Using Debian as rolling release distribution

Debian stable versions are notable for their stability, security and performance. Debian team maintains a time based stable version release and the software repository is somewhat outdated.

So isn’t it possible to run some latest software with Debian ? And do we have to reinstall the system after each stable release ?

Yes ! it’s possible, we can use Debian testing or Debian unstable as a rolling release distro, efficiently and effectively. There is a proposal of true Debian rolling release distribution named Debian CUT , but it is currently not maintained actively.

Some Debian based distro like Aptosid, Siduction, Kali Linux 2.0 are already rolling release and maintained actively with a cutting edge software repository.

UPDATE: A comprehensive list of Debian based rolling release distributions.


 1. Which distribution should I choose ?

The two best advantages of a rolling release distribution is you don’t have to reinstall your system after a new release, though some distributions could be upgraded, but doing so usually leaves a mess behind.

Another advantage is it is not possible to test a latest software until the software is incorporated in the latest release, though there are Debian backports.

The choice of the operating system is system is up to you, but Debian testing is preferable over Aptosid or Siduction. Why not Debian unstable ? There is no direct installation media is available to install Debian unstable, but an existing testing or stable Debian system could be upgraded to Debian unstable.


 2. Edit apt repository

Lets do it, the first step is to edit the apt repository, add some testing, unstable or siduction repository URL in the /etc/apt/sources.list file. Use only Debian testing+unstable repository or Siduction repository only, don’t mix up them if you are not confident enough to fix broken packages.

Debian testing repository

deb stretch main contrib non-free

deb testing main contrib non-free

Debian unstable repositary

deb sid main contrib non-free

deb unstable main contrib non-free

Siduction repository URLs

deb unstable main

deb unstable main

deb unstable main contrib non-free

deb unstable main contrib non-free

deb unstable main

deb unstable main

deb unstable main

Just one thing before updating the repository, add Siduction package archive GPG key

apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-key 15CBD88045C45076 

Now update it

 sudo apt-get update 


3. Install softwares and upgrade the system

Now the apt repository have enough cutting edge software, install any software you like.

The system upgrade is recommended at runlevel 3, simply without any GUI program running. To do so, logout from the system, press Alt + Ctrl + F2 to open up a virtual tty, then login with your username and password. If you are using a graphical login manager then stop it,

 sudo service sddm stop 


 sudo service gdm stop 

or maybe

 sudo service xdm stop 

Then run

 sudo apt-get dist-upgrade 

to upgrade the system. This command will need few hundred megabytes of internet or more depending on your system to download the updated Packages. Finally reboot the system after the upgrade is complete.


4. Skipping some package upgarde

If you think the package X (like the kernel, firefox etc.) don’t need to be upgraded, then you can skip them selectively, this could be done by pinning those packages in apt configuration. You may want to read the detailed guide of apt pinning for more information.


5. System stability and performance

I’m using Debian in such rolling release fashion for last 8-9 months, I could not find any single issue with kernel, bootloader and command line utilities. Some packages may be broken or unavailable, but it’s fine.

Now about system performance, which is Debian’s specialty.  My laptop boots to a tty login console (no display manager) under 19 seconds from a old low performance 40 GB hard drive. It also starts LXQt desktop with Kwin window manager under 7 seconds.

I also tested various desktop environments, KDE 5, LXQt, XFCE and Enlightenment 17.

  • Stability of KDE is pathetic, many application keeps crashing frequently, most of them are plasma-shell related. But kwin is stable enough, rarely faced some OpenGL related issue due to bad configuration.
  • LXQt is surprisingly stable, never a single application crashed or misbehaved, lightweight and very responsive user interface. LXQt is one of the most stable desktop environments with a nice Qt based UI.
  • XFCE is also very stable, never a single XFCE related application crashed. XFCE is also highly customizable.
  • Enlightenment 17 is running fine, but not as responsive as LXQt or XFCE, some Enlightenment specific application crashed sometimes.


