The History of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) Distribution

Developed by Red Hat, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, colloquially abbreviated as RHEL, is a commercial opensource Linux distribution tailored for the enterprise market. It is available for both server and desktop versions. For servers, it is available for x86-64, IBM Z, ARM64, and Power ISA. For the desktop version, it is avaiable for the x86-64 architecture.

The Upstream project on which Red Hat Enterprise Linux major releases are based is Fedora Linux. This is where crucial OS innovations are introduced and thoroughly tested.

History Of RHEL Linux

Originally, RHEL started off as Red Hat Linux. It was created and founded by Marc Ewing, an American Software Engineer back in 1994. The name ‘Red Hat’ came was coined due to the founder’s habit of wearing a Red Hat.

It was later acquired in 1995 by a company called ACC founded by Bob Young in 1993. It was later rebranded to Red Hat Inc. The company then went public in 1999. It was the operating system of choice for learners, hobbyists, and those interested in learning more about Linux.

It was in 2001 that Red Hat Linux transitioned to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The first release – Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 – was made generally available in March 2002.

RHEL Linux
RHEL Linux

Red Hat Linux Releases

Below is a list of Red Hat Linux releases. We begin with RHEL 2.1 (2002) which was the first release to be ported to the x86-64 (amd64) architecture.

RHEL 2.1 (2002)

The early releases of Red Hat Linux were distributed via floppy disks and CDs. The drawback with early releases is that various parts were developed separately. This included drivers, libraries, and other components.

Once installed, you had to head over to other vendor sites and manually download and install the supporting software. In a nutshell, Red Hat was inherently handcrafted and a nightmare to use.

RHEL 2.1 came into the picture to consolidate all components into one and co-test with various hardware vendors. RHEL 2.1 was considered stable enough and reliable for enterprise environments. It gave software vendors a consistent environment for deploying and testing applications.

RHEL 2.1 marked the start of a standardized RHEL ecosystem that sought to liberate organizations from vendor lock-in. There was no RHEL 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, and so forth from RHEL 2.1 right through RHEL 4. There were just updates, for example, RHEL 2.1 Update 1, RHEL 2.1 Update 2, and so on.

RHEL 2.1 was supported until 31, May 2009.

RHEL 3 (October 2003)

RHEL 3 was introduced in October 2003. Red Hat Engineers worked closely with other vendors such as HP, IBM, and Intel (which had made a foray into the chipset industry and was proving to be a formidable competitor) on high-performance workloads running on high-spec hardware.

RHEL 3 was expanded from x86 to accommodate additional architectures such as IBM zSeries mainframes and AMD. This propelled RHEL’s role from simple data center tasks to supporting enterprise workloads that demanded a rock-solid and stable environment.

RHEL 3 received support until 2011 and Extended support until 2014.

RHEL 4 (February 2005)

RHEL 4 was introduced in October 2003. At this point in time, adopters of Linux were beginning to open their eyes to the viability of running enterprise workloads on RHEL.

Red Hat engineers continued to work more closely with the community and other government agencies in boosting the security of RHEL. Access controls and SELinux was developed to provide the much-needed security measures.

SELinux was lauded as an impressive and huge integration to RHEL, thanks to Red Hat’s commitment to continually improve RHEL.

RHEL 4 received support until 2012 and Extended support until 2017.

RHEL 5 (March 2007)

Red Hat 5 implemented Xen Virtualization technology, which was later phased out by KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine). KVM later evolved to implement virtual machines as processes.

This further demonstrated the power of open-source software and pushed the benchmarks to a record high. It further catapulted Linux and open-source software to unprecedented levels setting new records.

With virtualization, users were able to optimize their hardware resources by running multiple virtual machines on a single host. Virtualization soon expanded to support Windows guests as Microsoft and Red Hat started collaborating on some projects. This collaboration marked the beginning of a cordial relationship between the two which still stands to date.

RHEL 5 received support until 2017 and Extended support until 2021.

RHEL 6 (November 2010)

RHEL 6 was developed for mission-critical enterprise computing. It was certified by tope hardware and software vendors and supported AMD64/Intel64, i386, IBM Power (64-bit), and System z.

It came with a wealth of new features. Ext4 was made the default filesystem with XFS as an optional filesystem. XEN was replaced by KVM but was supported until the RHEL 5 life cycle.

RHEL 6 also adopted Upstart, a newer and much faster alternative for the old System V. It also provided 3 installation methods – Graphical installation, Kickstart and Text-based installation.

RHEL 6 was supported until November 2020 and will receive Extended support until 2024.

RHEL 7 (June 2014)

Codenamed Maipo, RHEL 7 was released on 10th June 2014 and was based on Fedora 19. It was built for modern datacenters and cloud platforms such as major Cloud providers including AWS and GCP.

RHEL 7 introduced major improvements such as systemd which is the default init system to date. This allowed for more efficient management of services and processes in the system.

GNOME3 Desktop was introduced, providing a crisp and elegant User interface for RHEL. XFS was made the default filesystem. It also introduced Docker integration and users could run and manage containers. RHEL also brought with its integration with AD (Active directory).

RHEL 7 will receive Extended Lifecycle support until June 2024.

RHEL 8 (May 2014)

RHEL 8, codenamed Ootpa, was released on May 7, 2019. This release is based on Fedora 28 and runs on Kernel 4.18. DNF package manager replaces YUM. RHEL also introduces Cockpit, a web-based administration tool for Linux.

GNOME 3.28 is the default desktop environment and runs on Wayland display manager which replaces Xorg. Nftables also replaces Iptables as the default network filtering application.

RHEL 8 also ships with newer software versions such as Python 3.6, PHP 7.2, MySQL 8.0, MariaDB 10.3, Redis 4.0, and many more.

RHEL 8 provides users with the stability, security, and consistency needed to run production workloads on both on-premise and cloud environments with tools for managing both traditional and emerging workloads.

RHEL 8 will receive extended support until April 2024 and reach End of Life on May 2029.

RHEL 9 (May 2022)

This is the current and most recent version of RHEL, which is the first major release since the discontinuation of the CentOS project by RedHat.

Major improvements include kernel 5.14, improved SELinux policies, an image builder tool, and newer software versions including PHP 8.0, Ruby 3.0, Python 3.9, GCC 11, and many more.

Check out: How to Download RHEL 9 for Free

Both RHEL 8 and RHEL 9 provide full support for up to 10 years.


We hope you have enjoyed our walkthrough on the steps Red Hat Enterprise Linux has made to be where it is as one of the leading open-source Linux platforms for handling and managing enterprise workloads.

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