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Debian Reference
Chapter 1 - Preface

This Debian Reference is intended to provide a broad overview of the Debian system as a post-installation user's guide. Its target reader is someone who is willing to read shell scripts. I expect the reader to have gained basic skills in Unix-like systems prior to reading this document.

I made a conscious decision not to explain everything in detail if it can be found on a manual page, an info page, or in a HOWTO document. Instead of full explanations, I have tried to give more directly practical information by providing exact command sequences in the main text or example scripts under examples/. You must understand the content of examples before issuing commands. Your system may require slightly different command sequences.

Much of the information included consists of reminders or pointers to the authoritative references listed in References, Section 15.1.

This document originated as a "quick reference" but it grew. Nevertheless, Keep It Short and Simple (KISS) is my guiding principle.

For help with emergency system maintenance, proceed to Debian survival commands, Section 6.3 immediately.

1.1 Official document

The latest official document is in the Debian archives with the package name debian-reference-en and is also available from http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/debian-reference/.

The latest development version is http://qref.sourceforge.net/Debian/. The project is hosted at http://qref.sourceforge.net/, where this document is available for download in plain text, HTML, PDF, SGML, and PostScript formats.

1.2 Document conventions

This Debian Reference provides information through short bash shell commands. Here are the conventions used:

     # command in root account
     $ command in user account
     ... description of action

These shell command examples use PS2=" ". See Bash – GNU standard interactive shell, Section 13.2.1 for more information on bash.

Reference to:

The following abbreviations are used:

Other abbreviations are defined in the text before they are used.

In this document only URL references are given for LDP documents. However, LDP documents have been packaged for Debian; when the packages are installed the documents are available in file:///usr/share/doc/HOWTO/.

See References, Section 15.1.

1.3 Example scripts

Example scripts which accompany this document in the debian-reference-en package are available in file:///usr/share/doc/Debian/reference/examples/. The initial "." in the filenames of hidden files is converted to underscore "_". An additional extension has been added to filenames when several alternatives are provided.

1.4 Basic setup

If the system is installed with the bare minimum of packages and you want to make the best use of this document then it is advisable to execute the following commands in order to install other packages containing useful documents:

     # aptitude install mc less ssh vim kernel-package \
                       manpages-dev doc-debian doc-linux-text \
                       debian-policy developers-reference maint-guide \
                       apt-howto harden-doc debian-reference \
                       libpam-doc glibc-doc samba-doc exim4-doc-html

1.5 Basics of the Debian distributions

Debian maintains three different distributions simultaneously. These are:

When packages in unstable have no release-critical (RC) bugs filed against them after the first week or so, they are automatically promoted to testing.

Debian distributions also have code names as described in Debian distribution codenames, Section 2.1.7. Before Sarge was released in June 2005, the three distributions were Woody (stable), Sarge (testing), and Sid (unstable). After Sarge was released the three distributions were, respectively, Sarge, Etch, and Sid. When Etch is released, the stable and unstable distributions will be Etch and Sid; a new testing distribution will then be created (initially as a copy of stable) and given a new code name.

Subscribe to the low-volume mailing list debian-devel-announce@lists.debian.org for important announcements about Debian. See The Debian archives, Section 2.1.

If you want to use versions of packages that are more current than the versions that were released with the distribution you are using, then you can either upgrade to a later distribution as described in Upgrading a distribution to stable, testing, or unstable, Chapter 5, or you can upgrade only selected packages. If the package can't be upgraded easily then you may want to backport it as described in Port a package to the stable system, Section 6.4.10.

Tracking the testing distribution can have the side effect of delaying the installation of packages containing security fixes. Such packages are uploaded to unstable and migrate to testing only after a delay.

If you mix distributions, e.g., testing with stable or unstable with stable, you will eventually pull in core packages such as libc6 from testing or unstable and there is no guarantee that these will not contain bugs. You have been warned.

Running the testing or unstable distribution increases your risk of hitting serious bugs. This risk can be managed by deploying a multibooting scheme with a more stable Debian distribution or by deploying the nice trick of using chroot as described in chroot, Section 8.6.35. The latter will enable running different Debian distributions simultaneously on different consoles.

After an explanation of the fundamentals of the Debian distribution in Debian fundamentals, Chapter 2, you will be given some basic information to help you live happily with the latest software, taking advantage of the testing and unstable distributions of Debian. The impatient should proceed immediately to Debian survival commands, Section 6.3. Happy upgrading!

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Debian Reference

CVS, Mon Jun 16 21:20:26 UTC 2008

Osamu Aoki osamu#at#debian.org
Authors, Section A.1