Stephen advised using Ubuntu rather than installing software available for Ubuntu (but not Debian) on Debian.1 Because I want to work with data, terdon commented I might as well stay with Debian, having it installed already.2 This seems to imply that the packages I may want to use are on both distributions. I am not sure this is true and might never be but would like to understand it better.

So now I seek to compare available packages across stable Debian and LTS Ubuntu. 10 years old help to similar questions point to Distrowatch for comparing distributions (rather than looking up individual packages) 5 6.

This gives me a neat table, and two less easily comparable lists with more items under the Debian heading.7 (I thought Ubuntu offered more--perhaps too much--software, which may be a reason to prefer Debian.)

Are there any other concrete ways to anticipate whether Debian may lack software that I would like later on, which Ubuntu offers?

  • Can you tell us what software? The vast majority of packages available for Ubuntu will also be available for Debian. There is no way to anticipate since it will depend on whether anyone has taken an interest and packaged a tool for a given distribution. Ubuntu is more popular than Debian which is why it will have more packages.
    – terdon
    Apr 13 at 15:20
  • Also, what does "working with data" really mean? I work in bioinformatics, and regularly process huge text files with genetic information and I usually do that using standard tools (awk, perl, sed, grep, python) that will be available on any and all distributions.
    – terdon
    Apr 13 at 15:21
  • @terdon thanks for commenting here as well. How do you know that the vast majority of packages are available for both distributions (that is my question)? I believe you think rightly, that I will use common software for analysis like python and R and tools for organizing environments with packages for various projects. I am also curious about software for data engineering like java, apache spark, ansible. To mention some.
    – Johan
    Apr 13 at 15:37
  • Ubuntu will inherit (most, if not all) Debian's packages and then add its own packages on top of that. I am not sure if it is even possible to have a package in the Debian repos but not in the Ubuntu ones. If it is possible, that will be very rare and the exception. But everything you mention will be available on both. If you don't always need the absolute latest, newest version, you should be fine with Debian.
    – terdon
    Apr 13 at 15:44
  • I do not need the absolute latest/newest versions of the listed software. Thanks @terdon - that question seems answered. Let's see if someone may provide a more up-to-date way of comparing packages/software across distributions.
    – Johan
    Apr 13 at 16:11

1 Answer 1


You can do this by going to the respective repositories, https://packages.ubuntu.com/ and https://www.debian.org/distrib/packages, downloading the list of packages as text and comparing:

wget https://packages.ubuntu.com/kinetic/allpackages?format=txt.gz -O ubuntu.gz
wget https://packages.debian.org/unstable/allpackages?format=txt.gz -O debian.gz

Now, compare the files:

$ ubuntu_unique=$(comm -23 <(zcat ubuntu.gz | sort ) <(zcat debian.gz | sort) | wc -l)
$ debian_unique=$(comm -13 <(zcat ubuntu.gz | sort ) <(zcat debian.gz | sort) | wc -l)
$ ubuntu_total=$(zcat ubuntu.gz | wc -l)
$ debian_total=$(zcat debian.gz | wc -l)
$ printf 'Ubuntu: %d unique packages, %d total\nDebian: %d unique, %d total\n' \
         "$debian_unique" "$debian_total" "$ubuntu_unique" "$ubuntu_total" 
Ubuntu: 155481 unique packages, 171826 total
Debian: 93964 unique, 110309 total

So yes, both have packages not found in the other but Ubuntu has many more packages overall.

However, this really isn't a useful exercise. The differences will mostly be edge cases. Standard, common, popular tools will be available for both distributions, this isn't what usually guides distribution choice. Plus, for anything not already packaged in a distribution, you can always compile and install from source.

Just use what you have installed. If that's Ubuntu, stick with Ubuntu and if it is Debian, stick with that. If and when you actually do find a package you want that isn't available, then you can try installing from source and if it happens a lot you might want to change distribution, but this is really unlikely. I have used 9 or so different distributions over the past 20 years and I have never once changed because of what packages were available. There was a time, more than 10-15 years ago, when RPM-based distributions had more limited repositories and we would download packages by hand from places like rpmfind.net or usually compile and install from source, but that really is a very rare occurrence these days.

Bottom line: use what you want, if you actually do find a missing package, it will likely not exist for the other distro either, and you can always install from source.

  • I liked that you evaluated the usefulness of the approach and provided a history of your own experience. btw, please take the case of Hadoop now by Apache. According to Debian's wiki, Hadoop is not available. In this case, would you then install from source? And how would you consider installing from source in relation to the advice by Stephen?
    – Johan
    Apr 13 at 17:32
  • 1
    @Johan_A yes, you would download from hadoop.apache.org/releases.html and install that way. As for Stephen, as a general rule, if Stephen and I give you conflicting information about anything related to Linux, believe Stephen because he is orders of magnitude more knowledgeable than I am. That goes double for anything related to Debian since he is a Debian developer. In this case though, there is no contradiction: Stephen was talking about not mixing packages, the only thing he said about installing from source is that that is how you would bring a package over.
    – terdon
    Apr 13 at 17:49
  • 1
    By the way, @Johan_A, this sort of discussion is really not what the site is about. We try to keep discussion to an absolute minimum (see unix.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment). However, we do have chat rooms and those are probably a better venue for this sort of thing. This site's main room is chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/26/dev-chat and while it isn't very active these days, you can try asking there. Both Stephen and I can often be found there.
    – terdon
    Apr 13 at 17:50
  • 1
    My advice was based on your mention that you’re new to Linux; it isn’t particularly difficult in many cases but it can get quite involved (especially if you need to rebuild lots of dependencies) and it’s possible to get into a bit of a mess. When I answered your earlier question I was under the impression that you already knew about software you wanted that was available on Ubuntu but not on Debian; I agree with terdon’s advice here, if you’ve already set up a distribution and don’t already have a specific reason to stop using it, you might as well stick with it. Apr 13 at 17:59

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