Overview Of The Debian GNU/Linux System

In previous columns Ian introduced the Debian system, explained the circumstances that led to its creation and detailed the motivations that keep the project alive. This month's column will tell the reader how and where to get Debian and what it has to offer.
Built-In System Upgradability

Since the beginning of the project, Debian has been designed with up-gradability in mind. Every component of the system can be easily upgraded with just a few simple tools. Packages installed with dpkg can be easily upgraded. All one needs to do is install any upgrade package normally, just as if installing it for the first time, and dpkg will automatically detect that an older version of the package is installed on the system and ask for confirmation that it should be upgraded. dpkg takes care of the rest, asking whether to replace configuration files, and notifying the user in the unlikely event that any manual steps need to be taken after the upgrade has been completed.

Similarly, the base system is upgradable, albeit by a slightly different method. Periodically, the Debian Linux Association will release upgrade packages to the latest release of the base system. Usually this will involve executing a script or a similar task. The upgrade process will always be simple and will usually be fully-automated.

The key point to make about upgradability in Debian is that the user need only install the base system once. Upgrade packages to the base system will be provided when a new version of the distribution is released, and packages in dpkg format will always be upgradable. In summary, the entire system will be upgradable with an absolute minimum amount of work on the user's part.


The current release of Debian may be found at the Internet FTP site sunsite.unc.edu in /pub/Linux/ distributions/debian. It is also available at a number of public “mirror” sites around the world; for details on how to obtain a complete and current list of mirror sites, please see below.

We have several e-mail lists set up for developers and the general public to use. Bruce Perens (bruce@pixar.com) is the manager of the lists and the moderator of debian-announce.

The first two lists are open admission. To join them, send mail to LISTSERV@pixar.com with the following information in the body of the message:

subscribe debian-announce YOUR-NAME-HERE
subscribe debian-user YOUR-NAME-HERE

Put your name where it says YOUR-NAME-HERE!

If you are actively developing software for the Debian distribution, you should subscribe to debian-devel. Send mail to bruce@pixar.com with a sentence explaining what software you are developing and a request to be added to the list.

For the latest Debian announcements and information, Debian users have one of three options:

  • Join the debian-announce mailing list. Please note that you do not necessarily have to be on the Internet to do this; many of the popular on-line services (CompuServe, for example) have Internet mail gateways. You may also join any of the other mailing lists from such an on-line service, but as many on-line services surcharge incoming and outgoing mail to the Internet you may wish to think twice before doing so. debian-announce is a moderated mailing list; the others are not and can be quite active.

  • Download the files in /pub/Linux/distributions/ debian/info on sunsite.unc.edu. These files contain detailed information about Debian and its motivations, the Debian Linux Association, where Debian can be obtained (FTP, BBS, etc.), where Debian and related materials can be ordered and so on.

  • Request the information from the Debian Linux Association. If you do not have access to the Internet or FTP, hardcopy of recent announcements mailed to debian-announce and the contents of /pub/Linux/ distributions/debian/info may be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

The Debian Linux AssociationStation 11P.O. Box 3121West Lafayette, IN47906 USA

By the time this article is published, the Debian system should be available on floppy diskette and CD-ROM from the Debian Linux Association and the Free Software Foundation. Please send mail to info@debian.org or the Debian Linux Association at the address above for the latest ordering information.

What is a Distribution?

Ian Murdock (imurdock@debian.org) is the founder and leader of the Debian project. He can be reached via c/o The Debian Linux Association at the address above.



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A simple thanks to you sir...

andrew's picture

What can I say? Debian is the best for me. I've been using Linux for about 10 months time and I started using Debian and get rooted on the feeling and taste of Freedom. Long Live F/OSS, Long Live Debian.

In Philippine Bisayan dialect: "Padayon sa pg-uswag Debian"

Thanks a lot!

zolix's picture

Hi All Debianers,

This article was very emotional for me! I met Debian in 1999, it was love at first sight! :-) I have tried other distros also, but always returned to my roots!

Long live Debian! :-)


zOrK's picture

wowww.. so many few years ago.. i want to do an a congratulations to you (iann), i'm think u're work really nice. see ya later.

great work

pEtEr's picture

Thank you, Ian and all Debianers! I am using Debian since 2004 and it's become my only OS.