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An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt 3.

written by: MD Weems•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/26/2008
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In the third part of this series on the Debian distribution of the Linux operating system, we will take you through the different development procedures that Debian uses and explain how Debian's releases are structured.

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    Debian's Development Procedures

    So, you now know the basics of Debian, and you know the history of the Linux based program as well, if you have read the first two parts of this in-depth look at the program. This next part will take you through the development procedures so that you will have a better understanding of how the newest releases are developed by the Debian creators.

    There are two different ways that the software packages that are currently in development are uploaded: either to the project branch that is named unstable (or sid) or through the experimental branch. These software packages that are uploaded to sid are usually versions that are stable enough to be released, but they have added Debian-specific packages or another type of modification that was placed into the program by the Debian developers. Since these additions to the Debian software packages are new and untested, they have to be placed in one of these two areas so that the testers can try them out. Any software that is not ready to hit the unstable branch yet is normally placed in the experimental side.

    When the software package has been in the unstable stage for a specific length of time determined by the urgency of the changes, it is then automatically placed into the testing branch. The switch over to testing only happens if there are no critical bugs that are reported and if the other software in the package is functioning and ready to be included with it for testing.

    Now, the updates to the Debian software packages don't contain any new features in between the official releases. So, many people choose to try out the testing and unstable branches to see what newer packages are out. But, these packages are usually a lot less stable than the ones in the releases, and sometimes they don't get the right security updates that they need. There are several upgrades that go to working unstable packages that can reek some major havoc and destroy software functions. To help remedy this situation, in September of 2005, the testing branches began to provide security testing as well on these newer packages. Once the packages have been tested and have met all of their set goals, they are then released as the next stable release.

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    How Debian Releases Updates

    Debian uses a color coding system for their releases to help users see which version is the latest one. Here is the color system that they currently use:

    • Red = Old release and is no longer supported
    • Yellow = Old release but is still supported
    • Green = Current release
    • Blue = The next future release

    When a new version is released, the previous one is then labeled as “oldstable”. Depending on where it falls in the list, such as the previous release or a release that was two or three versions ago, the system may or may not still be supported.

    The security team at Debian will release updates for the latest major stable release and for the previous stable release for at least one year to ensure that user's software is safe. For this reason, Debian strongly recommends that users run a system that will receive the regular updates so they always have the best security software, and this includes the testing versions.

    Fun Fact: Want to know where the developers came up with the codenames? Well, they come from the Pixar film “Toy Story”. For example, the unstable development distribution is nicknamed “Sid” for the unstable kid next-door who always destroyed the toys that he had. Woody was one of the first codenames and comes from the cowboy doll who is one of the main characters, then there was Sarge (a green Army man), Etch (the etch-a-sketch), and Lenny (the piggy bank).

An In-Depth Review of Debian

For those Linux users who aren't familiar with Debian, here is your BrightHub in-depth review to help you completely understand the system.
  1. An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt 1.
  2. An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt 2.
  3. An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt 3.
  4. An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt. 4
  5. An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt 5.
  6. An In-Depth Review of Debian – Pt 6.