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Debian OpenLogo
Desktop screenshot
Debian 7.0 (Wheezy) with GNOME 3
Company / developer Debian Project
OS family Unix-like
Working state Current
Source model Open-source
Initial release September 15, 1993; 20 years ago (1993-09-15)
Latest release 7.6 (Wheezy) (July 12, 2014; 11 days ago (2014-07-12)) [±]
Available in 73 languages
Update method APT (several front-ends available)
Package manager dpkg
Supported platforms ARM, IA-32, Itanium, MIPS, PowerPC, S390, SPARC, x86-64
Kernel type Monolithic: Linux, kFreeBSD
Micro: Hurd (unofficial)
Userland GNU
Default user interface GNOME
License Free software (mainly GPL). Proprietary software in a non-default area.
Official website

Debian (/ˈdɛbiən/) is an operating system composed of free software mostly carrying the GNU General Public License, and developed by an Internet collaboration of volunteers aligned with the Debian Project. It is one of the most popular Linux distributions for personal computers and network servers, and has been used as a base for other Linux distributions.

Debian was announced in 1993 by Ian Murdock, and the first stable release was made in 1996. The development is carried out by a team of volunteers guided by a project leader and three foundational documents. New distributions are updated continually and the next candidate is released after a time-based freeze.

As one of the earliest distributions in Linux's history, Debian was envisioned to be developed openly in the spirit of Linux and GNU. This vision drew the attention and support of the Free Software Foundation, who sponsored the project for the first part of its life.


Text version of the Debian Installer
Graphical version of the Debian Installer (available since Etch)
Debian GNU/Linux console login and welcome message

Debian is primarily a Linux distribution with access to online repositories hosting over 37,500 software packages.[1] Debian is officially made of free software but hosts non-free software on its repositories.[2] Debian includes popular free programs such as LibreOffice,[3] Iceweasel (a rebranding of Firefox), Evolution mail, K3b CD/DVD burner, VLC media player, GIMP image editor and Evince document viewer.[2] Debian is a popular choice for web servers.[4][5]

The cost of developing all the packages included in Debian 5.0 Lenny (323 million lines of code) has been estimated to be about US$ 8 billion, using one method based on the COCOMO model.[6] As of 2014, Ohloh estimates that the codebase (78 million lines of code) would cost about US$ 1.5 billion to develop, using a different method based on the same model.[7][8]

The current stable release, code-named Wheezy, is officially supported on eleven architectures and brought support for two new architectures: s390x and armhf.[9] Notable new features in this latest release include: Multiarch, which allows 32-bit Linux software to run on 64-bit operating system installs;[10] UEFI support for amd64;[11] improved multimedia support, reducing reliance on third-party repositories; compiled packages with hardened security flags; AppArmor, which can protect a system against unknown vulnerabilities; and systemd, which shipped as a technology preview.[12]


Debian 6.0 introduced a new kernel: the Debian GNU/kFreeBSD kernel. This project's new kernel is released as a technology preview and still lacks the amount of software available as on Debian's Linux.[13] kFreeBSD is offered for Intel/AMD 32-bit and 64-bit architecture machines.[12] Debian now supports two kernels, Linux and kFreeBSD, and offers GNU Hurd unofficially.[14]


Debian offers DVD and CD images for installation that can be downloaded using BitTorrent, with jigdo and bought from retailers.[15] The full sets are made up of several disks (the amd64 port consists of 10 DVDs or 69 CDs),[16] but only the first disk is required for installation, as the installer can retrieve software not contained in the first disk image from online repositories.[17] Installation images are hybrid on some architectures and can be used to create a bootable USB drive.[18] The Wheezy release offers to install a variety of default Desktops (GNOME, KDE Software Compilation, Xfce, and LXDE) from its DVD boot menu and from special disk 1 CDs.[19][20] The Debian installer includes aids for visually-impaired people, featuring in Wheezy a textual mode that performs audio output for each stage of installation.[21] Debian offers different network installation methods. A minimal install of Debian is available via the "netinst" CD, whereby Debian is installed with just a base and later additional software can be downloaded from the Internet. Another option is to boot the installer from the network.[22]

Desktop environments[edit]

