Tutorials

Installing and Maintaining Debian Unstable

Updated on 2021-06-27

Contents


1 – Introduction


Debian Unstable, also known as Debian Sid (Sid being the Toy Story character who likes to destroy toys), is part of the development process for Debian Stable. Packages typically flow in the following order during the Debian Stable development process:

  • Experimental
  • Unstable
  • Testing
  • Stable

Approximately every two years, development is frozen and eventually Debian Testing becomes the next Debian Stable release.

While the primary purpose of Debian Unstable is for the development of the next Debian Stable release, it can also be used as a daily operating system. Used as a daily operating system, Debian Unstable is considered to be a rolling release. In other words, unless the installation breaks, you should never have to install it again. However, you need to know quite a bit about maintaining Debian Unstable as it is prone to breaking.

My first encounter with Debian Unstable was when a user who went by the username machinebacon (real name Julius Hader) in the CrunchBang Linux forums put together a tutorial on running CrunchBang Linux using Debian Unstable. I was intrigued with running CrunchBang Linux using Debian Unstable because Debian Unstable had newer packages, or as they used to say in the CrunchBang Linux forums, new shiny stuff.

In this tutorial, I’m going to detail how to install Debian Unstable and I will also provide tips on maintaining Debian Unstable.

2 – Things to Consider Before Deciding to Use Debian Unstable


Debian Unstable is not difficult to use and maintain once you become proficient with both activities. However, you should have some Linux experience, particularly experience with using Debian Stable, before deciding to use Debian Unstable. This consideration is particularly applicable to new Linux users.

Security updates for packages in the Debian Unstable repositories are not provided by the Debian Security Team. Any security patches are acquired from the package maintainer. Therefore, it’s possible to obtain packages under Debian Unstable that have security issues.

By its very nature, Debian Unstable is prone to breakage. It is advisable not to perform a system upgrade if you need to use Debian Unstable to get something important done the same day. However, this consideration is not as important once you become proficient at maintaining and troubleshooting package installation and/or package upgrade issues under Debian Unstable.

The result of following this tutorial is a barebones system; i.e. you will not have a desktop environment or any applications other than a command line editor. If you’re a fan of the Openbox window manager and the Tint2 panel, reference this post to setup a usable system. Otherwise, you’ll have to know how to install your preferred desktop environment and applications to create a usable system or you could opt to install the Siduction Linux distribution.

Siduction is based on Debian Unstable, with a customized kernel, scripts, tools, and documentation available in the Siduction repository. Siduction is currently available with the following desktop environments: Cinnamon, KDE, XFCE, LXDE, and Gnome. Additionally, the development team also offers an installable version with no GUI called NoX (no X Window System) and an Xorg (X Windown System) version, which I assume is very similar to a Debian minimal system.

If you opt to install Siduction, insure that apt-listbugs is installed. Everything in section 4, covering system upgrades, of this tutorial will also work under Siduction since it is based on Debian Unstable.

3 – Debian Unstable Installation


The Debian recommended method of creating a Debian Unstable installation is to use a current Debian Stable installer to create a minimal system; i.e. no desktop, no programs. I’m not going to cover the installation of Debian Stable in this tutorial. Feel free to checkout my tutorial on installing a Debian Stable minimal system using the network installation method. This tutorial assumes you have already installed a minimal Debian Stable system.

To upgrade your Debian Stable minimal system to Debian Unstable, you will do two things. First, you need to change the applicable apt sources file. In my tutorial on installing a Debian Stable minimal system using the network installation method, I suggested creating a file named debian.list under the /etc/apt/sources.list.d folder as a replacement for /etc/apt/sources.list. Using nano, enter the following command:

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

– or –

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list.d/debian.list

Change whatever is in the existing file to read as follows and then save (CTRL-X) your changes:

deb [repository address] unstable main contrib non-free
# deb-src [repository address] unstable main contrib non-free

Now upgrade your system to Debian Unstable using the following commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade

That’s it! You now have a Debian Unstable minimal system. However, there are two programs that I recommend installing in addition to whatever other programs you plan to install; apt-listbugs and apt-listchanges. apt-listchanges should be installed by default. To install apt-listbugs:

sudo apt install apt-listbugs

apt-listbugs will check for bug reports for any packages about to be installed or upgraded, providing you the opportunity not to install or upgrade the package if you deem the bug to be applicable and severe enough. I will cover more about making that determination later in this tutorial, as well as how to prevent an unwanted upgrade.

apt-listchanges will notify you of important changes to an upgraded package when applicable.

