Ubuntu or Debian, which one has the newest software ?

It is a common belief that Ubuntu provides newer software than Debian. This is of course true when Ubuntu is compared to Debian stable. This is also true for specific software packages, like Gnome. But how does it compare in general ?

At the time of the Dapper release, here is how Ubuntu Dapper and Debian Unstable compared wrt source package versions :

In Ubuntu, but not in Debian: 1795
In Debian, but not in Ubuntu: 588
Exact same version: 4361
Same upstream version: 2963
… and same Debian version, but Ubuntu has local changes: 731
… “Debian version” newer in Debian: 2197
… “Debian version” newer in Ubuntu: 35
Different upstream version: 2166
… newer in Debian: 1955
… newer in Ubuntu: 211

So Debian easily wins. But this comparison is unfair, because Debian unstable is a moving target : of course, it’s newer than Ubuntu ! What about Debian testing ?

In Ubuntu, but not in Debian: 2137
In Debian, but not in Ubuntu: 514
Exact same version: 4529
Same upstream version: 2652
… and same Debian version, but Ubuntu has local changes: 775
… newer in Debian: 1816
… newer in Ubuntu: 61
Different upstream version: 1967
… newer in Debian: 1666
… newer in Ubuntu: 301

Yes, Debian still wins. Okay, but Ubuntu Dapper had a particularly long release cycle. What about Ubuntu Breezy, and Debian Testing at the time of the Breezy release ?

In Ubuntu, but not in Debian: 2462
In Debian, but not in Ubuntu: 384
Exact same version: 4586
Same upstream version: 2253
… and same Debian version, but Ubuntu has local changes: 981
… newer in Debian: 1172
… newer in Ubuntu: 100
Different upstream version: 1375
… newer in Debian: 1020
… newer in Ubuntu: 355

Debian testing wins again.


  • Statistics might be biased because of source package name changes.
  • Ubuntu doesn’t automatically remove packages which were removed from Debian, which partially explains the high number of packages in Ubuntu but not in Debian.
  • OK, there’s no Debian unstable/Ubuntu edgy comparison. I believe that not many people use Ubuntu development versions (except a few weeks before release), and that Ubuntu dev versions are usually not considered usable. OTOH, many people use Debian testing or Debian unstable.
  • The quick and dirty script used to generate the stats is available.


Yes, Scott, I am comparing stable releases on one side, with development versions on the other side. However, I think that it is widely known that Debian testing is usable outside of the Debian development community. I know many people using Debian testing who aren’t Debian developers. And many Ubuntu users, if they weren’t using Ubuntu, but Debian, would probably use Debian testing, not stable.

Regarding Ubuntu Edgy, its use is currently strictly limited to the Ubuntu development community, and I don’t know anybody not interested in Ubuntu development running Ubuntu Edgy (that’s also because Ubuntu is released every 6 months, not 18 months, of course). That’s why it’s irrelevant to compare with it.
Also, after a quick poll on IRC, I discovered that many Ubuntu users thought that Ubuntu stable releases had newer software than Debian Testing (that was my exact question). The only point of this blog entry is to prove them wrong.

Update 2 : I’ll be on holidays for the next few days, so comments are put in the moderation queue until I come back.

19 thoughts on “Ubuntu or Debian, which one has the newest software ?

  1. Pingback: Thomas Gedanken
  2. I think none of this comparisons are fair and the only valid and fair comparison is Ubuntu stable (Dapper) against Debian stable (Sarge). You can compare other things, like stability, security response, etc (that would be an interesting comparison: is Debian super-stability worth it ? does it lead to much more stability than Ubuntu can provide ?).

    Now, what I believe that. Debian unstable and testing are both unstable/non-production-ready; they might change or break at any time; and although many people use them, when you have problems with them you often, when you ask, get the reply: “You shouldn’t have been using the unstable version if you can’t deal with it or be prepared to fix it”.
    So, what might be a bug in Debian stable or Ubuntu stable that will end up in a bug fix and the community helping the community work around it is just “shit happens” in Debian stable/testing.

    The last time I suffer that was just before I picked Kubuntu, I installed Debian testing (Etch ?) and KDE just wasn’t installable. There was one package which just wasn’t there on which KDE depended. I asked around and the reply was: “Oh! yes; it’ll be there in some days, maybe a couple of weeks, it is on unstable now”. There wasn’t even the hint of a workaround. For me, for a production system (like my own workstation), that’s unacceptable.

    Now, being a moving target is not so bad. Gentoo is a moving target, but a stable moving target (you also has Gentoo unstable, which is a unstable moving target, like Debian unstable).

    My two cents.

    PS: I am eagerly waiting to try Ubuntu server.

  3. It’s interesting that you find it easy to believe that “many people” use Debian unstable and “not many people” use the Edgy repositories despite there being almost no logical difference between the two at the moment. I would posit that the thought of people using Ubuntu’s closest-thing-to-unstable was simply dismissed out of hand based on assumptions about Ubuntu users. I would also wonder how much longer this statement will actually be empirically true.

    – Chris

  4. @Pupeno: My goal was just to check the claim “Ubuntu has newer software than Debian”. Not to discuss the whole Ubuntu/Debian issue. However, to answer your specific remarks, I don’t think that Ubuntu is *so* stable. Ok, main is really good. But there are many areas of universe (and who uses Ubuntu with universe disabled ?) which would really require more eyes.