Debian KDE desktop

Debian offers CD images specifically built for GNOME (the default in Wheezy), KDE Plasma Workspaces, Xfce and LXDE.[23] MATE is officially supported,[24] while Cinnamon is not ready to be released as of July 2014.[25] Less common window managers such as Enlightenment, Openbox, Fluxbox, IceWM, Window Maker and others are available.[26]

It was previously suggested that the default desktop environment of version 7.0 Wheezy may be switched to Xfce, because GNOME 3 might not fit on the first CD of the set.[27] In November 2013 it was announced that the desktop environment of version 8.0 Jessie would change to Xfce. Demand for Xfce will be evaluated and the default environment may switch back to GNOME again just before Jessie is frozen.[28][29]


Debian Pure Blends are subsets of a Debian release configured out-of-the-box for users with particular skills and interests.[30] For instance, Debian Jr. is targeted at children.[31] The complete Debian distribution includes all available Debian Pure Blends.[30] "Debian Blend" (without "Pure") is a term for a Debian-based distribution that strives to mainstream, improving Debian as a whole. Consequently, all extras offered by Blends will either become part of Debian, or are temporary workarounds to solve a need of the target group which cannot yet be solved within Debian.[32][33]

Debian Live[edit]

Debian releases live install images for CDs, DVDs and USB thumb drives, for IA-32 and x86-64 architectures, and with a choice of desktop environments. These "Debian Live" images allow the user to boot from removable media and run Debian without affecting the contents of their computer. A full install of Debian to the computer's hard drive can be initiated from the live image environment.[34] Personalized images can be built with the live-build tool for CD/DVD/USB drives and for network booting purposes.[35]

Embedded systems[edit]

Debian supports a variety of ARM-based NAS devices. The NSLU2 was supported by the installer in Debian 4.0 and 5.0,[36] and Martin Michlmayr is providing installation tarballs since version 6.0.[37] Other supported NAS devices are the Buffalo Kurobox Pro,[38] GLAN Tank, Thecus N2100[39] and QNAP Turbo Stations.[38]

Devices based on the Kirkwood SoC are supported too, such as the SheevaPlug plug computer and OpenRD products.[40] There are efforts to run Debian on mobile devices,[41] but this is not a project goal yet since the Debian Linux kernel maintainers would not apply the necessary patches.[42] Nevertheless, there are packages for resource-limited systems.[43]

There are efforts to support Debian on other hardware, such as automobiles and wireless routers.[44] Debian is known to run on set-top boxes.[45] As of June 2014, there is an ongoing work to support the AM335x processor,[46] which is used in electronic point of service solutions.[47] Debian may be customized to run on cash machines.[48]

Package management[edit]

Package management operations can be performed with different tools available on Debian, from the lowest level command dpkg to graphical front-ends like synaptic. The recommended standard for administering packages on a Debian system is the apt toolset.[49]

dpkg provides the low-level infrastructure for package management.[50] The dpkg database is located under /var/lib/dpkg; the "status" file contains the list of installed software on the current system. The dpkg command tool does not know about repositories. The command can work with local .deb package files as well as information from the dpkg database.[51]

APT tools for repositories[edit]

Using Aptitude to view Debian package details
Package installed with Aptitude.

An APT tool allows administration of an installed Debian system for retrieving and resolving package dependencies from repositories. APT tools share dependency information and cached packages.[49]

  • aptitude is a command tool and offers a TUI interface. The program comes with enhancements such as better search on package metadata.[49]
  • apt-get and apt-cache are command tools of the standard APT-class toolset apt package. apt-get installs and removes packages, and apt-cache is used for searching packages and displaying package information.[49]
The GDebi tool and other front-ends[edit]

GDebi is an APT tool which can be used in command-line and on the GUI.[52] GDebi can install a local .deb file via the command line alike the dpkg command, but with access to repositories to resolve dependencies.[53] Other graphical front-ends for APT include Software Center,[54] Synaptic[55] and Apper.[56]


A Debian 4.0 Etch box cover[57]

The Debian Project offers at least three maintained distributions, also called releases, at any one time.[58] Packages which comply with the Debian Free Software Guidelines, usually under the GNU General Public License, Modified BSD License or Artistic License,[59] are included inside the main area.[60]


