Kali Linux and Parrot OS are two Linux distributions with a huge focus on cybersecurity, privacy, and penetration testing.

Both distributions are based on Debian Linux, naturally making them pretty similar. This fact, along with a big overlap in target audience, causes a lot of newcomers to question the difference between the two distributions.

In this guide, we'll be comparing the two distributions across a few key areas and giving a brief review of both distros. Read on to learn more about Kali Linux and Parrot OS and how they compare. By the end of this article, you'll be armed with enough information to choose the best distro for your needs.

In this tutorial you will learn:
  • Kali Linux and Parrot OS background information
  • Kali Linux and Parrot OS similarities and differences
  • Which distro should I use, Kali Linux or Parrot OS?
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Kali Linux or Parrot OS
Software N/A
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # - requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ - requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

Background Information

Parrot OS
Parrot OS

Kali Linux has been around a long time, dating back to the mid 2000s when it went by the name BackTrack and was based on Knoppix. It's come a long way since then, but its focus has always remained the same. It's a distro made for cybersecurity professionals, filled with hundreds of tools that are meant for ethical hacking. This is a very specialized purpose, and one that Kali excels at.

Parrot OS debuted in 2013. Taking a page from Kali's book, it also includes a wide array of penetration testing and hacking tools. Even more than Kali, as a matter of fact. Unlike Kali, Parrot also brands itself as an operating system suitable for everyday use. So it's not "just a hacking distro" after all. Clearly these distros were cut from the same cloth, but they each take a separate approach.


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Similarities and Differences

Kali Linux
Kali Linux

Neither of these distros were built with novices in mind. Both of them have a big focus on "staying quiet," which means that most (or all) network services are turned off by default. This helps a user avoid exposure in a target network. Both of them also come preloaded with a huge arsenal of hacking tools. These traits, along with being based on Debian would have most thinking that these distros are extremely similar, but this is actually where the similarities end.

Kali is focused on doing one thing and doing that thing very well. The developers of Kali do not recommend using their operating system as an everyday distro. It's meant for security professionals that are in situations where they need hacking tools and need to "stay quiet."

Parrot OS can be used this way as well, but there are multiple editions of Parrot that you can download, and not all of them are meant for penetration testing. The "Home" edition of Parrot is stripped of the hacking tools and works well as a daily driver. It's meant for normal users, and isn't targeted at cybersecurity professionals like Kali Linux. Parrot also offers a few different desktop environments out of the box, further accommodating users that wish to use it as an everyday distro. By contrast, the only Kali ISOs from its official site are running Xfce by default.

Parrot has a big focus on privacy, not just hacking. Privacy tools like the Tor browser come installed by default. Upon opening Firefox, you'll notice that numerous privacy plugins are already loaded, like uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, and HTTPS Everywhere. Kali users aren't expected to be surfing the web, so the same privacy measures aren't matched.

Both distros use the APT package manager and can use it to install any Debian package. Kali and Parrot also maintain their own repositories full of privacy and hacking tools, so those are a cinch to install as well. Both distros adhere to a rolling release schedule, making upgrades pretty easy.

Parrot technically has lower system requirements, although these days you'd be hard pressed to find a system that can't run either distro just fine. Still, if you come across an old computer, bear in mind that Parrot will run better on it.



Which One Is Right for Me?

Down to the crucial question, "which distro should I use"?

Kali Linux is a pretty serious distro. There's no hand holding, and it's assumed that when you load into Kali, you have a pretty good idea of what you're doing and how to do it. Parrot OS is a little more welcoming with its MATE desktop environment, system monitoring graphs, and well organized applications.

Neither distro would be ideal for someone that isn't a bit tech savvy. Kali can be downright punishing to novices and Parrot includes a lot of features that would only confuse the uninitiated.

Parrot is a great choice for users that believe privacy is paramount. And you can choose whether or not you also want the hacking tools included. On the other hand, Kali is tailored to security professionals that need to perform hacking tests. When in doubt, it doesn't hurt to give both of them a try.

Closing Thoughts

In this guide, we saw a comparison of Kali Linux and Parrot OS, two similar systems with a slightly different target audience. At their core, they have a lot in common. The biggest takeaway is that Kali is for security professionals and Parrot is for privacy advocates and for hackers that need a daily driver.

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