Debian vs Ubuntu for Server Use, Which One to Choose

This Linux distros comparison article will help you choose the best one for your server needs.

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Debian Stable vs Ubuntu LTS For Server, Which One To Choose

Debian vs Ubuntu. Two of the most popular Linux distros, but which one is a better platform for server use? Our comparison article might help you with that.

If you’re setting up a new server, one of the most important decisions to make is the operating system you’ll be using.

Debian and Ubuntu are used both as a desktop OS and as a server. They are two of the most popular Linux distributions in history. As everybody know, Ubuntu is a Debian-based distribution, but it is not an exact copy by any means and there are great similarities but also great differences between the two. In other words, they are two sides of the same coin.

When it comes to taking a look at the servers of these two OSs and choose which one is the better one, it should be said that this decision heavily depends on your preferences.

You may have heard that Debian is a distribution for experts, and Ubuntu for beginners. That is true, so far as it goes. However, that distinction is more historic than contemporary.

Release model: Debian Stable vs Ubuntu LTS

One of the most obvious differences between Debian and Ubuntu is the way these two distributions are released. Debian has it’s tierd model based on stability. Ubuntu, on the other hand, has regular and LTS (Long-Term Support) releases.

Debian Stable releases are supported for a year after the next stable release. Stable releases come out when they’re ready. This makes Debian a little unpredictable as you won’t know when you need to upgrade until you know when the next stable will be finalized. So if a stable comes out every two years, and you started on a stable release right at its launch, you get 3 years of updates.

Ubuntu has a much more traditional model. The developers make sure to release the LTS version every two years. With Ubuntu LTS release you get 5 years of support, regardless of any new LTS releases in that time. This means you should be able to deploy the latest LTS on a box and not have to worry about it not getting security updates for years and years.

When you have more than a handful of servers, or just some applications that can’t afford any downtime for testing upgrades, or just don’t have the time to spend a day/week testing upgrades, Ubuntu has an advantage over Debian.

Software: Debian Stable vs Ubuntu LTS

Both distros use the same package management system and you’ll often find software packaged for both. Below the surface, however, there are some key differences to be aware of.

Debian’s Stable release is insanely stable. There are few distributions in the same league when it comes to rock solid reliability. But, Debian being very stable comes at a cost. You won’t be able to use all the latest releases of software and all the newest bleeding-edge technologies. At least not out of the box. The software in Debian Stable is usually fairly outdated. In fact, it’s usually outdated when the distribution first ships, but that’s not much of a problem for servers.

Debian takes a strict stance on free software. They see proprietary software as a sort of last resort. You won’t find any proprietary software in a default Debian installation. The project ships it all in a separate repository that you must manually enable after the install. In addition to, if you need nonfree software, you need to add nonfree and contrib sections to every repository.

On the other hand, while the Debian discourages use of the proprietary software, Ubuntu developers keep an open mind when it comes to proprietary software. Ubuntu provides proprietary software in its repositories which mostly consist of hardware drivers. While these add hardware support and functionality to the system, some users frown upon the idea of having commercial software on their system. But Ubuntu has perhaps the largest repositories and best driver support of any distro out there. However you might not need all that.

Ubuntu also has Personal Package Archives, commonly known as PPAs, available. These let you easily install packages not available in the official Ubuntu repositories. This makes installing a wider range of software much easier than it is on Debian.

Performance and Stability

The question of performance with Ubuntu and Debian is pretty simple. Both of these systems perform exceptionally and you will have a blast if you are looking for a system that simply performs without any mistakes or struggles. Debian is a much lightweight system, which makes it super fast. As Debian comes bare minimum and is not bundled or prepacked with additional software and features, it makes it super fast and lightweight than Ubuntu.

One important thing to note is that Ubuntu may be less stable than Debian. Debian is praised on forums for its stability, and you may have even heard someone talk about how easy it is to manage Debian servers since nothing goes wrong. That’s not to say that Ubuntu is unstable, but simply that Debian carries a reputation for being more stable.