Main distributions are the following:

  • stable, currently aliased Wheezy, is the current release and targets stable and well-tested software needs.[61] Stable is made by freezing testing for a few months where bugs are fixed and too buggy packages are removed; then the resulting system is released as stable. It is updated only if major security or usability fixes are incorporated.[60] Stable's CDs and DVDs can be found in the Debian website.[16]
Debian officially supports the optional backports service for this distribution. The backports repository provides users of stable with more recent versions of some software.[62]
  • testing, currently aliased Jessie, is the preview release that will eventually become the next major release. The packages included in this distribution 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 distribution is updated continually until it enters the "frozen" state.[60] Testing's CDs and DVDs can be found on the Debian website.[16]
  • unstable, permanently aliased Sid, is the development release and is updated continually. Packages are accepted without checking the distribution as a whole.[60] This distribution 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.[58] Debian does not provide Sid installation CDs/DVDs. This distribution can be installed through a system upgrade from testing.[63]

Other distributions in Debian:

  • oldstable, currently aliased Squeeze, is the prior stable release.[60] It is supported until one year after a new stable is released.[64] Eventually, oldstable is moved to a repository for archived distributions.[60]
  • experimental is a temporary staging area of highly experimental software that is likely to break the system. It is not a full distribution and missing dependencies are commonly found in unstable, where new software without the damage chance is normally uploaded.[60]

The snapshot archive provides older versions of the distributions. They may be used to install a specific older version of some software.[65]

Archive areas[edit]

The Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) define their distinctive meaning of the word "free" as in "free and open source software". In accordance with these guidelines, a relatively small number of packages are excluded from the distributions' main area and included inside the non-free and contrib areas. These last two areas are not officially part of Debian. The project offers its distribution without these areas but can be adopted manually after initial setup.[66]

Non-free includes packages which do not comply with the DFSG,[67] such as documentation with invariant sections and proprietary software,[68][69] and legally questionable packages.[67] Contrib includes packages which do comply with the DFSG, but may fail other requirements; for instance, they may depend on packages which are in non-free or requires such for building them.[67]

Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation have criticized the Debian Project for hosting the non-free repository and because the contrib and non-free areas are easily accessible,[70][71] an opinion echoed by some in Debian including the former project leader Wichert Akkerman.[72] The internal dissent in the Debian Project regarding the non-free section has persisted, but the last time it came to a vote in 2004, the majority decided to keep it.[73]

Multimedia support[edit]

Multimedia support has been problematic in Debian regarding codecs threatened by possible patent infringements, without sources or under too restrictive licenses,[74] and regarding technologies such as Adobe Flash.[75] Even though packages with problems related to their distribution could go into the non-free area, software such as libdvdcss is not hosted at Debian.[76]

There is a notable third party repository, formerly known as,[77][78][79] providing software not present in Debian such as Windows codecs, libdvdcss and the Adobe Flash Player.[80] Despite that this repository is maintained by Christian Marillat, a Debian developer, it is not part of the project neither is hosted at Debian. As a matter of fact, the repository provides packages already included in Debian, interfering with the official maintenance. Eventually, project leader Stefano Zacchiroli asked Marillat to either settle an agreement about the packaging or to stop using the "Debian" name.[81] Marillat chose the latter and renamed the repository to The repository was so popular that the end of was announced by the official blog of the Debian project.[82]

Hardware support[edit]

Hardware requirements[edit]

Hardware requirements are at least those of the kernel and the GNU tool-sets. Debian GNU/Linux supports uniprocessor and symmetric multiprocessor systems.[83] Debian's recommended system requirements differ depending on the level of installation, which corresponds to increased numbers of installed components:[84]

Install desktop Minimum RAM size Recommended RAM size Minimum processor clock speed (IA-32) Hard drive capacity
No 64 MB 256 MB GB
Yes 128 MB 512 MB 1 GHz 5 GB

The real minimum memory requirements depend on the architecture and may be much less than the numbers listed in this table. It is possible to install Debian with as little as 20 MB of RAM for s390, or 60 MB of RAM for x86-64.[84] The installer will run in low memory mode and it is recommended to create a swap partition.[19] Similarly, disk space requirements, which depend on the packages to be installed, can be reduced by manually selecting the packages needed.[84] As of June 2014, there is no Pure Blend that would lower the hardware requirements easily,[85] though there are plans to integrate Emdebian Grip into Debian.[86]