3.01 – Debian Unstable Installation – Disable Automatic Removal of Old Kernels


On 01/08/2021, the upgrade to apt version 2.1.16 introduced new functionality to automatically remove old kernels. However, the apt version in the current Debian Stable release (Buster) is at version 1.8.2.2, so the following is not currently documented in my tutorial on installing a Debian Stable minimal system. I recommend disabling the automatic removal of old kernels as follows:

sudo nano /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/01autoremove

  1. Locate the line VersionedKernelPackages.
  2. Place a hashtag (#) in front of “linux-.*”;.
  3. Save your changes; CTRL-X.

The above tip is courtesy of a forum member who goes by the username devil on the Siduction forums.

Why do I recommend disabling the removal of old kernels? Because a newer kernel has the potential of causing issues with your computer, especially if it is an older computer.

4 – System Upgrades


Debian Unstable receives many new packages on a daily basis. If you wait a week or longer to perform a system upgrade, you can encounter situations where there are 100 or more packages that are upgraded, which is quite different from Debian Stable. You may also encounter instances where new packages get installed and installed packages get removed. System upgrades in Debian Unstable are mainly performed in one of two ways:

sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade

– or –

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

apt full-upgrade can potentially involve the undesirable removal of packages. The removal of packages isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes a newer package has been created or sometimes the package is no longer needed. Sometimes though, you may encounter large upgrade transitions or you may have accessed a repository that hasn’t received all of the necessary package upgrades. A red flag should be raised in your mind though when you see desirable packages that will be removed or are flagged as no longer required; e.g. libc6 or main apps like LibreOffice, GIMP, File Roller, etc.

apt upgrade will not involve the undesirable removal of packages. apt upgrade is a safer option to use when encountering situations as depicted in the last sentence of the previous paragraph about apt full-upgrade. However, sometimes just holding a package will allow you to safely perform an apt full-upgrade without the undesirable removal of a package(s).

Debian Unstable should be updated on a regular basis. Waiting months to upgrade a Debian Unstable installation is not a recommended practice. One might ask, “What is a regular basis?” You should aim to upgrade Debian Unstable on a weekly basis. I have updated Debian Unstable as frequently as every other day, but doing so increases the risk of running into problematic full-upgrades. However, I have found that updating every other day results in a lot fewer package upgrades, which in my opinion seems easier to manage.

Because of the rolling nature of Debian Unstable and the fact that package upgrades can result in breakage or a broken system, I highly recommend logging your package activity (installs, removals, upgrades) using your favored note taking application. Logging your package activity can aid you in tracking down the cause of system issues, particularly after system upgrades.

4.01 – System Upgrades – Normal Full-Upgrade


Following is an example of a normal apt full-upgrade; i.e. no undesirable packages flagged as no longer required, no packages to be removed, and no bug reports.

The following packages will be upgraded:
  base-files chromium chromium-common chromium-sandbox curl dkms dnsmasq-base
  gdisk gimp gimp-data gir1.2-gstreamer-1.0 ipp-usb krb5-locales libcurl3-gnutls
  libcurl3-gnutls:i386 libcurl4 libcurl4:i386 libgimp2.0 libgoa-1.0-0b
  libgoa-1.0-common libgssapi-krb5-2 libgssapi-krb5-2:i386 libgstreamer1.0-0
  libgstreamer1.0-0:i386 libhogweed6 libhogweed6:i386 libk5crypto3
  libk5crypto3:i386 libkrb5-3 libkrb5-3:i386 libkrb5support0 libkrb5support0:i386
  libnettle8 libnettle8:i386 libnss-systemd libpam-systemd libprocps8
  libpython3-stdlib libsystemd0 libsystemd0:i386 libudev1 libudev1:i386
  linux-compiler-gcc-10-x86 linux-kbuild-5.10 linux-libc-dev procps python3
  python3-minimal python3-pikepdf smart-notifier systemd systemd-sysv udev unrar
  usb.ids
55 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 108 MB of archives.
After this operation, 55.3 kB of additional disk space will be used.