Debian Stable gets updates only when they are totally tested and accepted by the Debian’s development team, which is very good for stability and security. Updates are usually very smooth and stable. Ubuntu, on other hand, has a schedule to cope with, and updates are not always smooth.

Support

When it comes to open source software, community support may decide whether the project will be successful. Debian and Ubuntu are standing well with the community, and they have a reputation of popular operating systems.

Canonical is a company that stands behind Ubuntu and offers support for this OS. Apart from that, thousands of volunteers and enthusiasts also work on improving this operating system. Debian completely relies on the community and those willing to help, but that also works great.

Ubuntu’s support team can be hired, which can help you with installation, updating, and troubleshooting the system. Debian has no such support team and relies on a team of volunteers.

Debian and Ubuntu are well maintained and supported Linux distributions. One aims to provide a super solid distribution supported by a large community, the other provides the latest but stable software backed by a corporate, Canonical.

Bottom Line

Expert or Beginner? Free or proprietary? Ease of use or control? Cutting edge or stability?

As you notice, the choosing between Ubuntu and Debian often comes down to what is more important to you and your business.

If popularity matters to you, the official statistics emphasize that Ubuntu is the more popular Linux distro. From all the servers that use Linux, Ubuntu runs 32% of them while Debian has a 15% market share.

Debian remains a popular option for those who value stability over the latest features. Ubuntu servers are also relatively stable, but the simple truth remains, that the systems aren’t as time-tested as Debian Stable systems.

However, no matter how you will decide, you shall hardly go wrong. For all the differences that we mentioned above, Ubuntu and Debian didn’t become by chance the leading Linux server distros. Ubuntu’s and Debian’s joint dominance suggests that either is valid choice, so long as you can understand your priorities.

If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below.

9 Comments

  1. The thing that bugs me about Debian is that it installs with fatal erors in the manual/text mode of installing – right up to failure of the networking DCHP to assign and the mirrors fail to reach your set-up 90% of the time. It could use [ heretical, I know ] a True calamares or other graphical installer that ensures consistency – especially since it’s promising stability. I truly think it’s ego [ a REAL Man should know how to cli this ] that prevents them from reaching parity vis a vis Canonical in market share. Shame, too, since their packages are so superior. God forbid Arch should ever succumb to the same temptation to clean up their install approach. They would leave EVERYONE in the dust on stable releases.

  2. I’ve been using Debian as server from 20 years now, and also Ubuntu a little less. They work very well, but I prefer Debian. Never had a problem installing it, except perhaps wifi drivers. It is very stable, but also is Sid. If you want up to date packages, try Sid.

  3. I started with Debian, from windows 7….
    Boy it really took me for a whirl. I didn’t even have a degree in computer science or any experience. I’m glad I never gave up on it. once I got a grasp of the concepts and the reasoning, every distro that I walked into was a good and easy time, a lot of the concepts tended to roll over.
    I’m not saying that Debian is not user friendly, it just has a really high entry level requirement compared to Ubuntu.
    I like them both. To me, Ubuntu is the cocky talent, edgy and sharp… and Debian is the time-tested master, patient and precise. Microsoft is the coaches son, good and there is a lot of money thrown at it.
    I’m happy we have both. I use Debian, Ubuntu and windows. As I started to master Deb I begin to understand the beauty and elegance in stability. But it did make me appreciate canonical and Microsoft.

    • – I didn’t even have a degree in computer science.

      Pfft… one of the most inane degrees out there, the people that created these systems never studied CS.

      • > Pfft… one of the most inane degrees out there, the people that created these systems never studied CS.

        No idea if this is trolling but, just to be on the safe side: this is just plain wrong in many levels.

  4. Can someone help me understand Ubuntu’s community process to address vulnerabilities ? From a security perspective, I would love to get some recommendations to deal with vulnerabilities that are being reported by our Vulnerability Management but not addressed. For example : CVE-2021-35942, CVE-2021-35942, CVE-2020-6096, CVE-2021-3770, CVE-2017-11164 , to name a few. Should I ignore these if the patch is not available on the Ubuntu Repo or use another repo to fix these ? .

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