Are you trying to choose which ethical hacking or security-focused distribution of Linux to use? Kali Linux and Parrot OS are two of the best Linux distributions designed for this purpose. They are both free and come with a large amount of pre-installed software for the security professional, but do you know the difference between them?
This article will investigate these two versions of Linux, their ease of use, the tools they come with, and how they perform. We will compare their strengths and weaknesses in certain areas and highlight the advantages one has over the other.
By the conclusion of the article, you will have a deep insight into Kali Linux vs Parrot OS and be able to decide which is best for you.
About the Operating Systems
Kali Linux and Parrot OS are both Linux distributions based on Debian and aimed at the security professional. Debian is one of the oldest, most widely used, and most stable Linux distributions available, the first release dating back to 1993. Because the intended use of Kali and Parrot OS is for security professionals, particularly hackers, they share many features. Still, key differences between them could make one more suitable for certain tasks.
What is Kali Linux?
Kali Linux is a well-respected distribution funded and developed by OffSec (formerly Offensive Security). They are a cyber security company that also provides industry-standard qualifications such as the well-known OffSec Certified Profesional (OSCP), OffSec Experienced Pentester (OSEP), and many more. This pedigree is one of the reasons many security professionals use Kali for penetration testing, digital forensics, and other related activities.
The first version of Kali was released in 2013 and was a re-packaging of the BackTrack distribution, which had ceased development. BackTrack contained hundreds of pre-packaged tools but had a reputation for being difficult to use and unreliable. Kali addressed these weaknesses and became the go to toolset used by many professionals and continues to be improved and updated regularly.
What is Parrot OS?
Parrot OS, like Kali, is a distribution of Linux that comes pre-packaged with tools that help security professionals in their work. However, it is a community-driven project maintained and supported by enthusiasts and industry experts.
They were initially called FrozenBox, but the current team of independent developers has been led by Lorenzo Faletra since 2017. Parrot OS focuses on penetration testing, digital forensics, and privacy, with tools and applications for these tasks pre-installed in the distribution.
Similar to Kali, BackTrack inspired Parrot OS, and the team wanted to create a new distribution that would carry on where BackTrack left off. Although Parrot OS only has a small development team, it continues to be updated and improved frequently and is a popular Linux distribution in the security industry.
The primary focus of Kali Linux and Parrot OS focus is the security professional, but that doesn’t mean they can’t look attractive, be easy to use, and perform well. How do these two distributions measure against each other for the user experience?
The Kali Experience
The initial experience with Kali Linux will be familiar to anyone who has used a recent Debian Linux Distribution. Everything is logical and intuitive, and finding your way around is easy. Even the command line is full of color.
The vast amount of pre-installed tools becomes apparent when digging further into the menus. It can appear daunting if you aren’t experienced with all of these tools, but they are organized in categories to make them easy to find. You can quickly find the tool you need through the search box at the top of the menu.
You can choose from the XfCE, GNOME or KDE Plasma graphical desktop environments when installing Kali, but most people will use the default, which is XfCE. These options are not available in the live image which defaults to XfCE. This is a lightweight and intuitive environment which effectively removed the need for the old “Kali Lite” distribution.
Kali recently switched the default shell from Bash (Bourne-Again Shell) to Zsh (Z Shell). Although Bash has been the default shell for many Linux distributions for a long time, Zsh offers more features and customization, such as a advanced context-based autocomplete and keyboard shortcuts. As many of the tools in Kali are run from the command line, Zsh is a superb shell to use and makes working in this environment more efficient.
Kali focuses on the tools used for penetration testing and digital forensics and does not come pre-installed with any office or media applications. These can be installed manually, but the nature of Kali means that using it for a general operating system is not recommended.
Some of the tools you will be running require root access and frequently cause instability and the need for re-installation or reverting to a snapshot. Stability has been improved with recent releases of Kali, as the default user is no longer root, and this level of access needs a sudo privilege escalation.
A popular way of running Kali is as a virtual machine on a more stable host, such as Ubuntu, Windows, or macOS, or as a bootable USB drive. When used this way, the corruption of the operating system is less catastrophic, and recovery will be quicker.