    > PS: I am eagerly waiting to try Ubuntu server.

    I think that you misunderstood Ubuntu server. Ubuntu server uses the same packages as the classic Ubuntu, it’s not Ubuntu hardened or something, it’s just Ubuntu without ubuntu-desktop.

    @Chris: Based on blogs, etc, I would say that this is true. I might be wrong. However, the purpose of this post was to compare what typical users would use, that’s why I quickly dismissed the comparison with Debian unstable.

    I will be on holiday starting tonight, so I probably won’t be able to answer comments for a while.

  5. Like pupeno the only valid match is between the STABLES versions.

    Sarge vs Dapper

    Of course Dapper is the winner, because Sarge is too old.
    Or Sarge vs the stable ubuntu version at the time of the Sarge release…

    For more accurates informations, we need to compare Dapper (synced from debian unstable at the begining dev process) and debian unstable at the time of the Dapper final release.

    think none of this comparisons are fair and the only valid and fair comparison is Ubuntu stable (Dapper) against Debian stable (Sarge)

  6. It might be worth pointing out that people have different software requirements.
    For example, many people will care about having the latest GNOME. Ubuntu usually is “newer” there than Debian.

    Oh and then there is Debian experimental, too. E.g. the enigma (a game) packages in debian experimental are a lot newer, they are a recent SVN checkout.

  7. There’s no sense in comparing distributions with such different target area, release cycles and development structure. And there’s certainly no ‘winner’. This is just another post just to whine zealously about Debian. Pathetic.

    disclaimer: i use both Debian and Ubuntu

  8. This is idiotic to compare package version.. You need to compare internal version of the software. I am a debian fan but here is some point..

    So yes debian is great in Stable (and testing) for Server but unstable is really not a good idea. Specially after the release of Sarge, unstable became a nightmare. I have seen some situation like this: forcing an upgrade on udev with incorrect dependencies on a kernel that is not ready… XWindow breaking following an upgrade… This was going also a bit after from unstable to testing the exact same way…
    Maitainer response: You shouldn’t have been using the unstable version if you can’t deal with it or be prepared to fix it.Excuse me? I am in testing .. And got the same response.

    So yea maybe a lot of people use testing but if I get an answer like that I am going back to Sarge which is way out of date compare to Dapper stable (unless you use backport.org)

    If I am not suppose to use them but now you are saying they are more up to date… This is definitely a conflict.

    Finally, the polishing of Ubuntu under gnome is way better than debian%0D%0AI have been using debian for 3 years and I got fed up with using a desktop version because of the lack of interest in polishing it. If you had use Dapper or Breezy, you would have notice many tools that are not in default debian (add/remove from menu, update manager, etc…) Debian is great forserver but lack the interest of desktop usage. Look at the new installer of Dapper on their live CD.. This totally attrack newbies and people that would never take the step with debian because it is harder to install for now.

    So debian rocks as server but as still a lot of work to do in the desktop area. Ubuntun is great in terms of desktop and have not tried the server part yet.. But personally combining ubuntu and debian is great rather than comparing them all the time and waste time in arguing and comparing them. Stop beeing stuck up with one distro. Choice is what is mattering in open source world.. Not monopoly.. otherwise you ll end up the MS way…

  9. Flawed analysis. Instead of looking at every package on a equal basis, you should have concentrated on packages that are actually installed on ubuntu by default.

  10. @Alex Valentine: Feel free to do the same with only the Ubuntu default installation. All tools are available to do so. But I’m surprised by your comment: while I use a lot of software from the default install, I also use a lot of software not installed by default, from universe for example. Don’t you?

  11. I would definitely go for Debian testing, or unstable release myself. The only problem I faced is its usability and user-friendliness. For a new linux user, installing Debian would probably take a much longer time than one trying to install Ubuntu. That’s because the latter catered much more user-friendly interface to the software. (It sounds like Microsoft Windows on the other hand, but well, that’s what most end-user look out for, unless these people are developers).

  12. The comment that suggest to compare debian stable with ubuntu stable are really clueless. Yeah, of course you will get that Ubuntu has newer package, but it is not really interesting. Debian stable and Ubuntu stable have different targets.
    Debian stable is meant to be perfectly stable, not up to date, for production use. Ubuntu is meant to be quite up to date, but not with perfect stability. It is about having frequent updates.
    Testing is updated to last package versions as soon as possible and gets reasonable testing. Does that ring a bell? Yeah, quite similar to Ubuntu stable…

  13. Comparing Ubuntu stable and Debian stable is not fair, because Ubuntu’s release cycle is so much faster. Ubuntu stable is a moving target when compared to Debian stable. And ubuntu is based on Debian Unstable/Testing so I don’t understand how it would be unfair to compare Ubuntu stable and Debian testing. I think it would be quite fair.

  14. I did not realize this when I switched to Ubuntu from Debian, and I ‘m quite disappointed with that. I have been using debian-unstable for a while, and it never really had problem, except after dist-upgrades, but nothing serious anyway,
    especially compared to the scary stories you read around upgrading breezy to dapper. Ubuntu made many things much easier, and is definitely easier for new users, but I never tried to upgrade it..

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