In this example, you can feel fairly confident that an apt full-upgrade will be trouble-free, although there is no guarantee. Just because there hasn’t been a bug report filed for any of the packages being upgraded doesn’t mean that you will not encounter a bug.

4.02 – System Upgrades – Packages Flagged as No Longer Required (Autoremovals)


You will sometimes encounter occasions where packages are flagged as no longer required.

The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
  libappindicator3-1 libindicator3-7
Use ‘sudo apt autoremove’ to remove them.
The following packages will be upgraded:
  bash brave-browser broadcom-sta-dkms dh-strip-nondeterminism exim4-base
  exim4-config exim4-daemon-light firefox gir1.2-gnomedesktop-3.0 gir1.2-gtk-3.0
  gir1.2-javascriptcoregtk-4.0 gir1.2-webkit2-4.0 gnome-desktop3-data graphviz
  gtk-update-icon-cache libcdt5 libcgraph6 libdjvulibre-text libdjvulibre21
  libfile-stripnondeterminism-perl libgcrypt20 libgcrypt20:i386
  libgnome-desktop-3-19 libgoa-1.0-0b libgoa-1.0-common libgtk-3-0 libgtk-3-bin
  libgtk-3-common libgvc6 libgvpr2 libjavascriptcoregtk-4.0-18 libkworkspace5-5
  liblab-gamut1 liblz4-1 liblz4-1:i386 libpathplan4 libreadline8 libsmbclient
  libtype-tiny-perl libwbclient0 libwebkit2gtk-4.0-37 libwine-development libxml2
  libxml2:i386 python3-six python3-urllib3 readline-common samba-libs
  vivaldi-stable zenity zenity-common
51 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 342 MB of archives.
After this operation, 2,111 kB of additional disk space will be used.

In many instances, it is okay to go ahead and remove packages flagged as no longer required. As stated in the proposed actions, you can remove packages that are no longer required using the following command:

sudo apt autoremove

I generally remove packages flagged as no longer required after upgrading the system.

You may encounter instances where packages are flagged as no longer required when they shouldn’t be. I’ll cover those instances later in this tutorial.

4.03 – System Upgrades – Kernel Upgrades


If you’ve opted to disable automatic kernel removals, when a newer kernel is installed the older kernel will be marked as no longer required.

The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
  linux-headers-5.10.0-6-amd64 linux-headers-5.10.0-6-common
  linux-image-5.10.0-6-amd64
Use ‘sudo apt autoremove’ to remove them.
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  linux-headers-5.10.0-7-amd64 linux-headers-5.10.0-7-common
  linux-image-5.10.0-7-amd64
The following packages will be upgraded:
  brave-browser git git-man libdebconfclient0 libgail-common libgail18 libgtk2.0-0
  libgtk2.0-bin libgtk2.0-common libmariadb3 libtinyxml2-8 libudfread0
  libwine-development libxml2 libxml2:i386 libxnvctrl0 linux-compiler-gcc-10-x86
  linux-headers-amd64 linux-image-amd64 linux-kbuild-5.10 linux-libc-dev
  mariadb-common python3-yaml usb.ids
24 upgraded, 3 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 234 MB of archives.
After this operation, 401 MB of additional disk space will be used.

