Debian Unveiled: The Gold Standard of Linux Stability

Dive deep into Debian GNU/Linux, explore its roots and features, and learn why it stands out at the top in the vast Linux ecosystem.

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.

Known for its stability and robustness, it is one of the most stable, universal, respectable, and widely used Linux distributions, earning legendary status in open-source circles.

This article invites you to dive deep into Debian, explore its roots, unravel its features, and learn about the elements that elevate it to the top position in the vast Linux universe. So, let’s get started!

History and Origins of Debian

Ian Murdock
Ian Murdock

Founded on August 16, 1993, by Ian Murdock, Debian is one of the oldest Linux operating systems that has withstood the challenges of time and is still actively maintained.

At the time, SLS (Softlanding Linux System), the first Linux distribution in the full sense of the word that brought together the Linux kernel, GNU libraries and tools, and the X Window System into one, was a leading name. However, its unsatisfactory support and the presence of many bugs led Murdock to the decision to create something new.

He intended to give the open-source community a stable and reliable Linux distribution that would be made entirely openly in the spirit of GNU principles. Because of this, Debian was sponsored by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for one year, from November 1994 to November 1995.

At that time, the concept of a “distribution” of Linux was new. And it couldn’t be otherwise, given that just two years ago, the young Finnish student Linus Torvalds announced his creation called Linux – a novelty in the software world yet to prove itself.

What did the Linux world look like back then? Yes, we may have hundreds of distributions today, but at the time, the pioneers who decided to rely on the Linux kernel, forming around it the thing known today as a “distribution,” were counted on the fingers.

In other words, SLS, Slackware, Debian, and Red Hat (in this sequence) were taking their first steps, paving the way to a niche that years later became the foundation of the entire tech world as we know it today.

Now, to one of the most frequently asked questions – how did Debian get its name? Here’s the answer. The name Debian was formed from the combination of the first names of its creator, Ian Murdock, and his then-girlfriend (later ex-wife), Debra Lynn – so much for that and back to the topic.

All in the Name of and for the Community

Debian was the only distribution open for every developer and user to contribute their work when it began. Something that has become a hallmark of the distribution, gaining a vast mass of developers and millions of followers worldwide.

Even today, Debian remains the most significant distributor of Linux, which is not a commercial entity. Moreover, it is the only large project with unique features you won’t find anywhere else – its constitution, a democratically elected leader, social contract, and policy documents to organize the project.

Above all, Debian is a community distribution governed by a board of elected developers, and just about everyone working on the project is a volunteer.

Furthermore, Debian is the only free software project to have elections where the leader, the official representative of the project, is voted in by the developers, as Jonathan Carter currently holds this position.

The Debian Social Contract, a set of guidelines that the developers adhere to, and the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) define what software is considered “free,” laying a solid foundation for the community to build and innovate together.

Because of these factors, Debian has, long beyond the simple definition of a Linux distribution, established itself as the standard by which the open-source community works and grows.

Exploring Debian’s Branches

When one talks about Debian, the accolades often veer towards its solid stability, monumental reliability, and the vast reservoir of packages available to its users. But diving deeper, it is paramount to understand the structured management of its various branches, which remarkably contribute to its renowned stability and adaptability.

Debian 12 (Bookworm) with GNOME desktop environment.
Debian 12 (Bookworm) with GNOME desktop environment.

The Stable Branch: Solid as a Rock

Known for its unparalleled stability, the “Stable” branch of Debian is the most used and default choice for production environments where reliability takes precedence over cutting-edge software. It receives extensive testing in the “Testing” branch (discussed later) before any package or update makes it into “Stable.”

This branch is typically updated only if major security or usability fixes are incorporated. So, those who prioritize a system that works reliably without surprises often anchor themselves here. In addition, “Stable” has an optional backports service that provides more recent versions of some software.

Once a version is labeled “stable,” it implies a vetted, tried-and-true system tailored for environments where consistency is paramount, such as servers and enterprise systems.

Its main and only drawback is that the software in it has slightly older versions, as a result of ensuring as much as possible that once a package is present in it, it means that it has passed all tests over time, which cannot be guaranteed for newer versions of the software.

