management systems. Despite this, Slackware users still have access to a significant library of Slackware packages, as well as a repository of ported packages from other distributions. Ultimately, Slackware presents a very customizable traditional Linux experience that will likely appeal to long time Linux users.


Gentoo users have the ability to tailor every aspect of their installation to their specific preferences and hardware. This high degree of customization is achieved via Gentoo’s source-based package management system called “Portage.” Portage grants users unrivaled control over the software compilation process, allowing for options such as program features, dependency versions and kernel flags to be specified. This incredible flexibility does come at the cost of increased system complexity, however. The user is solely responsible for the configuration and maintenance of their system, which can pose problems for inexperienced users. This high barrier to entry and steep learning curve, however, pave the way for a system that is perfectly calibrated to the user’s preferences and hardware.

Package Management


Slackware uses a binary package management system called “pkgtool.” Pkgtool is a command line package manager that allows the user to install, remove and update packages. Slackware packages follow a well defined hierarchy and file structure so finding files in a package is a straightforward process. Slackware is renowned for its stability, and pkgtool plays an important role in this by ensuring only minimal changes are applied to the system during the package management process.


Gentoo uses a source-based package management system called “Portage.” Portage is unique in that it compiles each package on the local system. Packages are built from source code that is stored in the Portage tree. This level of customization allows the user to specify which features from the source code will be compiled into the binary. Portage also evaluates all dependencies for the user and fetches the correct versions before beginning the build process.

Community Support


Slackware is a distro that has been around for a very long time. As such, it has inherited a robust and active community comprised of experienced Slackware users who are always happy to lend a hand to new adopters. Forums and wikis provide quick access to documentation and answers for most Slackware-related queries.


The Gentoo community is as active as the Slackware community, albeit somewhat younger. However, Gentoo’s source-based package management system and commitment to user customization mean that Gentoo users tend to be more self-reliant. Gentoo also offers a robust wiki and forum. Both are well populated with how-to guides and troubleshooting material.


Slackware and Gentoo are excellent examples of highly customizable Linux distros that put the user at the controls. Slackware’s binary package management and long standing tradition present a familiar, time-tested environment. Gentoo’s source-based package management gives the user unparalleled control over their system and the software it runs. Whilst both distros have a high barrier to entry for new users, both are rewarded with excellent stability, customizability and community support. The end decision will depend on whether stability and simplicity is valued over the maximum level of customization.

Keyword Phrase Tags

  • Slackware vs Gentoo
  • Old School Linux
  • Binary Package Management
  • Source-based Package Management
  • Customizability
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Comments 14
  1. This post puts forward viable arguments!!! This showdown of Slackware and Gentoo is engrossing and functional !!Niceeee!!

  2. Gentoo is bettrr than Slackware. Gentoo is faster and it has a bigger community. Slackware is old and outdated. Don’t waste your time with it.

  3. Slackware and Gentoo are both great distros. But Gentoo is more flexible and has newer packages. Slackware is more stable but has older packages.

  4. Nice post, but I think you could have gone into more detail about the differences between Slackware and Gentoo. Overall, though, it’s a well-written article.

  5. I agree with the author’s assessment of Slackware and Gentoo. Slackware is a great choice for users who want a stable and reliable system, while Gentoo is a better choice for users who want a more customized and flexible system.

  6. I’m not sure I agree with the author’s conclusion. I think Gentoo is a better choice for most users. It’s more flexible and has a larger community.

  7. The author did a great job of explaining the differences between Slackware and Gentoo. I’m still not sure which one I prefer, but I’m leaning towards Gentoo.

  8. I’m not sure I agree with the author’s conclusion. I think Slackware is a better choice for most users. It’s more stable and has a smaller attack surface.

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