3.5 Debian Releases

3.5.1 Naming The Releases

There are three ways of referring to a particular release: name (e.g., sarge), state (e.g., stable), and number (e.g., 3.1). The name and number refer to the same static release with a number only being issued when the release is finalised (i.e., it becomes stable). The state (stable, testing, or unstable) shifts from release to release, and a given release will cycle through these states. The special name sid always refers to unstable.

The release names come from the Toy Story movies (bo, hamm, slink, potato, woody, sarge, etch, sid, …).

The states are {stable}, {unstable}, {testing}, {experimental} and {frozen}.

The unstable release is where new packages and updates to old packages appear. You access this distribution if you want the latest and greatest, and are comfortable with the occasional glitch. For a distribution with more than the occasional glitch and generally very risky, you can add in experimental.

For those who want the latest and greatest but not the risk the testing release lags behind the unstable release by a few weeks to include only packages that don’t appear to have any problems.

When a new release is being prepared it evolves from the unstable release through the testing release onto the frozen release. A frozen release goes through a thorough testing phase to ensure all packages in the distribution work together and there are no outstanding bug reports. This process can take six months or more.

Once this testing is complete the release is then renamed as stable and may remain the current stable for up to eighteen months. The stable release is just that, stable. It is often regarded as the most stable distribution of GNU/Linux available. Packages in this release are not the most recently available and sometimes thought to be quite out of date, but that is the cost of rock solid stability.

In summary, the stable release is best suited to production servers, while the adventurous power user can run ‘unstable’ on a desktop with only the rare mess up.

An advantage of this system is that a user can track either a specific release (slink, potato, woody, sarge, etch, sid) or a state (stable, testing, unstable) simply by specifying the appropriate name in /etc/apt/sources.list.

The fact that the states can change quite dramatically (e.g., when a new stable release is made) is a little problematical as people may suddenly find that their system wants to upgrade everything to a new release. One suggestion is to choose the release name and stay with that until you decide yourself to upgrade.

To stay with a given release use the release name. To keep up-to-date with a stable system then use the stable release. To be at the bleeding edge and relatively stable then use testing. To live at the absolute bleeding edge use unstable.

3.5.2 Recording Your Choice

There are over 75 Debian mirrors world-wide and over 7300 packages available for unstable which you can browse at http://www.debian.org/Packages/unstable/allpackages.html. Check for a mirror near you by trying http://ftp.au.debian.org/ where you replace au with your country code. If you don’t find one then stay with the master Debian site or check for another mirror listed in http://www.debian.org/distrib/ftplist. If you do find a suitable mirror then edit /etc/apt/sources.list (as root user) and add in the appropriate net address. For example, if you are in Australia you might and want to install from the potato archive then your /etc/apt/sources.list might look like:

deb http://ftp.au.debian.org/debian unstable main contrib non-free

(If you are familiar with Debian slink or earlier, you will notice that the format of the non-US entry changed starting with potato, and that it has disappeared since sarge.)

Finally, if you want to go the ``commercial’’ (and sometimes less hassle) CD-ROM distribution path a nice looking one based on Debian is Libranet.

The -, apt, setup command will run a simple interface to help set up your /etc/apt/sources.list.

3.5.3 Other Flavours

Another key benefit of Debian is that the distribution is packaged for multiple architectures, including Alpha, ARM, HP PA-RISC, Intel x86, Intel IA-64, Motorola 680x0, MIPS, MIPS (DEC), PowerPC, IBM S/390, and SPARC! That’s quite a choice.

Also, an unofficial packaging for the AMD64 is available from http://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/unofficial/sarge-amd64/.

And even more interestingly, Debian is not tied to the Linux kernel! There’s also a ``Linux-free’’ Debian called Debian/Hurd (hurd-i386) and, surprisingly there is even discussion of a Debian/Cygwin which runs Debian packages on legacy MS/Windows platforms via the Cygwin compatibility toolkit. Now that will be something to see!

3.5.4 Package Basics

Debian distributions are based on over 4400 packages. Your task is to select those you wish to install! This is made easier with task packages which are virtual packages that depend on a collection of other packages. Selecting one of these task packages results in that collection of other packages being installed. An example is the task-tex package that will install the TeX and LaTeX packages and related utilities.

Task packages are presented to the user on an initial install. As the name indicates a task package is intended to deliniate a specific task you might use a computer for, like a web server, an X workstation, or perhaps an X workstation using GNOME or KDE.

Individual packages can be installed and updated using wajig as described in Chapter 6.

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