The GNU project has a list of free GNU/Linux distributions. But it lists only a few Linux distros, although hundreds do exist. Even more, very common distributions like Debian, Linux Mint or Gentoo aren’t listed.

Why is the list so restricted?

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    See their explanation: gnu.org/distros/common-distros.html Jul 6, 2015 at 12:58
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    I think you could turn that comment into an answer - quoting the "fail to follow the guidelines in at least two important ways" list from there should do nicely. Jul 6, 2015 at 13:07
  • @MichaelSchumacher what do you think I did ;) Jul 6, 2015 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


They only list GNU/Linux distributions that follow the GNU FSDG (Free System Distribution Guidelines).

That the software (as well as the documentation, fonts etc.) is licensed under an appropriate FSF-approved license is one condition, but it’s not the only one. That’s why even a GNU/Linux distribution that only ships with free/libre software/information might not get listed.

Another guideline, as example: The distribution is not allowed to "encourage" users to obtain "any nonfree information for practical use" (which includes software).

In practice this could mean that the distribution project’s server may not host a repository that contains proprietary software (or free/libre software that downloads proprietary software from somewhere else). (This is the reason why Debian is not listed.)

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    I don't like this practice very much. The FSF is basically demanding that distributors withhold valuable information from their end users. This has nothing to do with freedom, and is in fact an odious restriction on the free availability of information. Or it would be, if anyone took the FSF seriously on this point.
    – Kevin
    Apr 28, 2017 at 1:45
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    @Kevin: "This has nothing to do with freedom": I don’t agree. It has to do with freedom, namely ensuring that non-tech-savvy users don’t (easily) end up with proprietary software when using a distribution recommended by the FSF. These users deserve freedom, too, even if they don’t know a thing about software licenses or if they don’t understand what proprietary software is.
    – unor
    Apr 28, 2017 at 3:06
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    Non technical users are people. They have the right to have free and non-free software explained to them, and they have the right to make an informed choice about which better suits their needs. The FSF wants to deny them that choice because doing so suits the FSF's political needs. If the FSF actually cared about user choice, they would require this explanation, rather than prohibiting it.
    – Kevin
    Apr 28, 2017 at 5:42
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    @Kevin: That presumes that these users want to (or can) learn about it, which is not the case for all of them (for various reasons). There are plenty distributions that might be better choices for users that also want to use proprietary software. FSF’s list is just one of many lists that list distributions according to some criteria. If you go to FSF’s list, but want a distribution with better integration of proprietary software, you are using the wrong list. In other words: FSF’s list serves a specific purpose, and it’s useful that it exists, but it’s not necessarily for everyone.
    – unor
    Apr 28, 2017 at 5:58

At the bottom of the page you linked is a link named "why we don't endorse some common distributions"

There you will find this text:

We're often asked why we don't endorse a particular system—usually a popular GNU/Linux distribution. The short answer to that question is that they don't follow the free system distribution guidelines. But since it isn't always obvious how a particular system fails to follow the guidelines, this list gives more information about the problems of certain well-known nonfree system distros.

To learn more about the GNU/Linux systems that we do endorse, check out our list of free GNU/Linux distributions.

Except where noted, all of the distributions listed on this page fail to follow the guidelines in at least two important ways:

  • They do not have a policy of only including free software, and removing nonfree software if it is discovered. Most of them have no clear policy on what software they'll accept or reject at all. The distributions that do have a policy unfortunately aren't strict enough, as explained below.

  • The kernel that they distribute (in most cases, Linux) includes “blobs”: pieces of object code distributed without source, usually firmware to run some device.

In other words to be listed under GNU the distro must shun all non-free software. This seems to include not telling the user how to install non-free software on the distro if you examine some of the specific examples.


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