This is a list of GNU/Linux distributions designed to run on smartphones. While many support phones designed to run a mainline Linux kernel including the PinePhone and Librem 5, there are others that are able to run on phones that originally shipped with Android thanks to tools like Halium that allow them to use Linux kernels provided by makers of those Android phones.
Keep in mind that many of the operating systems listed below operating systems are a work in progress and may not be as stable or speedy as Android, may not support all of a phone’s hardware, and may not be able to run as many mobile-friendly applications. But most have at least a working web browser, which enables you to run web applications. Some allow you to run Android apps in a container thanks to tools like Anbox. And many will let you run desktop Linux applications, even if they don’t scale well to phone-sized screens. If you connect a keyboard, mouse, and display, you can even use your phone as a tiny desktop computer.
Another thing to note is that Linux isn’t the only option if you’re looking for a free and open source, privacy-focused operating system for your phone. Some other options are listed below the Mobile Linux comparison table.
|Mobile Linux Distributions|
|Homepage and/or Download links||User interfaces||Devices supported||Description/Notes (as of March, 2021)||Update frequency|
|Arch Linux ARM||GitHub||Phosh||PinePhone|
|This customizable operating system is available with a choice of the Phosh user interface or a lightweight, barebones build that you can control with keyboard and mouse or via SSH from another computer. It’s under active development, with frequent updates released.||Frequently updated|
|Droidian||Homepage||Phosh||Multiple phones||This GNU/Linux distribution is based on Mobian (see below), which is a Debian-based distribution optimized for mobile devices including smartphones and tablets. While Mobian is designed for smartphones that can use a mainstream Linux kernel, Droidian uses Halium and libhybris to bring the operating system to Android phones.||?|
|ExpidusOS||Homepage||Xfce-based UI||PinePhone||This fork of Void Linux boots on the PinePhone, but wireless capabilities are unavailable in the initial pre-alpha build that has been released so far.||Occasional|
|Fedora||Wiki||Phosh||PinePhone||The mobile port of Fedora is still in the early stages, but there are a set of packages designed for mobile devices available for the PinePhone.||Monthly (or longer) releases|
Framebuffer terminal with keyboard
|Pinephone||The mobile port of Gentoo is in the very early stages of development and must be built from scratch since there are no pre-compiled images.||?|
Devices (click for download links and installation instructions)
|Luna Next||LuneOS is an open source version of the webOS operating system designed for the HP TouchPad tablet and Palm phones like the Palm Pre. Based on webOS Open Source Edition, the operating system has a Linux kernel, the Luna Next user interface. Unfortunately development has largely slowed to a crawl in recent years.||Infrequent (last major update in 2019)|
Motorola Droid Bionic & Droid 4
Nokia N9, N900 & N950
Raspberry Pi 2, 3 & 4
Generic ARM64 images
|Maemo Leste is community-developed open source continuation of Nokia’s abandoned Maemo operating system. The latest version is based on Devuan Linux and it has a user interface that’s a little different (and more retro) than most other smartphone operating systems.||Varies by device, but fairly frequent|
|PinePhone||One of the most actively developed Smartphone Linux distributions, this is the default OS for PinePhone models that will ship starting in Q2, 2021.||Frequent alpha, beta, and dev builds|
|This unofficial build of Debian for smartphones was first introduced in the summer of 2020 and quickly became one of the more robust GNU/Linux distributions available for phones.||Nightly builds are available|
|Nemo Mobile||Homepage||Glacier||PinePhone||This community-supported, open source project continues the development of the MeeGo operating system originally backed by Intel, Nokia, and the Linux Foundation. Like Sailfish OS, Nemo Mobile is based on the Mer operating system, but while Sailfish has some proprietary components including its user interface, Nemo does not. Starting in mid-March, 2021 Nemo for the PinePhone is based on Manjaro.||After a slow start, development has picked up. Recent builds based on Manjaro are available at GitHub.|
|Mobile NixOS||Homepage||No default UI||Many||This mobile version of the NixOS GNU/Linux distribution can be installed on the PinePhone and a number of smartphones that originally shipped with Android. It’s designed to be highly configurable, but there are no pre-built images. You’ll need to build your own following the installation instructions and notes for your specific device. But you can see what it looks like with an X11 display manager (not optimized for mobile).||Monthly progress updates posted to mobile.nixos.org|
|OpenMandriva Lx||Downloads||Plasma Mobile||PinePhone||Starting with OpenMandriva Lx 4.2, the operating system has been ported to run on devices with 64-bit ARM processors with builds available for Raspberry Pi and Pine64 computers, among others. There’s also a PinePhone build that’s not considered “final quality” yet.||Too early to tell|
|OpenSUSE is a popular desktop GNU/Linux distribution that has started offering mobile builds for the PinePhone relatively recently. Early builds have been a little rough around the edges, but like most operating systems for the PinePhone, OpenSUSE has been better over time as developers improve stability, performance, and add features.||Frequent releases|
