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The debian wiki page for the apt sources list gives this example file:

deb http://httpredir.debian.org/debian jessie main
deb-src http://httpredir.debian.org/debian jessie main

deb http://httpredir.debian.org/debian jessie-updates main
deb-src http://httpredir.debian.org/debian jessie-updates main

deb http://security.debian.org/ jessie/updates main
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ jessie/updates main

What is the difference between the jessie and jessie-updates distribution entries?

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jessie-updates gives early access to stable packages which will eventually be added to Jessie in a point release.

A stable release of Debian (such as Debian 8 or 8.1) contains a fixed set of packages and versions. Some of these need updating, within the constraints of Debian's stable release process; once they're approved, such updates go to a proposed-updates section of the archive, and when a point release is made, they all migrate to stable. For some packages, where more urgent updates are required, there's an intermediate stage: they are made available in stable-updates (jessie-updates) before the point release. Currently, clamav and tzdata are available in jessie-updates; it certainly makes sense not to have to wait for a point release to get those updates.

Security-critical updates go through a different process and queue, and end up initially in jessie/updates on security.debian.org (the third set of entries in your example). The intent there is to provide the safest fix for security issues as quickly as possible, ideally at the same time as the security issue is announced. These updates are usually merged into the next stable update.

The Debian wiki has more details.

  • Also, I'm somewhat confused, as this quote seems to contradict what you've said: "...Debian evolves so quickly -- typically, a dozen or more new packages are uploaded every week." – Jonathon Reinhart Nov 30 '15 at 20:18
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    I'll add security.debian.org to my answer later. Regarding your quote, that's talking about packages going into Debian in general, via unstable (see for example December where we already have dozens of changes); stable doesn't get many updates, the last stable update covered three months of changes and updated 66 source packages (so ~5 per week). – Stephen Kitt Dec 2 '15 at 7:53

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