It is possible to run graphical user interfaces on older or low-end systems, but the installation of window managers instead of desktop environments is recommended, as desktop environments are more resource-intensive. Requirements for individual software vary widely and must be considered as well as those of the base operating environment.[84]

Architecture ports[edit]

HP 9000 C110 PA-RISC workstation booting Debian GNU/Linux Lenny
Official ports[edit]

As of the Wheezy release, the official ports are:[87]

  • amd64: x86-64 architecture designed for 64-bit PCs, with the goal of supporting both 32bit- and 64bit-userland
  • armel: Little-endian ARM architecture (ARMv4T instruction set)[88] on various embedded systems (EABI)
  • armhf: ARM (ARMv7 instruction set) hard-float architecture requiring hardware with a floating-point unit
  • i386: IA-32 architecture designed for 32-bit PCs, compatible with 64-bit machines[83]
  • ia64: Intel Itanium (IA-64) architecture
  • kfreebsd-amd64: Kernel of FreeBSD on x86-64 architecture
  • kfreebsd-i386: Kernel of FreeBSD on IA-32 architecture
  • mips: Big-endian MIPS architecture
  • mipsel: Little-endian MIPS architecture
  • powerpc: PowerPC architecture
  • s390: z/Architecture with 32-bit userland[89]
  • s390x: z/Architecture with 64-bit userland
  • sparc: Sun SPARC architecture on Sun-4u and Sun-4v systems

There used to be an arm port using an old ABI (OABI) that was last included with the Lenny release.[88]

Unofficial ports[edit]

Unofficial ports are available as part of the unstable distribution:[90][91]


Several parts of Debian are translated into languages other than English, including package descriptions, configuration messages, documentation and the website.[94] The level of software localization depends on the language, ranging from the highly supported German and French to the hardly translated Creek and Samoan.[95] The installer is available in 73 languages.[96]


Debian GNU/Linux is one of the most popular Linux distributions, and many other distributions have been created from the Debian code base, including Ubuntu and Knoppix.[97] As of 2014, DistroWatch lists 139 active Debian derivatives.[98] The Debian project provides its derivatives with guidelines for best practices and encourages derivatives to merge their work back into Debian.[99][100] A sign of cooperation with Ubuntu can be seen in the Debian package tracker.[101]


Debian is known for its manifesto,[102] social contract,[102][103][104] and policies.[105] Debian's policies and team efforts focus on collaborative software development and testing processes.[106] As a result of its policies, a new major release tends to occur every two years with revision releases that fix security issues and important problems.[107][108]


General Resolution
elect↓ override↓
Developer propose↑

The Debian Project is a volunteer organization with three foundational documents:

  • The Debian Social Contract defines a set of basic principles by which the project and its developers conduct affairs.[66]
  • The Debian Free Software Guidelines define the criteria for "free software" and thus what software is permissible in the distribution, as referenced in the Social Contract. These guidelines have been adopted as the basis of the Open Source Definition. Although it can be considered a separate document for all practical purposes, it formally is part of the Social Contract.[66]
  • The Debian Constitution describes the organizational structure for formal decision-making within the project, and enumerates the powers and responsibilities of the Project Leader, the Secretary and other roles.[109]
Historical population
Year DD   ±%  
1999 347 —    
2000 347 +0.0%
2001 ? —    
2002 939 —    
2003 831 −11.5%
2004 911 +9.6%
2005 965 +5.9%
2006 972 +0.7%
2007 1,036 +6.6%
2008 1,075 +3.8%
2009 1,013 −5.8%
2010 886 −12.5%
2011 911 +2.8%
2012 948 +4.1%
2013 988 +4.2%
2014 1,003 +1.5%
Source: Debian Voting Information

There are at present about one thousand active Debian developers,[110][111] but it is possible to contribute to the project without being an official developer.[112]

Debian is supported by donations made to organizations authorized by the leader.[109] The largest supporter is Software in the Public Interest, the owner of the Debian trademark, manager of the monetary donations[113] and umbrella organization for various other community free software projects.[114]

