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Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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1.5 Basics of the Debian distributions

Debian maintains three different distributions simultaneously. These are:

  • testing — The preferred distribution for a workstation since it contains recent releases of desktop software which have received a bit of testing. See The testing distribution, Section 2.1.4.

When packages in unstable have no release-critical (RC) bugs filed against them after the first week or so, they are automatically promoted to testing.

Debian distributions also have code names as described in Debian distribution codenames, Section 2.1.7. Before Woody was released in August 2002, the three distributions were, respectively, Potato, Woody, and Sid. After Woody was released the three distributions were, respectively, Woody, Sarge, and Sid. When Sarge is released, the stable and unstable distributions will be Sarge and Sid; a new testing distribution will then be created (initially as a copy of stable) and given a new code name.

Subscribe to the low-volume mailing list [email protected] for important announcements about Debian. See The Debian archives, Section 2.1.

If you want to use versions of packages that are more current than the versions that were released with the distribution you are using, then you can either upgrade to a later distribution as described in Upgrading a distribution to stable, testing, or unstable, Chapter 5, or you can upgrade only selected packages. If the package can't be upgraded easily then you may want to backport it as described in Port a package to the stable system, Section 6.4.10.

Tracking the testing distribution can have the side effect of delaying the installation of packages containing security fixes. Such packages are uploaded to unstable and migrate to testing only after a delay.

If you mix distributions, e.g., testing with stable or unstable with stable, you will eventually pull in core packages such as libc6 from testing or unstable and there is no guarantee that these will not contain bugs. You have been warned.

Running the testing or unstable distribution increases your risk of hitting serious bugs. This risk can be managed by deploying a multibooting scheme with a more stable Debian distribution or by deploying the nice trick of using chroot as described in chroot, Section 8.6.35. The latter will enable running different Debian distributions simultaneously on different consoles.

After an explanation of the fundamentals of the Debian distribution in Debian fundamentals, Chapter 2, you will be given some basic information to help you live happily with the latest software, taking advantage of the testing and unstable distributions of Debian. The impatient should proceed immediately to Debian survival commands, Section 6.3. Happy upgrading!

Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire