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I'm using a debian distribution (crunchbang). I like the distribution a lot, and as far as I know, it's not available in ubuntu form. However, I run into some issues with the package-manager lagging several years behind the latest versions, as I do a lot of work in research where I need the latest versions (examples - R, gcc).

I know the debian philosophy about stability being more important than the latest version, but for some things, the I can get through apt-get just lag too much. Short of manually installing software off the web and compiling / working out the dependencies by hand, is there a way to use apt-get (or another package manager) to get more recent packages for debian distributions?

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Use Debian itself, not a derivative. –  Faheem Mitha Jun 15 '12 at 9:19
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Yes,

Debian come with a repository system, and several mains flavors.

stable, which is ATM squeeze, is the stable. testing, ATM wheezy, which is the version in stabilization. unsable, called sid, is the version with newer packages. experimental, which isn't a complete distribution, and sometime broken.

You also have 3rd party repository like dotdeb : http://www.dotdeb.org/

You can enable theses repository by putting adequate files in /etc/apt/source.list.d folder. You have to add a preference files to set what repository have priority on which one. You'll find example here : http://www.debian-fr.org/sources-list-au-carre-ou-minimaliste-t5659.html (in french, but you have the content of the file).

When this is done, you can install the package in the version you want by using apt-get -t testing install package (for testing flavor).

apt-cache policy package can tell you what version exists in which repository.

You definitively should use aptitude when switching to that system, has you may face version conflicts with dependencies.

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For more information, google "apt pinning". –  Jeff Welling Jun 15 '12 at 0:22
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