The project maintains official mailing lists and conferences for communication and coordination between developers.[60][115] For issues with single packages and other tasks,[116] a public bug tracking system is used by developers and end-users. Internet Relay Chat channels (primarily on the OFTC and freenode networks) are also used for communication among developers[60] and to provide real time help.[117]

A Project Leader is elected once per year by the developers. The leader has special powers, but they are not absolute, and appoints delegates to perform specialized tasks. Delegates make decisions as they think is best, taking into account technical criteria and consensus. By way of a General Resolution, the developers may recall the leader, reverse a decision made by the leader or a delegate, amend foundational documents and make other binding decisions.[109] The voting method is based on the Cloneproof Schwartz Sequential Dropping.[118]

Project leaders
1993 —
1994 —
1995 —
1996 —
1997 —
1998 —
1999 —
2000 —
2001 —
2002 —
2003 —
2004 —
2005 —
2006 —
2007 —
2008 —
2009 —
2010 —
2011 —
2012 —
2013 —
2014 —
2015 —
Wichert Akkerman
Ben Collins
Branden Robinson
Anthony Towns
Steve McIntyre
Lucas Nussbaum
The Project Leader is the public face of Debian and defines its direction.[119][120]

Project leadership is distributed occasionally. Branden Robinson was helped by the Project Scud, a team of developers that assisted the leader,[121] but there were concerns that such leadership would split Debian into two developer classes.[122] Anthony Towns created a supplemental position, Second In Charge (2IC), that shared some powers of the leader.[123] Steve McIntyre was 2IC and had a 2IC himself.[124]

One important role in Debian's leadership is that of a release manager.[125] The release team sets goals for the next release, supervises the processes and decides when to release. The team is led by the next release managers and stable release managers.[126] Release assistants were introduced in 2003.[127]

Developer recruitment, motivation, and resignation[edit]

The Debian project has an influx of applicants wishing to become developers.[128] These applicants must undergo a vetting process which establishes their identity, motivation, understanding of the project's goals (embodied in the Social Contract), and technical competence.[129] This process has become much harder throughout the years.[130]

Debian developers join the project for a number of reasons; some that have been cited include:

  • Debian is their main operating system and they want to promote Debian[131]
  • To improve the support for their favorite technology[132]
  • They are involved with a Debian derivative[133]
  • A desire to contribute back to the free-software community[134]
  • To make their Debian maintenance work easier[135]

Debian developers may resign their positions at any time or, when deemed necessary, they can be expelled.[109] Those who follow the retiring protocol are granted the "emeritus" status and they may regain their membership through a shortened new member process.[136]

Development procedures[edit]

Flowchart of the life cycle of a Debian package

Each software package has a maintainer that may be either one person or a team of Debian developers and non-developer maintainers.[137][138] The maintainer keeps track of upstream releases, and ensures that the package coheres with the rest of the distribution and meets the standards of quality of Debian. Packages may include modifications introduced by Debian to achieve compliance with Debian Policy, even to fix non-Debian specific bugs, although coordination with upstream developers is advised.[136]

The maintainer releases a new version by uploading the package to the "incoming" system, which verifies the integrity of the packages and their digital signatures. If the package is found to be valid, it is installed in the package archive into an area called the "pool" and distributed every day to hundreds of mirrors worldwide. The upload must be signed using OpenPGP-compatible software.[60] All Debian developers have individual cryptographic key pairs.[139] Developers are responsible for any package they upload even if the packaging was prepared by another contributor.[140]

Initially, an accepted package is only available in the unstable distribution.[60] For a package to become a candidate for the next stable release, it must migrate to the testing distribution by meeting the following:[141]

  • It has been in unstable for a certain length of time that depends on the urgency of the changes.
  • It does not have "release-critical" bugs, except for the ones already present in testing. Release-critical bugs are those considered serious enough that they make the package unsuitable for release.
  • There are no outdated versions in unstable for any release architectures.
  • The migration does not break any packages currently in testing.
  • Its dependencies can be satisfied by packages already in testing or by packages being migrated at the same time.
  • The migration is not blocked by a freeze.