As with the majority of Linux distros, Kali is very customizable. Different desktop environments can be installed, tools can be added, and configuration settings changed easily. However, as we have alluded to, most people use the standard configuration as rebuild times are kept to a minimum if the operating system experiences problems due to using tools causing corruption.
The Parrot OS Experience
Parrot OS will feel familiar to anyone at home with Linux. Still, it is apparent from the first use that the developers have created a very intuitive, flexible, and visually pleasing environment to work in. Parrot OS feels snappy and quick to respond to your inputs compared to Kali, even on relatively modest hardware.
The menu system is very well organized, with tools categorized logically. As with Kali, the vast array of tools can be overwhelming. Fortunately, Parrot OS also has a convenient search box to help you find what you’re looking for. It doesn’t take long to become familiar with the layout.
Parrot OS uses MATE as the default desktop environment, which is comparable to XfCE for performance and ease of use but is not quite as customizable. This is not an issue, as most people will use the default settings and not be concerned with aesthetic changes, focusing instead on getting to work with the tools. Some may find the layout more intuitive as it is a simpler design but no less effective.
There is no choice of desktop environment when installing Parrot OS. Instead, a new environment would need to be installed once it is up and running. A popular choice is XfCE, but MATE is not lacking in anything critical, so this is entirely based on your preference.
Parrot OS uses the common BASH shell as default. Although less advanced than the Zsh shell used in Kali, it still offers many excellent features that make working with it productive. It features autocomplete, color coding, and customizations to help with running command line tools. Most security professionals are content with BASH, but Zsh can be installed if the extra features are desired.
Parrot OS comes pre-installed with many tools relevant to penetration testing and digital forensics, but it also has some great features for privacy, anonymity, and cryptography. These features set it apart from Kali and suggest it is designed to be used more as an everyday operation system for security professionals who want to protect their data and remain private.
Office and media tools are pre-installed with Parrot OS. Although these are basic, it does open up the possibility of using Parrot OS as a general operating system if required. This feature is one of the reasons Parrot OS is popular and lends itself to a more flexible operating system. A Home Edition is also available that does not have the security tools pre-installed, which might be a better operating system for daily use.
As it is based on Debian, Parrot OS is very customizable, enabling you to create an environment tailored to your needs. However, as the default installation of Parrot OS is very well configured, and it is often run in a live environment, most people will not have a need for this.
|Xfce Environment||MATE Environment|
|ZSH ShellAdvanced Tab-CompletionThemes and PluginsAdvanced CustomizationLarge Active Community||Bash ShellStandard Tab-CompletionLinux Standard ShellCompatibilityFamiliarity|
|Good performance||Very fast performance|
|No office or media tools||Office and basic media tools|
|GUI and command line||GUI and command line|
|Some tools can crash the system||Some tools can crash the system|
System Requirements and Performance
Linux has a strong reputation for functioning well on modest hardware and being flexible with how you can run it. As Kali Linux and Parrot OS are based on the popular Debian distro, they are no exception and will run happily on various older platforms. Is there a difference between the performance of Kali and Parrot OS? Read on to find out.
Running Kali Linux
Kali Linux will run on reasonably low-spec hardware requiring only 20Gb of hard drive space, 2Gb of RAM, and an i3 or AMD E1 dual core processor. General tasks perform well with the minimum spec, but if intensive activities are attempted, such as password cracking, resource usage can increase quickly, so we recommend going above minimum spec if possible.
Boot time is comparable with other distributions of Linux, and overall performance is adequate and depends on the hardware resources available.
Kali is focused on maintaining the latest tools and features and follows a rolling update program. These updates can cause stability problems due to their quantity and frequency, so reliability has been an issue with Kali (though they aren’t fatal enough to turn people away from the distribution).
There are various ways to install Kali Linux, including a full install to disk from the ISO, dual boot it with another operating system, or install it as a virtual machine. It is also available as a pre-packaged VM image for different virtual environments. These can simply be slotted into a VM host and will boot without any configuration necessary. This is a great way to test or use Kali from your existing machine quickly.
Using the ISO image, Kali Linux can also be booted from a live USB device. Some security professionals will carry a live Kali USB drive in their toolkit so they can boot to it on any device and use the tools. If you have watched the Mr Robot TV series, Eliot uses a live Kali USB drive in this way.
