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, you can add
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recently available and sometimes thought to be quite out of date, but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
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
A selection of Debian releases.
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