Thus, a release-critical bug in a new version of a shared library on which many packages depend may prevent those packages from entering testing, because the updated library must meet the requirements too.[142] From a distribution viewpoint, the migration process happens twice per day, rendering testing in perpetual beta.[60]

Periodically, the release team publishes guidelines to the developers in order to ready the release. A new release occurs after a freeze, when all important software is reasonably up-to-date in the release-candidate distribution and any other significant issues are solved. At that time, all packages in the testing distribution become the new stable distribution.[60] Although freeze dates are time-based,[107] release dates are not, which are announced by the release managers a couple of weeks beforehand.[143]

A version of a package can belong to more than one distribution, usually testing and unstable. It is possible for a package to keep the same version between stable releases and be part of oldstable, stable, testing and unstable at the same time.[144] Each distribution, also called suite, can be seen as a collection of pointers into the package "pool" mentioned above.[60]


The Debian Project handles security through public disclosure rather than through obscurity. Debian security advisories are compatible with the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures dictionary, are usually coordinated with other free software vendors and are published the same day a vulnerability is made public.[145][146] Debian has a security audit team that focuses on packages in the stable release looking for security bugs.[147]

The stable distribution is supported by the Debian security team; oldstable is supported for one year.[64] Although Squeeze is not officially supported, Debian is coordinating an effort to provide long-term support until February 2016, five years after the initial release, but only for the IA-32 and x86-64 platforms.[148] Testing is supported by the testing security team, but does not receive updates in as timely a manner as stable.[149] Unstable's security is left for the package maintainers.[64]

The Debian Project offers documentation and tools to harden a Debian installation both manually and automatically.[150] Security-Enhanced Linux support is available but disabled by default.[38] Debian provides an optional hardening wrapper, and does not harden its software by default using gcc features such as PIE and buffer overflow protection, unlike operating systems such as OpenBSD,[151] but tries to build as many packages as possible with hardening flags.[12]

The 2008 OpenSSL vulnerability[edit]

In May 2008, it was revealed that a Debian developer discovered that changes made in 2006 to the random number generator in the OpenSSL package distributed with Debian and derivatives such as Ubuntu, made a variety of security keys vulnerable to a random number generator attack.[152][153] The security weakness was caused by changes made by another Debian developer in response to memory debugger warnings.[154][155] The complete resolution procedure was cumbersome because patching the security hole was not enough; it involved regenerating all affected keys and certificates.[156] Being introduced by Debian, the vulnerability caused anger and embarrassment among Debian developers.[157][158]



As of July 2014, the stable release is version 7.6, code name Wheezy.[159] When a new version is released, the prior stable version becomes oldstable. This is version 6.0.10, code name Squeeze.[160]

In addition, a stable release gets minor updates (called point releases). The numbering scheme for the point releases up to Debian 4.0 was to include the letter r (for release) after the main version number (e.g. 4.0) and then the number of the point release; for example, the latest point release of version 4.0 (Etch) is 4.0r9.[161] From Debian 5.0 (Lenny), the numbering scheme of point releases has been changed and conforms to the GNU version numbering standard;[162] so, for example, the first point release of Debian 5.0 was 5.0.1 (instead of 5.0r1).[163] The numbering scheme was once again changed for the first Debian 7 update, with the latter being assigned version 7.1.[164]

Time-based development schedule[edit]

For Debian 6.0 (Squeeze) a new policy of time-based development freezes on a two-year cycle was announced. Time-based freezes are intended to allow the Debian Project to blend the predictability of time based releases with its policy of feature based releases. Having predictable freezes was expected to reduce overall freeze time. The Squeeze cycle was intended to be especially short to "get into the new cycle".[107] However, this short freeze cycle for Squeeze was abandoned.[165]

Code names[edit]

The code names of Debian releases are names of characters from the Toy Story films. The unstable distribution is permanently nicknamed Sid, after the emotionally unstable next-door neighbor boy who regularly destroyed toys.[166] The current release Wheezy is named after the rubber toy penguin in Toy Story 2.[167] The release after Wheezy will be named Jessie, after the cowgirl in Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.[168]


Debian has made twelve major stable releases:[169]

