Previous Next Table of Contents

2. Definitions and Overview

2.1 What is Debian GNU/Linux?

Debian GNU/Linux is a particular distribution of the Linux operating system, and numerous packages that run on it. In principle, users could obtain the Linux kernel via the Internet or from elsewhere, and compile it themselves. They could then obtain source code for many applications in the same way, compile the programs, then install them into their systems. For complicated programs, this process can be not only time-consuming but error-prone. To avoid it, users often choose to obtain the operating system and the application packages from one of the Linux distributors. What distinguishes the various Linux distributors are the software, protocols, and practices they use for packaging, installing, and tracking applications packages on users' systems, combined with installation and maintenance tools, documentation, and other services.

Debian GNU/Linux is the result of a volunteer effort to create a free, high-quality Unix-compatible operating system, complete with a suite of applications. The idea of a free Unix-like system originates from the GNU project, and many of the applications that make Debian GNU/Linux so useful were developed by the GNU project.

Debian was created by Ian Murdock in 1993, initially under the sponsorship of the Free Software Foundation's GNU project. Today, Debian's developers think of it as a direct descendent of the GNU project.

Debian GNU/Linux is

Though Debian itself is free software, it is a base upon which value-added Linux distributions can be built. By providing a reliable, full-featured base system, Debian provides Linux users with increased compatibility, and allows Linux distribution creators to eliminate duplication-of-effort and focus on the things that make their distribution special.

2.2 OK, now I know what Debian is...what is Linux!?

In short, Linux is the kernel of a Unix-like operating system. It was originally designed for 386/486/Pentium PCs; now, ports to other systems, including multi-processor systems, are under development. Linux is written by Linus Torvalds and many computer scientists around the world.

Besides its kernel, a "Linux" system usually has:

The combination of the Linux kernel, the filesystem, the GNU and FSF utilities, and the other utilities are designed to achieve compliance with the POSIX (IEEE 1003.1) standard; see *source code compatibility.

For more information about Linux, see Michael K. Johnson's *INFO-SHEET and *META-FAQ.

2.3 What is the difference between Debian and other Linux distributions?

Three key features distinguish Debian from other Linux distributions:

The Debian package maintenance system:

The entire system, or any individual component of it, can be upgraded in place without reformatting, without losing custom configuration files, and (in most cases) without rebooting the system. Most Linux distributions available today have some kind of package maintenance system; the Debian package maintenance system is unique and particularly robust.

Open development:

Whereas other Linux distributions are developed by individuals, small, closed groups, or commercial vendors, Debian is the only Linux distribution that is being developed cooperatively by many individuals through the Internet, in the same spirit as Linux and other free software. More than 120 volunteer package maintainers are working on over 700 packages and improving Debian GNU/Linux. The Debian developers contribute to the project not by writing new applications (in most cases), but by packaging existing software according to the standards of the project, by communicating bug reports to upstream developers, and by providing user support. See also additional information on how to become a contributor.

The Bug Tracking System:

The geographical dispersion of the Debian developers required sophisticated tools and quick communication of bugs and bug-fixes to accelerate the development of the system. Users are encouraged to send bugs in a formal style, which are quickly accessible by WWW archives or via e-mail. See additional information in this FAQ on the management of the Bug Log.

2.4 How does the Debian project fit in or compare with the Free Software Foundation's GNU project?

The Debian system builds on the ideals of free software first championed by the Free Software Foundation *http://www.gnu.ai.mit.edu/ and in particular by Richard Stallman. FSF's powerful system development tools, utilities, and applications are also a key part of the Debian system.

The Debian Project is a separate entity from the FSF, however we communicate regularly and cooperate on various projects. The FSF explicitly requested that we call our system "Debian GNU/Linux", and we are happy to comply with that request.

The FSF's long-standing objective is to develop a new operating system called GNU based on HURD ( *http://www.gnu.ai.mit.edu/software/hurd/hurd.html),

2.5 How does one pronounce Debian and what does this word mean?

The project name is pronounced Deb'-ian, with a short e, and emphasis on the first syllable. This word is a contraction of the names of Debra and Ian Murdock, who founded the project. (Dictionaries seem to offer some ambiguity in the pronunciation of Ian (!), but Ian prefers ee'-an.)


Previous Next Table of Contents