The Testing Branch: Balancing Stability with Freshness

“Testing” is where packages that are deemed to be stable enough are imported from “Unstable” (discussed later) and tested further before being promoted to the “Stable” branch.

It provides a balanced milieu where users can enjoy more up-to-date software compared to “Stable” while maintaining a reasonable reliability level.

In other words, users will find software that is not bleeding-edge but reasonably fresh. The key point is that the “Testing” branch might not receive timely security updates, which users must be mindful of.

Furthermore, the “Testing” branch is often the preferred choice, mainly among users using Debian as a desktop system for daily work, providing them with relatively up-to-date software versions.

So, you can look at the test branch as a blueprint for the next major Debian release. Because of this, after a stable is released, “Testing” automatically adopts the codename that will be used for the future stable release.

Want to try it out? We have good news. Switching from “Stable” to “Testing” is relatively easy, so take a look at our comprehensive article “How to Switch from Debian Stable to Testing: A Step-by-Step Guide,” as it will walk you through the entire process with ease.

The Unstable Branch (SID): Riding the Edge

Daring, exciting, and always on the cutting edge, the “Unstable” branch, also codenamed SID (Still In Development), is where the latest and possibly unpolished versions of software reside before being moved to “Testing.” Here is where active development takes place. 

In other words, it is a playground and an invaluable testing ground for developers and advanced users who wish to explore the newest software and features.

Despite its name, it is not essentially “unstable” in everyday usage terms, but it does come with the risk of occasional breakage. Hence, it is not recommended for critical workloads. Users can switch to this branch through a system upgrade from stable or testing.

It is worth noting that the “Unstable” branch follows the rolling release model with continuing updates, so if you’re looking for rolling Debian, this is your place, with the caveat that you assume all the risks.

Release Code Names

Debian typically uses codenames to refer to its releases, starting with the Toy Story character names and version numbers. The decision to use those 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.

So, when Debian 1.1 adopted the codename “Buzz” in 1996, named after Buzz Lightyear, it didn’t just release an OS; it established a tradition. Buzz was followed by “Rex,” named after the nervous Tyrannosaurus Rex.

And so, to this day, eighteen Debian releases strictly follow this tradition. These names indicated not just a playful vibe but subtly embodied the ethos of Debian – adventure, reliability, and a dash of audacity.

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)
  • Bookworm (12)

List of upcoming major Debian releases codenames:

  • Trixie (13) is anticipated for release in 2025
  • Forky (14) is anticipated for release in 2027

Debian Support Period Explained

The longevity and stability of Debian have earned it a reputation as one of the most reliable options for both servers and desktops alike. An essential aspect of its popularity is its extensive support period, ensuring users receive crucial updates and security patches even for aging releases.

Regular Security Support: 3 Years

Once a major Debian version, such as Debian 12 (Bookworm), is released under the stable tag, it enters a phase of full support, typically spanning about three years. In other words, it lasts one year after the new stable release, with the previous one labeled oldstable.

During this timeframe, the Debian Security Team rigorously works to address and patch any discovered vulnerabilities and bugs, ensuring the system maintains its renowned stability and security.

Long Term Support (LTS): 5 Years

After the regular security support phase concludes, a Debian release enters LTS, extending its life and security support for an additional two years, generally up to 5 years from its initial stable release, as not all packages of the Debian archive are supported.

It is essential to mention that during the LTS period, the updates are not handled by the Debian Security Team but by a separate group of volunteers and companies interested in its continued maintenance.

Extended Long-Term Support (ELTS): 10 Years

Post-LTS, Debian further extends a lifeline through Extended Long Term Support (ELTS). This is an additional extension of support, provided for a limited set of packages and driven by paid contributors, intended to shield legacy systems that, for various reasons, cannot be upgraded promptly.

ELTS is provided for an extra five years after the LTS period ends, extending the life of the release to a total of ten years, cushioning organizations, and allowing them to secure their legacy systems while preparing for a transition to a newer Debian release.

Moreover, ELTS is not a part of the Debian project, so Debian’s infrastructure and other resources are not involved.

