Debian vs Ubuntu

Debian vs. Ubuntu for Server Use, Which One to Choose

Debian vs. Ubuntu. They are 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 critical decisions is the operating system you’ll be using.

Debian and Ubuntu are used both as a desktop OS and a server. They are two of the most popular Linux distributions in history. As everybody knows, Ubuntu is a Debian-based distribution.

Still, it is not an exact copy, and there are significant similarities and 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 choosing 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 distro for experts and Ubuntu for beginners. That is true, so far as it goes. However, that distinction is more historical than contemporary.

Release Model: Debian Stable vs. Ubuntu LTS

One of the most apparent differences between Debian and Ubuntu is how these two distributions are released. Debian has its tiered model based on stability. On the other hand, Ubuntu has regular LTS (Long-Term Support) releases.

Debian Stable releases are supported for a year after the next stable release. So stable releases come out when they’re ready.

Unfortunately, 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 three years of updates.

Ubuntu has a much more traditional model. First, the developers make sure to release the LTS version every two years. So with the Ubuntu LTS release, you get five years of support, regardless of any new LTS releases.

This means you should be able to deploy the latest LTS on a box and not worry about it not getting security updates for years and years.

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

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 regarding rock-solid reliability. But, Debian being very stable comes at a cost.

You won’t be able to use all the latest releases of the software and all the newest bleeding-edge technologies. At least not out of the box.

The software in Debian Stable is usually reasonably outdated. It’s typically outdated when the distribution first ships, but that’s not a problem for servers.

Debian takes a strict stance on free software. They see proprietary software as a sort of last resort. Therefore, you won’t find any proprietary software in a default Debian installation.

Instead, the project ships it all in a separate repository that you must manually enable after the installation.

In addition, if you need nonfree software, you need to add nonfree and contrib sections to every repo.

On the other hand, while Debian discourages proprietary software, Ubuntu developers keep an open mind when it comes to proprietary software. As a result, Ubuntu provides proprietary software in its repositories consisting of hardware drivers.

While these add hardware support and functionality to the system, some users frown upon having commercial software on their system. But Ubuntu has perhaps the largest repositories and best driver support of any distro. 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.

As a result, this makes installing a more comprehensive range of software much more straightforward than 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 functions without any mistakes or struggles.

Debian is a 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 tested and accepted by Debian’s development team, which is very good for stability and security. As a result, updates are usually very smooth and stable.

On the other hand, Ubuntu has a schedule, and updates are not always smooth.

Support

When it comes to open-source software, community support may decide whether the project will be successful. For example, Debian and Ubuntu stand well with the community, and they have a reputation for being 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. Of course, Debian relies on the community and those willing to help, which also works great.

Ubuntu’s support team can be hired to help you with installation, updating, and troubleshooting the system. Unfortunately, Debian has no such support team and relies on a group 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. Of all the Linux servers, 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 decide, you shall hardly go wrong. Ubuntu and Debian didn’t become, by chance, the leading Linux server distros for all the differences mentioned above.

However, Ubuntu’s and Debian’s joint dominance suggests that either is a good choice, so long as you can understand your priorities.

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

13 Comments

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  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.

        • Why? There’s a substantial percentage of programmers and developers who are self-taught (I’m one of them). From my understanding, only recently have colleges restructured their strategies in order to meet the demands of the industry, until then it was the autodidacts and coding bootcamp graduates who were filling the positions. As far as knowledge and education, well, we currently have the largest repository of human knowledge and experience at our literal fingertips, usually for free, too. “Degrees” in “CS” just don’t carry the weight they used to, and they certainly don’t denote a person’s actual skill-level or experience.

          • This is very true, I actually studied in 4-year US college CS before switching to IT (wasn’t good idea). It was at private tier 3 university so it didn’t really come with any prestige of studying/attending there like Stanford or Harvard. In fact I think public universities like University of Michigan were teaching better and were better colleges out there. One of the things they taught was computer systems that involved among things debugging intel processor registries and what they mean. Compared to courses like Introduction to Python Programming it was overkill and only release useful if you were going to work on compiler or assembly language. I struggled with this class but I think I got B-. Another course I struggled with was coding C++ which was more useful. With courses in Python and Java, I walked through them a lot smoother (except first year in Python, had to repeat course). That said very rarely it involved building project and more often just getting proficient incrementally at fundamentals like “for loops”, lists, for which there were homework and 2 x per quarter exams in coding, but not in kind of shape or form that would prepare you for the real world where you have to learn how to use knowledge you learned to build some app. ALso they never taught debugging code which is important skill. I switched to IT, after I decided it was not for me and wanted to get into Networking (managing computer networks, telco). That said I couldn’t find job in networking after graduating college so I found job as level 1 windows system administrator at IBM (yes they existed in the US for US government contractor requiring security clearance before it was more automated (or was already but IBM was slow) and started layoffs). Then worked in data center at Microsoft but really didn’t really learned much sys admin pr scripting skills, it was more physical work before I did helpdesk position at Amazon and transition to automation tech role running Python scripts on testing devices. Whatever I am doing now felt could done away without 4 year college degree (2 year AS would be enough with less debt) and feel underemployed. Now looking for a better job, I need to learn scripting in python and prepare for coding interviews whether I indent to be SDE or not, its part of the job now for most tech roles. By know I don’t care about networking and more cloud infrastructure or backend infrastructure management with automation running everything on Linux. No way I am gonna go back to college and get into myself bigger debt while most jobs don’t pay enough nowadays.

  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 ? .

  5. You say Debian is more stable than Ubuntu and I can not judge that because I do not have experience. I would say there is something inherently unstable about Debian which is the following. Software supplied in the official Debian packages is so old that the maintainers of that software may no longer support it and therefore the software may be a security vulnerablility.

    For example PHP advise you not to use unsupported versions of PHP for security reasons. Debian 11, the current stable release, comes with PHP 7.4. which according to the PHP documentation on supported versions ceased being actively supported 6 months ago and will only be supported for security for another 5 months. It is not expected that Debian 12 will appear within 5 months.

    I have decided to use Ubuntu and not Debian (which I prefer in many ways) as a server for PHP websites for this reason.