So thats’s it, it is fairly easy to use Debian as a rolling release distro. Just be ready for troubleshooting some package related issue and the rest will be fine. Though this setup is not recommended for servers and a productive system, where stability and security are the main priority.

Please share your experience here, if you have any suggestion or question just leave a comment. Also don’t forget to share this article with your friends.

5 Responses

  1. Miguipda says:


    after having suffered with the first Linux installation where we have to compile some drivers it is now more accessible for everyone to use a linux distribution.

    As sai after having tried Suse (then OpenSuse), Mandrake, Ubuntu, KUbuntu, Slax, Porteus, XUbuntu, LinuxMint, Voyager (Ubuntu), Tails, LUbuntu, Slitaz, HandyLinux, Xebian and finally coming back to the source I realize that the target stay :
    1) having a stable distribution (no crash or programs crash) but with the easiest way to keep it update/upgrade (some distributions need to be reinstall in place of update/upgrade due to dependencies stability trhough versions and then you loose a dayt to install the new one and remember which programs to reinstall) ; for this reason Porteus and Slax was great – extracting the ISO on a bootable partition then copy paste the programs packages and in 15 to 20 min you get back an installed system (the only one problem is for some programs you need (forget it))
    2) having a fast loading and responsive system (Porteus and Debian – toram system at boot parameter – or even the automatic toram of the Slitaz distribution keep those three distribution as the only one that may give a spontaneously responsive system)
    3) having a system that respect your need (writing chinese, using specific identity card reader (for belgian users), others).

    As we have too much robber here I also though to use a LiveUSB distribution. But there (by respecting the needed programs) there is a persistent problem. All you install as programs or customize it will be lost.

    I thing I will then just have to do now :
    – having a minimalist Debian installed system to be able to use some needed programs (because they disapear on a LiveUSB)
    – use all other desired distribution (Tails, Slitaz, HandyLinux, perhaps Xebian) following the Multiboot PXE Linux Distribution explained here in this FIXMYNIX website.

    Thank you for your informations given here and I hope you will continue to give us some perfect ideas 😉

    Have a nice day,

    Miguipda 😉

    P.S. : have a search to your text here before because you wrote “bu” in place of “but” and further you wrote “abut” in place of “about”.

    • Arnab says:

      Again a great comment, thank you very much.

      As of Slax, I’m using it too as my Live USB distro, it’s simply great.

      I also spent 2 days (about 6-7 hour) to write a working Slax pxelinux configuration, the kernel and initramfs are loading fine, but stuck while loading the Slax squashfs modules. Bad luck !

      Again thanks for spotting the mistakes. 🙂 I appreciate your help, please stay in touch.

  2. Miguipda says:

    The use of LiveUSB was just a need to use it as operating system allowing then to use the computer harddrive as encrypted one (with the well known LUKS encryption system).
    Then if the computer is stolen they can not use it and more important they can not access personal data.

    But as said all light (functional and toram) LiveUSB I tested since three week does not really keep install programs ad customization. Somes could keep “persistent” only by using a second partition to locally save data but not installed packages (by example : belgian identity card reader and writing in chinese with iBus system).
    Tails already integrated iBus and could then allow to write chinese. But can not keep belgian identity card progam even if they pretent to allow persistence.
    HandyLinux also integrate TeamViewer needed program and also Skype. But not iBus and belgian eId.

    I still need to test what I saw some days ago talking about installing Debian as LiveUSB with a second partition in ext2 named live-rw and at boot press Esc to boot with the personal boot parameter ; live persistent

    I will then see if it keep installed programs and customization.

    See soon.

  3. Irvin says:

    I currently using jessie but want a rolling release. Should I use testing and unstable repositories in my sources.list or just choose either testing or unstable?


    • Arnab says:

      I did the same thing few months back, used testing (stretch) repos in sources.list of Debian jessie, and upgraded the whole system with apt-get dist-upgrade, till now it’s working fine.
      But never used unstable repos, only due to more frequent package updates.
      Thanks for feedback,, 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *