Debian GNU/Linux

Debian: One of the Most Stable and Popular Linux Distros Out There

Debian also known as Debian GNU/Linux, is a Linux distribution composed of free and open-source software, developed by the community-supported Debian Project. It is one of the most stable, universal, and popular non-commercial Linux distributions.

Debian is one of the earliest operating systems based on the Linux Kernel. It is being developed by volunteers from all over the world. It is not a commercial project, backed by corporates like many other Linux distributions. The distro has its non-profit organization called Software in Public Interest (SPI). Along with Debian, SPI supports many other open-source projects financially.

Debian is a universal operating system and supports almost all CPU architectures and it is very popular in the server space. Speaking of desktop environments, it offers live ISO downloads with the Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE Plasma, XFCE, LXDE, and MATE desktops.

So, why Debian is called The Universal operating system? The short answer would be because Debian runs on (almost) everything. Because it works brilliantly on both sides – as a desktop and as a server. A serious argument to be called universal.

Debian Releases

Although Debian is known for rock-solid stable software, there are variants:

  • Stable is the current release and targets stable and well-tested software needs. Stable is made by freezing Testing for a few months where bugs are fixed and packages with too many bugs are removed; then the resulting system is released as stable. It is updated only if major security or usability fixes are incorporated. This branch has an optional backports service that provides more recent versions of some software.
  • Testing is the preview branch that will eventually become the next major release. The packages included in this branch have had some testing in unstable but they may not be fit for release yet. It contains newer packages than stable but older than unstable. This branch is updated continually until it is frozen.
  • Unstable, always codenamed sid (Still In Development), is the trunk. Packages are accepted without checking the distribution as a whole. This branch is usually run by software developers who participate in a project and need the latest libraries available, and by those who prefer bleeding-edge software. This branch can be installed through a system upgrade from stable or testing.

As you go from stable to unstable, you find newer and less stable software. A new stable branch of Debian gets released approximately every 2 years. It receives official support for about 3 years with the update for major security or usability fixes. Point releases are available every several months.

Debian 11 (Bullseye) GNOME Desktop


Debian typically uses codenames to refer to its releases, starting with the Toy Story character names used (mostly) instead of numbers. The decision of using Toy Story names was made by Bruce Perens who was, at the time, the Debian Project Leader and was working also at Pixar, the company that produced the movies.

Here is the list of all assigned codenames so far:

  • Buzz (1.1)
  • Rex (1.2)
  • Bo (1.3)
  • Hamm (2.0)
  • Slink (2.1)
  • Potato (2.2)
  • Woody (3.0)
  • Sarge (3.1)
  • Etch (4.0)
  • Lenny (5.0)
  • Squeeze (6.0)
  • Wheezy (7)
  • Jessie (8)
  • Stretch (9)
  • Buster (10)
  • Bullseye (11)

List of upcoming major Debian releases codenames:

  • Bookworm (12)
  • Trixie (13)

Debian Project Leader

Debian is community distribution. It’s governed by a board of elected developers and has its own internal structure and laws. Just about everyone working on Debian is a volunteer.

The Debian Project Leader is the official representative of the Debian Project. They have two main functions, one internal and one external.

  • In the external function, the Project Leader represents the Debian Project to others. This involves giving talks and presentations about Debian and attending trade shows, as well as building good relationships with other organizations and companies.
  • Internally, the Project Leader manages the project and defines its vision. They should talk to other Debian developers, especially to the delegates, to see how they can assist their work. The main task of the Project Leader, therefore, involves coordination and communication.

Debian is the only free software project to have elections where the leader is voted in by the developers. The distro uses the Condorcet method for deciding its elections. It is an election method that elects the candidate who wins a majority of the vote in every head-to-head election against each of the other candidates, that is, a candidate preferred by more voters than any others, whenever there is such a candidate.

The History of Debian

Ian Murdock

The Debian Project was officially founded by Ian Murdock (then an undergraduate at Purdue University) on August 16th, 1993. At that time, the whole concept of a “distribution” of Linux was new. Ian intended Debian to be a distribution that would be made openly, in the spirit of Linux and GNU. The creation of Debian was sponsored by the FSF’s GNU project for one year (November 1994 to November 1995).

Related: What is the Linux Operating System?

How did Debian get its name? Definitely, this is one of the most frequently asked questions. So here’s the answer. The name Debian comes from the names of the creator of Debian, Ian Murdock, and his wife, Debra.

When it began, Debian was the only distribution that was open for every developer and user to contribute their work. It remains the most significant distributor of Linux that is not a commercial entity. It is the only large project with a constitution, social contract, and policy documents to organize the project.

To achieve and maintain high standards of quality, Debian has adopted an extensive set of policies and procedures for packaging and delivering software. These standards are backed up by tools, automation, and documentation implementing all of Debian’s key elements in an open and visible way.

APT Package Manager

At the very early stages of the Debian Project, members considered distributing source-only packages. Each package would consist of the upstream source code and a Debianized patch file, and users would untar the sources, apply the patches, and compile binaries themselves.

They soon realized, however, that some sort of binary distribution scheme would be needed. The earliest packaging tool, written by Ian Murdock and called dpkg, created a package in a Debian-specific binary format and could be used later to unpack and install the files in the package.

Debian 2.1 Slink (March 9th, 1999) was greatly reorganized from previous releases, and 2.1 included apt, the next-generation Debian package manager interface. Debian 3.1 Sarge (June 6th, 2005) switched to aptitude as the selected tool for package management.

APT (Advanced Package Tool) is a command-line tool that is used for easy interaction with the dpkg packaging system and it is the most efficient and preferred way of managing software from the command line for Debian and Debian-based Linux distributions.

  • The apt package provides command-line tools for searching, managing, and querying information about packages, and accessing all features of the libapt-pkg library.
  • The dpkg package provides low-level infrastructure for handling the installation and removal of Debian software packages.

Debian-based Distributions

Due to how influential Debian is, many derivatives have come on the scene over the years. Some of them are:

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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  1. Oh the wonderful world of Linux, especially Debian, which makes Linux better for everybody.
    Mint is one of my favorites, But its MXLinux that I real like. The very large number of ‘spinoffs’
    Especially Ubuntu. Whose rise in popularity enhances Debian’s reputation.
    All I can is, thank God for Debian..

  2. Excellent article. The real beauty of Debian is that it is stable enough to be real, and yet malleable and strong enough to provide an excellent base for those derivatives.

    While I have tried many distro’s, and really enjoyed Mint and Debian, MX Linux stands out far far above most other flavors. The mix of Debian stable and MX Linux add on’s is an *excellent* enhancement and provides the best desktop I have found. (And I have been searching and using linux since 1994 !)

  3. I agree with your comments about MX Linux. Been a Linux user since 2008; tried dozens of distros. I find the top 5 Debian-based distros I’ve used are: MX Linux, Mint, Debian, Ubuntu Mate, Bunsen Labs (formerly CrunchBang).

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