Running Parrot OS
One of the reasons Parrot OS is popular is that the hardware requirements to run it are very small by comparison. It requires a 1Ghz Dual core CPU, the same as Kali, but only 320Gb RAM and no graphics acceleration. It runs smoothly on modest hardware, but as with any operating system, if intensive tasks are required, it will require more resources. The overall performance is impressive, though, even on old hardware.
Although Parrot OS shares some common ground with Kali it has a more traditional update schedule. Parrot OS has a reputation for stability which due to some extent that the updates are from its own repository and are checked for compatibility and reliability. But be warned that some tools require root access to run, which can lead to problems and corruption. Running Parrot OS in a live environment is an effective way to allow for quick recovery.
Unlike Kali, the Security Edition of Parrot OS is only available as an ISO. This is flexible enough in that it can be installed on a bare-metal machine, run as a live USB, or installed as a virtual machine, but no pre-packaged VM is available. This means running it in a virtual environment requires more preparation and configuration. It is far from difficult but the extra time and effort is worth considering when choosing between the two.
|Kali Linux||Parrot OS|
|1Ghz Single-core CPU (2Ghz Dual-core recommended)||1Ghz Dual-core CPU|
|1 Gb RAM (2Gb RAM recommended)||320 Mb RAM (2Gb RAM recommended)|
|Graphical acceleration not required||Graphical acceleration not required|
|20Gb HDD space||16 Gb HDD space|
|Good Performance||Great Performance|
|Flexible install options||Install options not as flexible|
|Some reliability issues||Good stability and reliability.|
Kali Linux and Parrot OS come pre-configured with over 600 tools aimed at the security professional. Although there is duplication for many of those tools, there are differences worth considering.
Kali Linux Tools
Kali Linux is pre-installed with over 600 tools. These are largely aimed at penetration testing and are organized into categories. Some tools appear in more than one menu as they have multiple uses and can be categorized accordingly.
Parrot OS Tools
Parrot OS is pre-installed with a similar toolset to Kali but contains applications that assist with encryption, privacy, and anonymity, setting it apart from Kali. The menu systems’ tools are well organized and easy to find.
As Kali is based on Debian, it uses the standard APT package manager for updates and upgrades. It is a command line tool, but easy to use and soon becomes familiar.
The support for Kali provided by the community is excellent and enthusiastic. Kali is considered the industry standard penetration toolset by many security professionals, and this reputation has grown over the years, increasing the user base.
Documentation for Kali is extensive and can be found on the OffSec website. It covers everything from installation to development through very in-depth articles.
Parrot OS Support
Parrot OS is also based on Debian and uses APT as the package and update manager. It works in the same way as Kali and is a reliable and easy way to install and update packages.
Parrot OS is well supported in the community; it being a community-based project lends itself to this. It has been around since 2013 and has gained a loyal following, but the support is no match for Kali Linux.
The documentation provided for Parrot OS can be found on the Parrot website. It is well-presented and deep enough to be valuable. The documentation covers many topics from installation to configuration and cloud but is less in-depth than the Kali documentation.
|Kali Linux||Parrot OS|
|Excellent Community Support||Good Community Support|
|Excellent Documentation||Good Documentation|
Kali Linux and Parrot OS are very similar in many ways, but there is enough difference to make each one suitable for different roles.
Kali is the gold standard of penetration testing toolsets, with the latest and greatest tools available with frequent updates. It has everything you need for most tasks, and anything missing can be easily installed. However, it is relatively resource-hungry and can have stability problems.
Parrot OS, although incorrectly considered by some to be the newcomer to the scene, has been around as long as Kali and has been under constant development since it was created. What it lacks in popularity against Kali, it makes up for in superb performance, a broader set of tools, and a more intuitive user interface. It also benefits from moderated updates that are checked for stability, leading to a stable operating system that is perhaps more reliable than Kali.
Because Kali Linux is the industry-standard security professional’s toolset and the required operating system for many certification exam, such as the OSCP, we highly recommend becoming proficient in using it.
Parrot OS, however, is a great alternative that has its own fantastic features and distinctive style. It also boasts very excellent performance and an intuitive environment in which to learn the tools of the trade.