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I'm running for more than 2 years a Fedora Linux distribution on my server. The first install of the system was with FC6 and I did upgrades for every new release of the system until 9.
For each system upgrades I got troubles when rebooting the first time. It was always about the initrd image that had wrong libc librairies or so. Fedora is a system a hard to upgrade but with some efforts I could always manage to make it.
Recently I tried to upgrade from Fedora 9 to 10 and, without surprises, the system could not boot anymore. I tried to fix the innitrd but no way. I asked support in several forums, but nobody from the Fedora community could support me to fix this initrd issue.
By looking at the Fedora documentation I discovered the official recommendation was to reinstall the system, not upgrade it.
I personally consider that a good unix-like system is a system that offers a way to upgrade from one release to another and supports it.
So I decided to move away from Fedora and to choose another linux distribution for my server.
During my studies I ran a "Potato" version of Debian and I was quite satisfied with it. I'm also looking at CentOS (to keep my habits with RPMs).
So here are my questions:
Is the Debian distribution fully supporting system upgrade from one release to another ?
If yes, will this philosophy be kept for future releases ?
Those questions are important to me. I want to choose a linux system to run it for at least the next 10 years. I want to do one and only one fresh-install: the first one.
Of course, I'll manage configuration files changes etc...
Yes, Debian does rolling upgrade's very well and will continue to do so. I've done three in a row (Woody --> Sarge --> Etch --> Lenny) on my machine with no major glitches (read the release notes before upgrading). My only snafu during the recent Etch to Lenny upgrade was with my MythTV setup. I had to update the firmware for my Hauppauge PVR-150 card in /lib/firmware and I had to reset the mythtv user and password on the MySQL database used for Myth. Otherwise, no issues at all. My wife didn't even notice I had upgraded the system...
I think Debian does a good job making the upgrade path as problem-free as possible. I've got a machine on its third release and I've never reinstalled.
But nothing is perfect. Many people feel it is easier to do a fresh install when updating from one stable release to another, but it certainly not generally required. I assume you're aware of the "Debian way" of releases - stable, testing, etc. If you run stable, there basically are no updates (except bug fixes and security updates) for the entire life of the release. There is no fixed schedule between releases - the new release comes out when the bugs are fixed. If you run Testing and keep up with the ongoing updates, it's really more of a continuous process.
I use sidux...which is a kind of mild form of sid...which is a continuous rolling release...once install you do not need to ever download another install cd/dvd
The disadvantages are (imho)
- you will never have patched security issues....but you always run the latest software so never get a chance of new exploits hanging around long
- there will be times when packages are on hold...because package A has updated but relies on B which is not yet updated
sidux can get around some of these issues due to a team watching sid breaks and putting out warning messages and h2 uses a script called smxi which is the most painless updating I have ever done...get me a new kernel/software/ free and that other stuff.
You can normally upgrade Debian between releases with few issues. On my desktop I installed Debian Sid back when Woody was stable, its still chugging along just fine, even after a motherboard/cpu/ram change.
At work, despite awful network conditions (updates are through the network), I managed to upgrade the server from Mandriva 2007.1, to 2008, to 2008.1, to 2009.0, without any problems aside those due to the bad network; and even then, the system was always in a bootable state to upgrade one step further as allowed by the network… Sometimes almost unbelievable if you want my opinion.
All in all, among the PCs I manage with Mandriva, and those with Debian, I had much more trouble when upgrading Debian. On the other hand, with Debian too, I never was locked out of the system.