Version Code name Release date Ports Packages Supported until Notes
Old version, no longer supported: 1.1 Buzz Jun 17, 1996 1 474 Old version, no longer supported: - dpkg, ELF transition, Linux 2.0[169]
Old version, no longer supported: 1.2 Rex Dec 12, 1996 1 848 Old version, no longer supported: - -
Old version, no longer supported: 1.3 Bo Jun 5, 1997 1 974 Old version, no longer supported: May 1998[170] -
Old version, no longer supported: 2.0 Hamm Jul 24, 1998 2 ≈ 1,500 Old version, no longer supported: Feb 1999 glibc transition[169]
Old version, no longer supported: 2.1 Slink Mar 9, 1999 4 ≈ 2,250 Old version, no longer supported: Oct 2000 APT[169]
Old version, no longer supported: 2.2 Potato Aug 15, 2000 6 ≈ 3,900 Old version, no longer supported: Jul 2002 -
Old version, no longer supported: 3.0 Woody Jul 19, 2002 11 ≈ 8,500 Old version, no longer supported: Jun 2006 -
Old version, no longer supported: 3.1 Sarge Jun 6, 2005 11 ≈ 15,400 Old version, no longer supported: Mar 31, 2008[171] Modular installer, semi-official amd64 support.
Old version, no longer supported: 4.0 Etch Apr 8, 2007 11 ≈ 18,000 Old version, no longer supported: Feb 15, 2010[172] Graphical installer,[173] udev transition, modular X.Org transition.
Old version, no longer supported: 5.0 Lenny Feb 14, 2009 12 ≈ 23,000[174] Old version, no longer supported: Feb 6, 2012[175] Dropped SPARC 32-bit.[176] Full Eee PC support.[177]
Older version, yet still supported: 6.0 Squeeze Feb 6, 2011 9+2[A] ≈ 29,000[23] Older version, yet still supported: Standard: May 31, 2014
LTS: Feb 2016[178]
Moved to eglibc.[179] Dependency-based boot sequence.[180] Free firmware.[181]
Current stable version: 7[9] Wheezy May 4, 2013 11+2[B] ≈ 36,000[182] Current stable version: TBA Multiarch support.[183]
Future release: 8[168] Jessie TBA TBA TBA Future release: TBA Freeze date announced (November 2014).[184]
Old version
Older version, still supported
Latest version
Latest preview version
Future release
A 9 architectures with Linux kernel + 2 architectures with kernel of FreeBSD[23]
B 11 architectures with Linux kernel + 2 architectures with kernel of FreeBSD

Due to an incident involving a CD vendor who made an unofficial and broken release labeled 1.0, an official 1.0 release was never made.[169]


Debian was first announced on August 16, 1993, by Ian Murdock, who initially called the system "the Debian Linux Release".[192][193] The word "Debian" was formed as a combination of the first name of his then-girlfriend Debra Lynn and his own first name.[194] Prior to Debian's release, the Softlanding Linux System (SLS) had been the first Linux distribution compiled from various software packages, and was a popular basis for other distributions in 1993–1994.[195] The perceived poor maintenance and prevalence of bugs in SLS motivated Murdock to launch a new distribution.[196]

Debian 0.01, released on September 15, 1993, was the first of several internal releases.[197] Version 0.91 was virtually the first public release,[198] providing support through mailing lists hosted at Pixar.[199] The release included the Debian Linux Manifesto, outlining Murdock's view for the new operating system. In it he called for the creation of a distribution to be maintained openly, in the spirit of Linux and GNU.[200]

The Debian Project grew slowly at first and released the first 0.9x versions in 1994 and 1995. During this time it was sponsored by the Free Software Foundation's GNU Project.[192] Ian Murdock delegated the base system, the core packages of Debian, to Bruce Perens and Murdock focused on the management of the growing project.[198] The first ports to other, non-IA-32 architectures began in 1995, and Debian 1.1 was released in 1996. By that time and thanks to Ian Jackson, the dpkg package manager was already an essential part of Debian.[201]

