What’s the Difference between Ubuntu and Debian?

difference ubuntu debian

Linux may be an obscure world for uninitiated
And even for those who have a minimum knowledge, there are so many Linux distributions available that this is not easy to understand everything
Today, we’ll talk about two of them, probably the most known: Ubuntu and Debian

What’s the difference between Ubuntu and Debian?
There are two Linux distributions, that’s to say two different sets of packages
Debian is a stable distribution, with a long development cycle, and so often without the latest software versions
Ubuntu come later to improve this, based on Debian but with more up-to-date packages available

Here is the main difference between these two distributions from the user’s point of view, but there are many more
The rest of this article will provide you all the necessary information to understand all of this

Linux distribution

Before going further with the presentation of each distribution (Debian and Ubuntu), I think it’s important to do a quick reminder about what is exactly a Linux distribution

Firstly, the name Linux is mainly an operating system kernel
That’s to say the system core, but alone it’s useless
So, it’s generally comes with a set of drivers, packages and software that becomes a distribution, an entire operating system

Linux is not managed by a company, the source code is open, anyone can create its Linux distribution with the useful software to target a specific type of people
Currently, there are hundreds of Linux distributions
Debian and Ubuntu are two, and that’s particularly what we will look at today

Most Linux distributions are open, and distributed freely to install them on your computer or server

Debian

History

The very first Debian version was released in 1993
The name comes from the creator (Ian Murdock) and the first name of his wife (Debra)

At the time of writing, 13 major versions have been released since 1993
The Debian versions names are inspired by the Toy Story cartoon, with one character for each version

  • 1997: Bo (1.3)
  • 1998: Hamm (2)
  • 1999: Slink (2.1)
  • 2000: Potato (2.2)
  • 2002: Woody (3)
  • 2005: Sarge (3.1)
  • 2007: Etch (4)
  • 2009: Lenny (5)
  • 2011: Squeeze (6)
  • 2013: Wheezy (7)
  • 2015: Jessie (8)
  • 2017: Stretch (9)
  • 2019: Buster (10)

They now have a stable rhythm with one new major version every two years
And there are also minor updates more frequently
The Buster version is new, but for Stretch we had at least 9.3, 9.4 and 9.5 in 2018

Organization

Debian works with an interesting organization
It’s not run by a company, it’s a community and democratic organization

Debian is a group of independent developers, working together to improve the distribution
The Debian ADN is to provide only open-source software

The organization votes to elect its project and modules managers
Hundreds of developers work on the different parts of the distribution

Development cycles

As I already said in introduction, the Debian development cycle is pretty slow, with only one major update every two years
Indeed, Debian includes only stable software in its repositories
This ensures to keep an excellent global stability for the distribution, but can also imply outdated software

Please note that Debian exists in three versions (or branches) which are:

  • Stable: the main version, without modification, on which you’ll only get new security updates
  • Testing: the next stable version, including a few software updates, if they are considered stable enough
  • Unstable (or sid): a version with all the available updates included, and daily updates

So by knowing that, you can make your choice between new packages en stability (while staying on Debian)

Usage

In use, Debian is a distribution like many others
It’s available in a desktop version, with a graphical interface (Gnome by default), or without for servers (better for performances)

With its big stability, Debian is generally used in production environment, and mainly installed on all kind of servers (web, cloud, file shares, etc.)

Debian is one of the most used distribution on the market
I didn’t find any statistic about the actual usage, but the Debian website is the fourth most viewed website after Ubuntu, Linux Mint and RedHat (source: Alexa)

Ubuntu

Let’s move now to Ubuntu, the second Linux distribution of this post

History

Ubuntu is a more recent distribution in the Linux history
The first version was released in 2004

The goal of the Ubuntu creation was to make Linux easier to use for beginners
Ubuntu is based on the unstable branch of Debian
I’ll show you in the following what it allows them

Organization

Ubuntu was created by Mark Shuttleworth, a multi-millionaire South African, former developer for the Debian project
He created the Canonical company to lead the Ubuntu project, and it’s still the same operating mode today

Each new Ubuntu version has an associated code and number (for example: Bionic Beaver 18.04)
Numbers represents the year (2018) and the month of the release (April)
Generally, the code name comes from an animal and an adjective
The code first letters are followed in a chronological order

Here are the last Ubuntu versions to make it clearer:

  • 19.10: Eoan Ermine
  • 19.04: Disco Dingo
  • 18.10: Cosmic Cuttlefish
  • 18.04: Bionic Beaver
  • etc.

Development cycles

Ubuntu prefers a shorter development cycle, with a new major version every 6 months

Thanks to this, they can offer the latest versions of drivers and software, but it may also cause instability issues sometimes

Every two years, a new long-term support version (LTS) is released
The goal is to provide us with more stable version, mostly for companies

Usage

Currently, Ubuntu is the most used Linux distribution in the world, mainly on personal computers
But they also release servers versions, without graphical interface

Ubuntu will often be preferred on fresh new computers because its drivers are frequently updated, ensuring better compatibility

Differences between Debian and Ubuntu

Organization

Debian is run by a collaborative group, with worldwide developers
This group use elections and elected managers to give the current goals

Ubuntu is a product of a company, so it works like many other software companies. The company leaders decide what are the new features they want to add.

Updates

On Ubuntu, you’ll get more up-to-date software, allowing you to use new apps easily. You’ll always get the latest news available

On Debian, you need to be patient as they can be up to 2 years late
You’ll have more stable applications, but not the latest version

Stability

So Debian is the most stable distribution, thanks to its operating mode
It contains only tested packages, passed by 2 or 3 other test distributions before being added in the stable version. The number of errors is therefore very limited

On Ubuntu, you may have a few bugs sometimes, depending on the apps you use. Generally it’s working pretty well, but when they release an update you may encounter difficulties, that you’ll not get on Debian

Related questions

How to make your choice between Debian and Ubuntu? As you probably already understand while reading this post, it all depends on your computer usage. For a server or on a company computer, I always recommend choosing Debian. If it’s for your home computer, you can absolutely try Ubuntu, but don’t forget to back up your data regularly, especially before installing a major update

Conclusion

That’s it, you now know everything you need to understand the differences between Debian and Ubuntu

Personally I use both and I pretty happy with it
I use Debian on all my servers, it’s perfect for web server as it’s not mandatory to have the latest software versions
And I already use Ubuntu on my desktop without major issues. As I wrote previously, major updates can be a real challenge, but for a home usage it’s ok

Try them both and make your choice? 🙂

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