You can’t remove the older kernel because it will still be in use. Additionally, you probably shouldn’t remove the older kernel until you’re sure the newer kernel does not introduce undesirable system issues. Once you’ve rebooted your system and feel comfortable that the new kernel is not causing issues, you can remove the older kernel by issuing the following command on the command line:

sudo apt autoremove

4.04 – System Upgrades – Problematic Full-Upgrade – Package Bug Encountered


Following is an example of performing an apt full-upgrade where a package bug is encountered:

The following packages will be upgraded:
  apt apt-utils bind9-dnsutils bind9-host bind9-libs cdparanoia chromium
  chromium-common chromium-sandbox dnsutils exim4-base exim4-config
  exim4-daemon-light firefox firmware-amd-graphics firmware-linux
  firmware-linux-nonfree firmware-misc-nonfree fonts-liberation2 geoclue-2.0
  gir1.2-javascriptcoregtk-4.0 gir1.2-webkit2-4.0 git git-man grub-common grub-pc
  grub-pc-bin grub2-common initramfs-tools initramfs-tools-core libapt-pkg6.0
  libbabl-0.1-0 libboost-filesystem1.74.0 libboost-iostreams1.74.0
  libboost-locale1.74.0 libboost-program-options1.74.0 libboost-regex1.74.0
  libboost-thread1.74.0 libcdparanoia0 libcdparanoia0:i386 libcrypt-dev libcrypt1
  libcrypt1:i386 libgee-0.8-2 libgegl-0.4-0 libgegl-common
  libjavascriptcoregtk-4.0-18 libjpeg-turbo-progs libjpeg62-turbo
  libjpeg62-turbo:i386 libkpathsea6 liblirc-client0 libmm-glib0 libobrender32v5
  libobt2v5 libpam-modules libpam-modules-bin libpam-runtime libpam0g libsmbclient
  libsynctex2 libturbojpeg0 libv4l-0 libv4l-0:i386 libv4lconvert0
  libv4lconvert0:i386 libwbclient0 libwebkit2gtk-4.0-37 libwpebackend-fdo-1.0-1
  modemmanager nmap nmap-common openbox openjdk-11-jre openjdk-11-jre-headless
  openssh-client python3-pygments python3-renderpm python3-reportlab
  python3-reportlab-accel samba-libs task-english task-laptop tasksel tasksel-data
  timgm6mb-soundfont vivaldi-stable xsane xsane-common
89 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 317 MB of archives.
After this operation, 9,659 kB of additional disk space will be used.

serious bugs of git (1:2.30.2-1 → 1:2.31.0-1)
  b1 – #985416 – changing gitexecdir breaks packages that install commands there
Summary:
  git(1 bug)

When encountering a bug, you should lookup the bug report(s) to determine if you need to hold the package(s) in question. You can lookup bugs for the Debian distribution using the Debian bug tracking system.

You can lookup bugs using a variety of criteria, but I usually lookup the bug using the bug number. In the above example, I determined that the git bug warranted holding the existing version of git; i.e. not allowing git to be upgraded. To hold a package, enter the following command:

sudo apt-mark hold package name

If you have multiple packages that you want to hold, just enter each package name separated by a space.

Learning how to determine if a bug report for a package warrants holding a package will come with experience. When I’m not sure, I hold the package.

After marking the git package for hold, an apt full-upgrade would result in the following actions:

The following packages have been kept back:
  git git-man
The following packages will be upgraded:   apt apt-utils bind9-dnsutils bind9-host bind9-libs cdparanoia chromium
  chromium-common chromium-sandbox dnsutils exim4-base exim4-config
  exim4-daemon-light firefox firmware-amd-graphics firmware-linux
  firmware-linux-nonfree firmware-misc-nonfree fonts-liberation2 geoclue-2.0
  gir1.2-javascriptcoregtk-4.0 gir1.2-webkit2-4.0 grub-common grub-pc grub-pc-bin
  grub2-common initramfs-tools initramfs-tools-core libapt-pkg6.0 libbabl-0.1-0
  libboost-filesystem1.74.0 libboost-iostreams1.74.0 libboost-locale1.74.0
  libboost-program-options1.74.0 libboost-regex1.74.0 libboost-thread1.74.0
  libcdparanoia0 libcdparanoia0:i386 libcrypt-dev libcrypt1 libcrypt1:i386
  libgee-0.8-2 libgegl-0.4-0 libgegl-common libjavascriptcoregtk-4.0-18
  libjpeg-turbo-progs libjpeg62-turbo libjpeg62-turbo:i386 libkpathsea6
  liblirc-client0 libmm-glib0 libobrender32v5 libobt2v5 libpam-modules
  libpam-modules-bin libpam-runtime libpam0g libsmbclient libsynctex2
  libturbojpeg0 libv4l-0 libv4l-0:i386 libv4lconvert0 libv4lconvert0:i386
  libwbclient0 libwebkit2gtk-4.0-37 libwpebackend-fdo-1.0-1 modemmanager nmap
  nmap-common openbox openjdk-11-jre openjdk-11-jre-headless openssh-client
  python3-pygments python3-renderpm python3-reportlab python3-reportlab-accel
  samba-libs task-english task-laptop tasksel tasksel-data timgm6mb-soundfont
  vivaldi-stable xsane xsane-common
87 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 2 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B/309 MB of archives.
After this operation, 9,163 kB of additional disk space will be used.

