Debian vs Ubuntu: The Complete Rundown of Linux Server OS


Paul Mahony


2019 August 1st

Debian and Ubuntu are among the top Linux distributions available. Although Ubuntu is a way newer distro, both are equally popular. And together they form one of the greatest influences on Linux development.

These systems are closely related as Ubuntu is actually a branch split from Debian. While sharing a similar OS architecture, features, and package management system - taking a closer look reveals their subtle differences.

In this article, we’ll run through the specifics and see how Debian vs Ubuntu compares to each other.

What is Debian?

Debian is an open-source operating system developed by Linux. In fact, it's one of the most popular OS to run VPS hosting.

Being one of the primary Linux distros created back in 1993, it actually can be considered the rock upon which Ubuntu is built.

This volunteer project has maintained and developed a Linux/GNU operating system for well over a decade, and the Debian project has grown to house over 1,000 members with developer status since its inception. Today, Debian contains over 20,000 packages of free and open-source documentation and applications.

Ubuntu vs Debian - Debian homepage

Debian remains an entirely non-profit project. It is constantly evolving and continues to offer new improvements. The software is free most importantly in terms of licensing. Without having strict ownership terms it remains open for developers to work on new versions and keep improving.

What is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is a completely open-source project that maintains and develops a cross-platform OS based on Debian. It was started in 2004 and continues to grow as a separate branch.

Debian vs Ubuntu - Ubuntu homepage

Although Ubuntu is open-source software, it belongs to Canonical Group Ltd. Therefore it is more compatible as the corporation aims to the wider audience with a product that would be more user-friendly.

Ubuntu Has A Shorter Release Cycle

Comparing Ubuntu vs Debian in a matter of release cycles, it becomes clear that one values constant updates, whilst the other opts for longer-term stable releases.

Debian vs Ubuntu

Debian releases stable versions every two years, with three years of support. 

But overall it has 3 release types:

  • Stable - This is the stable and ready-to-deploy version used on desktop and servers.
  • Testing - This version means it’s still undergoing testing before it can be classified as stable.
  • Unstable (Sid) - This is a more uncertain, still-under-trial version primarily used by developers to play and experiment with the code.

The testing and unstable are constantly being updated until they are able to become the next stable version.

Compared to that, Ubuntu has a shorter cycle. The releases occur every six months with two years of long-term support (LTS) releases. Its LTS has a long support time, coming in at five or more years.

Ubuntu currently offers two versions:

  • Ubuntu LTS - Ubuntu normally has updates every six months. The LTS version is released every two years. This means that the LTS version contains outdated hardware drivers and software, but is considerably more stable.
  • Ubuntu non-LTS - Also referred to as a stable release, this version releases updates every six months and is essentially built upon the unstable Debian version where it’s then improved upon and released.

Having a short release cycle ensures up to date software. However, this way you can lose the stability of your OS.

Debian Management Is More Complicated

Both operating systems use the same apt package management system, but house different software repos.

Debian holds on to the policy of free software. And by free it means freely used as there are no copyrights for this software. It's an open community of developers that can contribute to the process.

Meanwhile, Ubuntu has a more polished environment where the product is controlled and shaped. It will offer anything you could possibly need - paid, free, closed source, open-source.

With that said, Ubuntu has since introduced its snap package manager which, unlike apt, is self-contained and works completely independent of the distribution. This package manager is also available now in Debian repos as well.

Overall, Ubuntu is easier to use for beginners. It has a more simple process of installation and well as the user interface is aimed to be as user-friendly as possible.

On the other hand, Debian offers more possibilities for specific configurations. And advanced users would value that.

Debian Performs Faster Than Ubuntu

Debian is particularly fast since it doesn't come bundled with several performance-degrading features or pre-installed software.

Ubuntu's additional features have some effect on performance compared with Debian. Although naturally, you can expect both Debian or Ubuntu to drop its pace as more and more features pile up.

Still, you'll be hard-pressed to find an Ubuntu or Debian machine running slower than its Mac or Windows counterpart.

Support And Community: Debian vs Ubuntu

One of the greatest advantages of using open-source software is the community that surrounds it.

Both Debian and Ubuntu are extremely popular Linux distros with strong and active developer communities. When it comes to size, however, Debian takes the cake for having a larger community since it’s essentially built by volunteers.

The Debian community is also a bit more tech-oriented as the product itself has more to offer for advanced users. To the contrary, Ubuntu’s community is more welcoming to beginners and newbies.

Additionally, for a price, Ubuntu users can also gain access to expert support from Canonical Ltd. As for Debian, you’ll simply have to rely on help from its community forums.

Ubuntu Offers A Stronger Security

Ubuntu is definitely more user-friendly when it comes to operating system security with help coming right out of the box.

To ensure system security, Ubuntu has AppArmor pre-installed. This is a Linux kernel security module that allows for the restriction of program capabilities by the administrator.

Debian does not have any firewall or pre-installed access control system and places more faith in users’ abilities to stay on top of security.

On the other hand, having a longer release cycle, Debian has more stable versions. That means your software is more secure as it has fewer changes going around.

Debian pros:

  • Advanced configurations available
  • Secure and stable
  • Large support community

Ubuntu pros:

  • Frequent releases
  • Easier GUI for beginners
  • Pre-installed security module

Debian cons:

  • The user interface is a little messy
  • Rare releases

Ubuntu cons:

  • Has more restrictions
  • Smaller support community

Debian vs Ubuntu - Which Is The Best For You?

Overall, Ubuntu is a system geared towards more inexperienced users that are new to Linux. Compared to that, Debian is a much more no-frills, minimalist OS with a developer in mind.

Both products have a reliable system to offer but they bring different possibilities. If you want a simplified user interface, pre-installed safety features, and constantly updated system – go for Ubuntu. As for more stable versions, freedom for configurations and a large support community – all that comes with Debian.

If you are still not sure and want to try both - most of the VPS hosting providers offer both Debian and Ubuntu in their packages.

And in the end, it will be up to you to decide which wins the Debian vs Ubuntu comparison and works for you!


Written by Paul Mahony

Paul joined the Hosting.Review team right from the start as a content writer and marketer. He was the person responsible for establishing a trademark for in-depth web hosting evaluation and superb review articles. Before joining Hosting.Review, Paul was working on various projects as a freelancer. Paul spends his free time reading fantasy books and graphic novels.

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User comments

Shaun picture

2019 September 14th

This whole article was great, until this weirdly ignorant statement: "That means your software is more secure as it has fewer changes going around."

This whole article was great, until this weirdly ignorant statement: "That means your software is more secure as it has fewer changes going around."

Mihail picture

2019 January 29th

Thanks! So, for web server better to use Debian, right?

Thanks! So, for web server better to use Debian, right?