Comparing Debian and Fedora

A common question is how to compare Fedora [1] and Debian [2] in terms of recent updates and support. I think that Fedora Rawhide and Debian/Unstable are fairly equivalent in this regard, new upstream releases get packaged quickly, and support is minimal. They are both aimed at developers only, but it seems that a reasonable number of people are running servers on Debian/Unstable.

Fedora releases (previously known as “Fedora Core” and now merely as “Fedora”) can be compared to Debian/Testing. The aim is that Fedora releases every 6 months and each release is supported until a release two versions greater is about to be released (which means that it’s about a year of support). The support however often involves replacing the upstream version of the program used to make a package (EG Fedora Core 5 went from kernel 2.6.15 to kernel 2.6.20). I believe that the delays involved in migrating a package from Debian/Unstable to Debian/Testing as well as the dependency requirements mean that you can get a similar experience running Debian/Testing as you might get from Fedora.

Stable releases of Debian are rare and the updates are few in number and small in scope (generally back-porting fixes not packaging new upstream versions). This can be compared to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) [3] or CentOS [4] (a free re-compile of RHEL with minor changes).

Regarding stability and support (in terms of package updates) I think that Debian/Stable, RHEL, and CentOS are at about the same level. RHEL has some significant benefits in terms of phone support (which is of very high quality). But if you don’t want to pay for phone support then CentOS and Debian/Stable are both good choices. Recently I’ve been rolling out a bunch of CentOS 5 machines for clients who don’t want to pay for RHEL and don’t want to pay for extensive customisation of the installation (a quick kickstart install is what they want). The benefit of Fedora and Debian/Testing over RHEL, CentOS, and Debian/Stable is that they get newer packages sooner. This is significant when using programs such as OpenOffice which have a steady development upstream that provides features that users demand.

If you want to try new features then Fedora and Debian/Testing are both options that will work. One reason I had been avoiding serious use of Debian/Testing is that it had no strategy for dealing with security fixes, but it seems that there are now security updates for Testing [5] (I had not realised this until today).



5 comments to Comparing Debian and Fedora

  • Adrian Bunk

    Regarding the dependency requirement in Debian testing: I remember one point in time when testing contained versions of udev and the ALSA packages that couldn’t be installed together (one package had a versioned conflict with the other) – according to the logic of the testing scripts this is perfectly OK…

    And there’s a difference between a coordinated update of some packages and the semi-random daily testing updates – consider e.g. that a bug “new version segfaults every 15 minutes” is usually not considered to be an RC in Debian by your release managers and therefore nothing that would prevent a package from entering testing.

    Besides this, the pure number of updates in testing makes it quite likely that you’ll sooner or later run into some regression – and even the testing security updates you mention both logically (no fix if fixed packages are already in testing) and technically (package dependencies) require testing users to regularly update their testing installation.

    Another funny effect of testing is (unless this has been changed) that if it takes 2 days until a package has been autobuilt on some architecture, this package might enter testing (consider urgency=high) without ever giving anyone the chance to test the package on this architecture. And that’s not a theoretical issue, when I was a Debian maintainer I once broke util-linux on powerpc this way.

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  • jef

    “Fedora releases (previously known as “Fedora Core” and now merely as “Fedora”) can be compared to Debian/Testing.”

    Umm. What about Fedora updates-testing then? There goes your analogy.

  • etbe

    jef: IMHO the updates-testing (if you choose to use it – and I don’t) makes it closer to Debian/Unstable.

  • jef

    “jef: IMHO the updates-testing (if you choose to use it – and I don’t) makes it closer to Debian/Unstable.”

    That doesn’t make any sense to me. Updates-testing does not get all the updates that rawhide gets. Updates-testing only gets updates that are meant for the stable releases. You probably need to look at the Fedora structure closer.