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 Debian team maintains a time based stable version release and the software repository is somewhat outdated.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 http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ stretch main contrib non-free deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ testing main contrib non-free
Debian unstable repositary
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ sid main contrib non-free deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ unstable main contrib non-free
Siduction repository URLs
deb http://packages.siduction.org/base unstable main deb http://packages.siduction.org/extra unstable main deb http://packages.siduction.org/user unstable main contrib non-free deb http://packages.siduction.org/fixes unstable main contrib non-free deb http://packages.siduction.org/kdenext unstable main deb http://packages.siduction.org/lxqt unstable main deb http://packages.siduction.org/xfcenext unstable main
Just one thing before updating the repository, add Siduction package archive GPG key
apt-key adv --keyserver pgpkeys.mit.edu --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
sudo service xdm stop
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.