APT Package Manager

APT lies at the heart of any Debian system, but let’s start with some history.

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

However, they soon realized that some binary distribution scheme would be needed. The earliest packaging tool, written by Debian’s founder, Ian Murdock, and called dpkg (still available and used nowadays), created a package in a Debian-specific binary format that could be used later to unpack and install the files in the package.

Of course, there are more elegant ways to manage software, so APT (Advanced Package Tool) was initially introduced in Debian 2.1 (Slink) in 1999.

It is a package manager and the primary command-line tool used for easy interaction with the dpkg packaging system as the most efficient way to facilitate installing, upgrading, and managing software on Debian.

APT Package Manager
APT Package Manager

So, APT manages packages. But what are they? In short, packages in Debian are precompiled bundles of software, configuration files, and setup scripts, packaged in easily installable files with a “.deb” extension known as DEB packages.

Generally speaking, APT elegantly addresses querying information, software installation, upgrades, and removal to ensure system reliability and consistency.

For example, when you request the installation of a particular software, APT diligently checks and resolves dependencies, ensuring the software has all it needs to run smoothly.

This automatic resolution of software dependencies is one of APT’s most notable features, preventing the “dependency hell” that can occur when manually managing software.

Want to learn how to use APT easily? We’ve got you covered. Our detailed guide, “Linux APT Command in Examples for Ubuntu, Debian, Mint Users,” will get you up and running quickly.

With the other two, DNF used in RPM-based distributions and Pacman from the Arch Linux ecosystem, APT forms the top three of the best and most popular package managers.

However, it can be said with a high degree of certainty that, taking into account the widespread adoption of Debian and some of its derivatives, such as Ubuntu and the Linux Mint based on it, APT is the most popular.

In addition to the APT command-line interface, Debian users also have another handy tool for managing the software – Synaptic. It serves as a graphical user interface (GUI) for the APT.


Synaptic’s key features include search and filter, querying package information, managing repositories, resolving dependencies, updating and upgrading management, history and logging, custom actions, etc.

A Closer Look at Debian Repositories

A software repository, or “repo,” in Linux, is a storage location (typically remote) from which software packages can be retrieved and installed on a computer.

They enable users to install software easily, manage updates, and ensure that it is as secure and stable as possible via a tool (a package manager) that interacts with repositories to handle the installation, update, and removal of software packages.

Debian’s package management tool, APT, is the gateway through which users interact with repositories.

With that explained, let’s now look at the software repositories a Debian system comes with.

Main Repository

The “main” repository encompasses the core of Debian, containing tens of thousands of packages that comply with the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).

It provides a rich selection of open-source software ranging from essential system utilities to advanced applications and libraries, ensuring users can access tools that respect their freedom.

Contrib Repository

Contrib” serves as an extension to the main repository, holding packages that adhere to the DFSG but depend on software outside the main repository that doesn’t conform to these guidelines.

It facilitates access to additional software that, while respecting user freedom, necessitates non-free dependencies, creating a bridge between complete freedom and pragmatic usability.

Non-Free Repository

The “non-free” repository contains software that doesn’t comply with the DFSG. It ensures that Debian users who require proprietary software – such as certain device drivers or applications – can access them easily while keeping the main repository untarnished by non-free software.

Non-Free-Firmware Repository

According to the decision made in October 2022 by a vote among Debian’s developers, starting with Debian 12 “Bookworm,” official installation ISO images now include firmware packages from “non-free-firmware” and metadata to configure the installed system accordingly.

It contains software concerning the operation of the underlying hardware, such as WiFi adapters, video cards, etc., ensuring that Debian installation will support the user’s hardware right out of the box.

Security Repository

This special repository ensures that all packages in the stable release receive security updates promptly. Its goal is to keep systems secure and fortified against vulnerabilities by offering a streamlined, centralized avenue for security updates.

Backports Repository

“Backports” facilitates the availability of newer versions of packages for a stable Debian release. It enables users to access and install updated packages without upgrading to the latest release, maintaining stability while availing of enhanced features or support.

Why Choose Debian?

You now have a comprehensive understanding of Debian GNU/Linux and its key characteristics based on what has been covered thus far. But let’s now systematize why it is one of the best choices in the Linux ecosystem to bet on.

Top-Notch Stability & Security

In the vast expanse of the Debian universe, stability isn’t a mere trait; it’s a steadfast promise. Renowned for its rock-solid stability, it is a preferred choice for servers and mission-critical applications.

Before release, every package is thoroughly tested through its “Unstable” and “Testing” repositories.

Following a firm policy, the Debian Security Team actively monitors and timely patches vulnerabilities, regularly auditing packages in repositories, thus providing one of the highest levels of reliability and security for its users in the open source world.


Debian is often called “the universal operating system” due to several key aspects. Above all, it can be used for various purposes such as desktop computing, server use, or as a platform for software development, as on each of these fronts, the operating system performs brilliantly.

In other words, the flexibility in configuration and usage allows users to customize Debian to suit virtually every use case and specific needs, whether it be a lightweight system or a fully-featured desktop or server.

Moreover, Debian supports a wide array of hardware architectures, including but not limited to Intel/AMD x86, x86-64, ARM, ia64, mipsel, PowerPC, PPC64, riscv64, sparc64, and more, thereby making it applicable to a multitude of devices and systems.

Large Software Repositories

Currently, Debian has over 64,000 software packages in its repositories, making it one of the richest (if not the richest) Linux distributions, covering a broad spectrum from productivity applications to developmental tools.

They can be easily managed using APT (Advanced Package Tool), one of today’s most powerful and widely used package managers.

Long-term Support

Among the myriad available options, Debian distinguishes itself as exceptionally robust, reliable, and stable, mainly due to its enviable reputation for long-term support (LTS).

While the ever-evolving tech world always introduces new, flashy features, Debian opts for a more restrained approach.

With support timelines extending up to five years, organizations and users can comfortably deploy Debian with the assurance that their system and software investments are shielded from becoming prematurely antiquated.

In this regard, the dedicated Debian Security Team vigilantly patches vulnerabilities. It ensures that the OS remains fortified against potential threats for years to come, giving home and business users the peace of mind they need.

Community and Freedom Focus

Debian strictly adheres to the Free Software Guidelines, ensuring that users have the freedom to use, modify, and distribute software.

It may not boast the out-of-the-box sleekness of some of its contemporaries, but when you peel back the layers, the distro reveals a commitment to principles that few can parallel.

The beating heart of Debian is, undeniably, its community. A global ensemble of volunteers, the Debian Project eschews a top-down corporate model in favor of a decentralized, democratic approach.

A vibrant and diverse community of enterprises, organizations, developers, users, and enthusiasts supports Debian, ensuring it is accessible and usable by people worldwide.

The Bedrock of Derivatives

Debian’s influence can be seen vividly in the plethora of derivatives it has spawned, Ubuntu being the most renowned among them.

By providing a solid, free, and community-oriented base, Debian has unknowingly become the linchpin of numerous distributions, further amplifying its impact on the Linux world and underscoring its reliability as a foundational OS.


Navigating through the contours of Debian, from its philosophical underpinnings to its practical applicabilities, it is evident that it is more than a mere operating system; it’s a culture.

Betting on it is a vote for a future where technology is democratized, where users aren’t mere consumers but active participants.

In other words, by choosing Debian, you’re not just selecting an OS but aligning yourself with a philosophy that espouses digital freedom and community-driven development.

Apart from that, Debian’s most acclaimed characteristic is its unparalleled stability and security, a crucial factor for businesses and individuals who seek a constant, unshakable OS environment. This makes it a top choice for servers, especially those that need to maintain high uptime and reliability.

From system administrators to desktop users, the flexible nature of Debian ensures that it impeccably tailors itself to the specific needs and nuances of its diverse user base.

Thus, we unveil Debian – not just as an operating system but as a symbol of persistent evolution, a testament to the power of community, and a window into a future where technology is free, refined, and shared by the many for the many.

May this exploration serve not as a terminus but as a launchpad, propelling you into your journey within the boundless universe of Debian.

For more information, please refer to the project website or documentation.

Thanks for your time and for being our readers! Any opinions and comments are welcome and highly appreciated.

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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