The git-man package was automatically kept back or held as a result of marking the git package for hold. After performing the apt full-upgrade, you should unhold any held packages as follows:

sudo apt-mark unhold package name

Again, multiple packages can be listed separately using a space between each package name.

Because Debian Unstable is very similar to a rolling release Linux distribution, indefinitely holding a package is not recommended. Doing so may result in a broken system.

4.05 – System Upgrades – Problematic Full-Upgrade – Holding a Package Results in Undesired Packages to Be Removed or Packages Being Undesirably Flagged as No Longer Required


Sometimes holding a package due to a bug report can result in undesired packages being removed or packages being undesirably flagged as no longer required.

The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
  calibre-bin libchm1 libpodofo0.9.7 optipng python3-apsw python3-chm
  python3-css-parser python3-cssselect python3-cssutils python3-dateutil
  python3-dnspython python3-feedparser python3-html2text python3-html5-parser
  python3-markdown python3-mechanize python3-msgpack python3-pygments
  python3-pyparsing python3-pyqt5.qtsvg python3-pyqt5.qtwebchannel
  python3-pyqt5.qtwebengine python3-regex python3-repoze.lru
  python3-requests-toolbelt python3-routes python3-speechd python3-webob
Use ‘sudo apt autoremove’ to remove them.
The following packages will be REMOVED:
  calibre libsrt1-gnutls python3-numpy
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  libsrt1.4-gnutls linux-image-5.10.0-2-amd64
The following packages have been kept back:
  libpython3.9 libpython3.9-minimal libpython3.9-stdlib python3.9
  python3.9-minimal
The following packages will be upgraded:
  bind9-dnsutils bind9-host bind9-libs busybox ca-certificates calibre-bin
  chromium chromium-common chromium-sandbox dnsmasq-base dnsutils dwz ffmpeg
  filezilla filezilla-common firmware-amd-graphics firmware-iwlwifi firmware-linux
  …
188 upgraded, 2 newly installed, 3 to remove and 5 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B/334 MB of archives.
After this operation, 227 MB of additional disk space will be used.

In the above example, I had held the package libpython3.9 due to a bug report. However, holding the libpython3.9 package resulted in the undesirable flagging of multiple packages as no longer required and the undesirable proposed removal of other packages. In such instances as this, it’s better to run an apt upgrade instead of an apt full-upgrade.

Following were the proposed actions when running apt upgrade:

The following NEW packages will be installed:
  linux-image-5.10.0-2-amd64 python3-py7zr python3-pycryptodome python3-texttable
The following packages have been kept back:
  ffmpeg gstreamer1.0-plugins-bad libavcodec58 libavcodec58:i386 libavdevice58
  libavfilter7 libavformat58 libavresample4 libavresample4:i386 libavutil56
  libavutil56:i386 libgstreamer-plugins-bad1.0-0 libpostproc55 libpython3.9
  libpython3.9-minimal libpython3.9-stdlib libswresample3 libswresample3:i386
  libswscale5 python3.9 python3.9-minimal
The following packages will be upgraded:
  bind9-dnsutils bind9-host bind9-libs busybox ca-certificates calibre calibre-bin
  chromium chromium-common chromium-sandbox dnsmasq-base dnsutils dwz filezilla
  filezilla-common firmware-amd-graphics firmware-iwlwifi firmware-linux
  firmware-linux-nonfree firmware-misc-nonfree fonts-liberation2 fonts-wine
  …
173 upgraded, 4 newly installed, 0 to remove and 21 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B/347 MB of archives.
After this operation, 334 MB of additional disk space will be used.