|postmarketOS||Homepage||Many||Hundreds but the PinePhone is the most actively supported||PostmarketOS was founded in 2017 as a project that would give smartphones a 10-year lifecycle by allowing users to replace Android with a GNU/Linux distribution based on Alpine Linux that would remain up to date indefinitely even after manufacturer’s end support. Now over 250 different devices can at least boot the operating system, although some features may not be available on all devices.||Weekly releases for the PinePhone|
Pipeline Image builds for the Librem 5
|Originally developed by Purism for the PinePhone, this operating system was the first to use the open source phosh “phone shell” user interface optimized for small touchscreen displays. It’s now used by many other distros, as are other packages developed for PureOS including the virtual keyboard. PureOS is based on the same GNU/Linux distribution that runs on Purism’s laptop computers, and can run desktop applications as well as mobile apps (but they’ll look best with an external display). It’s also been ported to run on the PinePhone.||Actively developed by Purism|
|Lipstick||Select Sony phones|
|This Mer-based operating system is a continuation of the open source Maemo project that had been abandoned by Nokia. While the underlying OS is oen source, it has a proprietary user interface based on Lipstick. Developed by a company called Jolla, you can purchase a Sailfish X license for certain smartphones, or register fr a free trial with a limited feature set and limited support. If you have a PinePhone you can also download a pre-built image or follow Pine64’s instructions for using a flashing script. T||Actively developed by Jolla|
|SkiffOS||GitHub||N/A||Pinephone||SkiffOS is a lightweight OS designed to boot quickly and support containers, allowing you to run guest operating systems in a containerized environment while updating the host OS (SkiffOS) separately. Available for a wide-range of devices including PCs, Macs, Cloud VMs, and single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi, SkiffOS also offers images for the PinePhone with support for Manjaro, KDE Neon, and Ubuntu Touch.||?|
|Sxmo||Latest images||Sxmo||PinePhone||Sxmo is really a user interface and set of tools using “suckless” design rather than a standalone operating system. Images available for download are based on postmarketOS. More details can be found in the Sxmo documentation.||Occasional|
Installer (for supported devices)
PinePhone installation instructions
|Lomiri||Many||In 2013 Canonical announced plans to port its popular Ubuntu Linux distribution to run on smartphones and launch a phone called the Ubuntu Edge. But after a failed crowdfunding campaign the company scrapped the phone and continued work on the operating system… for a few years. Canonical ended development of Ubuntu Touch in 2017, but the project was picked up by an independent development team called UBPorts, which has continued to support and update Ubuntu Touch ever since. This makes Ubuntu Touch one of the oldest, and one of the most robust GNU/Linux distributions with a thoroughly designed user interface (Lomiri, which was formerly known as Unity), and an installer application that makes it easy to load the operating system on dozens of phones.||Actively developed by UBPorts|
Other open source smartphone operating systems
These are some other open source operating systems that aren’t necessarily GNU/Linux distributions. Some are basically forks of Google Android that are based on Android Open Source Project code, but stripped of proprietary Google apps and services in order to focus on free software and/or offer a more privacy-focused experience. Others are
Other open source smartphone operating systems (not necessarily Linux)
- Genode is a free and open source operating system framework that uses its own microkernel designed to run on x86, ARM, or RISC-V hardware. While Genode itself isn’t an OS, it’s the technology behind operating systems like Sculpt OS, and the developers behind Genode have announced plans to port the framework and a version of Sculpt OS to run on the PinePhone in 2021.
- Potabi is an upcoming mobile and desktop operating system that will use a FreeBSD kernel. It’s expected to use the Lomiri user interface on mobile devices, but development is still in the planning stages. Developer Fivnex plans to sell its own hardware with Potabi pre-installed.
- Google-free Android
- /e/ is a version of Android that’s been stripped of all proprietary Google apps and services. Designed to emphasize user control and privacy, the operating system still looks and works like Android, but it uses non-Google app stores and services to enable most Android apps to run in a way that respects user privacy. /e/ can be installed as a replacement for the software that ships on many Android phones, but you can also buy some phones that come with the operating system pre-installed.
- Replicant is an open source Android distribution designed to rely as much as possible on free software including the bootloader. While most phones have proprietary modem firmware, Replicant’s developers also recommend using the software on devices that can isolate the modem from the rest of the system. As a result, only a handful of older phones and tablets are officially supported.
- GrapheneOS is an open source Android fork designed to emphasize privacy and security. Not only does it ship without Google services, but its developers focus on improving the security of the web browser, app permissions, sandboxing, and more. GrapheneOS officially supports Google Pixel 3 and later smartphones and you can find installation instructions at the GrapheneOS website.
- There are also dozens of other custom ROMs based on Google Android, many of which are open source projects in their own right. LineageOS is probably the most well known, but you can find other popular options at the xda-developers website.