In 1996, Bruce Perens assumed the project leadership. Perens was a controversial leader, regarded as authoritarian and strongly attached to Debian.[202] He drafted a social contract and edited suggestions from a month-long discussion on the Debian mailing lists into the Debian Social Contract and the Debian Free Software Guidelines. He initiated the creation of the legal umbrella organization, Software in the Public Interest.[169] He led the conversion of the project from a.out to ELF.[203] He created the BusyBox program to make it possible to run a Debian installer on a single floppy, and wrote a new installer.[204] Perens was responsible for many policy and design elements of Debian that persist to this day. By the time Debian 1.2 was released the project had grown to nearly two hundred volunteers.[203] Perens left the project in 1998.[205]


From 1999, the project leader was elected yearly.[118] Debian 2.0 introduced the second official port, m68k. The Advanced Packaging Tool was deployed with Debian 2.1 and during this time the first port to a non-Linux kernel, Debian GNU/Hurd, was started. The first Linux distributions based on Debian, namely Libranet, Corel Linux and Stormix's Storm Linux, were started in 1999.[169] The 2.2 release in 2000 was dedicated to Joel Klecker, a developer who died of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.[206]

In late 2000, the project made major changes to archive and release management, reorganizing software archive processes with new "package pools" and creating a testing distribution as an ongoing, relatively stable staging area for the next release. In the same year, developers began holding an annual conference called DebConf with talks and workshops for developers and technical users.[169]

In July 2002, the project released version 3.0, codenamed Woody, the first release to include cryptographic software, a free licensed KDE and internationalization.[207] During these last release cycles, the Debian Project drew considerable criticism from the free software community because of the long time between stable releases.[208]


Debian 4.0 Etch (2007)

The 3.1 Sarge release was made in June 2005. There were many major changes in this release, mostly due to the long time it took to freeze and release the distribution. This release updated 73% of the software and included over 9,000 new packages.[209] A new installer replaced the aging boot-floppies installer with a modular design. This allowed advanced installations (with RAID, XFS and LVM support) including hardware detection, making installations easier for novice users. The installation system boasted full internationalization support as the software was translated into almost forty languages. An installation manual and release notes were released in ten and fifteen different languages respectively. This release included the efforts of the Debian-Edu/Skolelinux, Debian-Med and Debian-Accessibility sub-projects which raised the number of packages that were educational, had a medical affiliation, and ones made for people with disabilities.[169]

In 2006, as a result of a much-publicized dispute, Mozilla software was rebranded in Debian, with Firefox becoming Iceweasel and Thunderbird becoming Icedove. The Mozilla Corporation stated that Debian may not use the Firefox trademark if it distributes Firefox with modifications which have not been approved by the Mozilla Corporation. Two prominent reasons that Debian modifies the Firefox software are to change the artwork and to provide security patches. Debian Free Software Guidelines consider Mozilla's artwork non-free. Debian provides long term support for older versions of Firefox in the stable release, where Mozilla preferred that old versions not be supported but has since included Legacy versions of programs. These software programs developed largely by the Mozilla Corporation were rebranded despite having only minor differences in the source code.[210]

Debian 4.0 (Etch) was released April 8, 2007. It included the x86-64 port but dropped support for m68k. The m68k port was, however, still available in the unstable distribution. There were approximately 18,200 binary packages maintained by more than 1,030 Debian developers.[169]

Debian 6.0 Squeeze (2011)

Debian 5.0 (Lenny) was released February 14, 2009. It included more than 25,000 software packages. Support was added for Marvell's Orion platform and for netbooks such as the Asus Eee PC, but support was dropped for 32-bit SPARC machines.[174] The release was dedicated to Thiemo Seufer, an active developer and member of the community who died in a car accident on December 26, 2008.[211] On September 5, 2010, the backports service became official, providing more recent versions of some software for the stable release.[62]

Debian continued to support new architectures and add new features with each release. Debian 6.0 (Squeeze) was released February 6, 2011, introducing Debian GNU/kFreeBSD as a technology preview.[23] Debian 7.0 (Wheezy) was released May 4, 2013, featuring multiarch support.[182] At present, Debian is still in development, working on the unstable distribution.[212]

Throughout Debian's lifetime, both the Debian distribution and their website have won various awards from different organizations,[213] including Server Distribution of the Year 2011,[214] The best Linux distro of 2011,[215] and a Best of the Net award for October 1998.[216]

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