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Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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2.5 Supporting diversity

Debian offers several avenues to accommodate any wishes of the system administrator without breaking the system.

Any files under /usr/local/ belong to the system administrator and Debian will not touch them. Most files under /etc/ are conffiles and Debian will not overwrite them upon upgrade unless the system administrator requests so explicitly.

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