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.

Debian differs from other Linux distributions in many ways, a few of which are radical departures from the ways distributions of the past were assembled. These differences have attracted developers from around the world to work together toward the common goal of making Debian the best Linux distribution available. Indeed, one of the differences that has attracted them is the fact that they can work together.

Open Development

The most unique aspect of Debian development as compared to other Linux distributions is the fact that it has been and continues to be developed openly by a group of volunteers, and that it is open to other volunteers who wish to join the effort. Debian is not developed by one individual or a small, closed group. Instead, it follows in the tradition of the Linux kernel; it is developed by those who use it, and this makes for a higher quality, more dynamic, and truly modular system.

Does this sound to you like an invitation to chaos? Originally, many people claimed that the open development of the Linux kernel was an invitation to chaos and disaster, yet Linux is not a disaster. Neither is Debian, for a good reason.

Modularity Of Debian Components

As the Debian developers create their pieces, they follow strict guidelines for constructing and maintaining these pieces, called packages. Because these guidelines are followed, each package can be dropped into the system independently without damaging or interfering with programs from other packages. By working with a set of consistent rules and with identical tools, the volunteers can and do create a truly modular system.

Modularity is extremely important to such a large collection of software as a distribution. New releases of the software that comprise the distribution are constantly being made, and it is the task of the distribution maintainer (or maintainers, in the case of Debian) to keep this software well integrated with the rest of the system and up to date. It is very difficult for the maintainer to do this successfully with dozens of megabytes of software, especially when the software is not written specifically for the system. When one person or small group attempts to do this, maintenance of the distribution soon becomes a nightmare.

A distribution with many different people responsible for the maintenance of its packages does not suffer from this overwhelming task; different people are able to devote more attention to the packages they maintain than would otherwise be possible, and it is possible for experts in a particular area to take responsibility for the packages involving their area of expertise. The result is a better, more timely set of packages, complete with up-to-date components, full documentation and solid examples. A collection of such independent but highly cooperative packages makes a high quality, consistent, modular distribution, which is exactly what Debian is.

FSSTND Compliance

Debian was the first Linux system to adopt, support and participate in the construction of the Linux Filesystem Standard (FSSTND); since that time, Debian has been joined by Linux/PRO, MCC, Slackware, TAMU, and other major distributions. FSSTND compliance means full compatibility with the distributions that follow it, easy integration of third-party packages and easy installation of the system into a network of FSSTND-compliant Linux machines.

Ease Of Installation And Configuration

Debian was designed to be simple enough for the novice to install and configure, yet not so simple-minded as to frustrate the advanced user. The installation process is as modular as the system itself; the base system, which requires less than 7MB of disk space, can be installed in less than ten minutes. All packages are installed independently of the base system with the Debian package maintenance utility, dpkg.

Intelligent And Powerful Package Maintenance

A new package maintenance system called dpkg has been developed specifically for the Debian system. With dpkg, the administrator of a Debian system can easily install, remove, upgrade and obtain information about both installed and not-yet-installed packages.

dpkg is being written to easily and extensibly support multiple package formats, and it is planned to eventually support (at least) Slackware and System V packages.

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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! :-)

wow..

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.

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