Don’t forget to unhold any held packages:

sudo apt-mark unhold package name

4.06 – System Upgrades – Problematic Full-Upgrade – Undesired Packages to Be Removed or Packages Being Undesirably Flagged as No Longer Required


Performing an apt full-upgrade can sometimes result in the undesirable removal of packages or packages being undesirably flagged as no longer required:

The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
  diffstat libaliased-perl libbasicusageenvironment1 libcapture-tiny-perl
  libconfig-tiny-perl libdata-messagepack-perl libdata-validate-domain-perl
  libdevel-size-perl libemail-address-xs-perl libfile-find-rule-perl
  libfont-ttf-perl libgdk-pixbuf-xlib-2.0-0:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386
  libgroupsock8 libhtml-html5-entities-perl libio-string-perl libipc-run3-perl
  libiterator-perl libiterator-util-perl libjson-maybexs-perl liblist-utilsby-perl
  liblivemedia77 libmarkdown2 libmoox-aliases-perl libmouse-perl
  libnet-domain-tld-perl libnumber-compare-perl libperlio-gzip-perl
  libproc-processtable-perl libsereal-decoder-perl libsereal-encoder-perl
  libtext-glob-perl libtext-levenshteinxs-perl libtext-markdown-discount-perl
  libtext-xslate-perl libtime-moment-perl libusageenvironment3
  libyaml-libyaml-perl t1utils
Use ‘sudo apt autoremove’ to remove them.
The following packages will be REMOVED:
  libclass-xsaccessor-perl libcommon-sense-perl libdata-dpath-perl libjson-xs-perl
  libtypes-serialiser-perl lintian
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  libfcgi-bin libfcgi0ldbl
The following packages will be upgraded:
  acl bind9-dnsutils bind9-host bind9-libs chromium chromium-common
  chromium-sandbox debhelper distro-info-data dnsutils dwz e2fslibs e2fsprogs
  e2fsprogs-l10n exim4-base exim4-config exim4-daemon-light ffmpeg fuse3 gdisk
  gir1.2-vte-2.91 gjs gparted gparted-common gpick groff-base iio-sensor-proxy
  …
251 upgraded, 2 newly installed, 6 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 323 MB of archives.
After this operation, 1,352 kB disk space will be freed.

In the above example, a large Perl transition was underway. In situations like this, it’s better to run an apt upgrade instead of an apt full-upgrade. Following were the proposed actions for an apt upgrade:

The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
  libbasicusageenvironment1 libgdk-pixbuf-xlib-2.0-0:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386
  libgroupsock8 liblivemedia77 libusageenvironment3
Use ‘sudo apt autoremove’ to remove them.
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  libfcgi-bin libfcgi0ldbl
The following packages have been kept back:
  libperl5.32 libperl5.32:i386 perl perl-base perl-modules-5.32
The following packages will be upgraded:
  acl bind9-dnsutils bind9-host bind9-libs chromium chromium-common
  chromium-sandbox debhelper distro-info-data dnsutils dwz e2fslibs e2fsprogs
  e2fsprogs-l10n exim4-base exim4-config exim4-daemon-light ffmpeg fuse3 gdisk
  gir1.2-vte-2.91 gjs gparted gparted-common gpick groff-base iio-sensor-proxy
  …
246 upgraded, 2 newly installed, 0 to remove and 5 not upgraded.
Need to get 310 MB of archives.
After this operation, 5,403 kB of additional disk space will be used.

4.07 – System Upgrades – Persistent Proposed Package Removals


It’s possible to experience instances where you continue to encounter a proposed package removal during an apt full-upgrade. You could hold such packages, and there are some instances where that is desirable. However, due to the rolling nature of Debian Unstable, it’s generally not recommended to hold a package indefinitely.

In some instances, you can allow a package to be removed and then re-install it. I haven’t learned when to determine when such instances are warranted. When I encounter persistent proposed package removals, I present the issue over on the Siduction Upgrade Warnings forum. Some of the forum members have contacts with the Debian development team and one of the Siduction forum members will usually let you know when it is best to allow a package removal.

Sometimes, a package can get removed and then the package is later included as a new install. Such instances are just part of the nature and purpose of Debian Unstable; refer to the introduction in this tutorial.

4.08 – System Upgrades – Transitions


Transitions can result in the undesirable removal of packages, or the undesirable flagging of packages as no longer required. I check the Siduction Upgrade Warnings forum for news on transitions. Note that transition news reported in the Siduction Upgrade Warnings forum may not always apply to you, depending upon the packages you have installed. Many of the Siduction forum members seem to run the KDE desktop environment (I don’t) based on the time I’ve spent reading the forums.

Another source for monitoring transitions is the Debian Release Management – Transition tracker. However, I’ve not been able to learn to use the resource well enough for it to be useful to me.

You could also subscribe to or view the debian-devel mailing list. Sometimes large transitions are announced via the mailing list.

4.09 – System Upgrades – Downgrading a Buggy Package


It is possible to upgrade a package that turns out to have an unreported bug, rendering an important application unusable or causing system breakage. What should you do in such circumstances? You have two options.

First, installing or upgrading a package results in an associated *.deb file being stored under /var/cache/apt/archives, also known as the package cache or local repository. I prefer the term package cache, so hereinafter I will use that term. Locate the desired package if still available and re-install it using the following command:

sudo dpkg -i /var/cache/apt/archives/package-name.deb

The -i option forces the installation of an earlier version of a package.

Another option is to visit the Debian Snapshot Service, searching for the binary version of your desired package over on the left side of the main page under Packages. Once you have located and downloaded the desired package (should be in *.deb format), install it using the same method referenced above, substituting the applicable path to the downloaded file.

Warning: Use package downgrading judiciously. Make sure you understand any possible repercussions of downgrading a package. Downgrading some packages, e.g. libc6, could break your system.

4.10 – System Upgrades – After a New Debian Stable Release


At some point, the Debian Release Team decides to freeze any further inflow of new packages, with some exceptions, into the Debian Testing repository in preparation for the release of the next version of Debian Stable. Eventually that means there will be very few, and sometimes no, updates when you perform an apt full-upgrade or even an apt upgrade. So a backlog of newer packages will await the release of Debian Stable.

Once Debian Stable is released, the backlog of newer packages flows into Debian Unstable. When you perform an apt full-upgrade, you’ll be presented with hundreds of proposed actions, including new package installs, package removals, packages flagged as no longer required, and packages to be upgraded. Therefore, the general recommendation that I’ve learned from others is to wait about a week after the release of a new version of Debian Stable before attempting to perform an apt full-upgrade. You can also check the Siduction Upgrade Warnings forum to see if and when it is safe to commence system upgrades following the release of a new Debian Stable release.

4.11 – System Upgrades – Purging the Package Cache


As mentioned previously, the act of installing and upgrading packages results in the storage of *.deb files under /var/cache/apt/archives, also known as the package cache. It’s a good practice to clean up the package cache routinely to free up drive space. To purge the package cache, enter the following command:

sudo apt autoclean

5 – Conclusion


I enjoy using Linux rolling release distributions because of the newer packages that are available. I hope the tips in this tutorial prove helpful should you choose to use Debian Unstable as your daily driver.

I owe a great deal of thanks to Julius Hader (aka machinebacon) whose post on running CrunchBang Linux using the Debian Unstable repositories began my journey on using Debian Unstable on a regular basis. Julius also helped me out a great deal when I decided to use CrunchBang Linux full time back in 2012.

I also owe a great deal of thanks to members of the former CrunchBang Linux forums, as well as members of the BunsenLabs forums, who helped me at times when I ran into problems using Debian Unstable.

Finally, I owe a great deal of thanks to the members of the Siduction forums who have helped, and continue to help, me immensely with becoming proficient at running Debian Unstable.

If you have a question or comment, leave it in the Comment box at the bottom of the page.

6 – Useful Resources


Most of the sites below have been referenced within this post, but I’m also listing them here as a concise handy reference.

Post header image courtesy of linux-apps.com, GPLv2 or later licensed.

2021-007

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