Backporting hardware support in Debian

Speaker: Ben Hutchings

Track: Packaging, policy, and Debian infrastructure

Type: BoF (45 minutes)


Room: Yushan (玉山) Live Stream

Time: Jul 31 (Tue), 17:30

Duration: 0:45

We use several different approaches to improve hardware support during a Debian stable release:

  • Updating selected drivers in the linux package
  • Adding newer versions of linux and other packages to the associated backports suite
  • Adding an alternate kernel version in the stable suite (etch-and-a-half, jessie LTS)

Updating selected drivers in the linux package (and other driver packages) is the best way to make new hardware support available to users, but it can require substantial development time and carries a relatively high risk of regression. I did many kernel driver backports during the stretch and wheezy releases, but haven’t found time to do so more recently.

The backports suites can provide comprehensive support for new hardware, but they are less easily available (for example, there is no official installer build using the kernel from backports). The backports suites are often the last to get security updates, and they are not maintained during the LTS period.

We’ve previously tried to add alternate kernel versions half way through a stable cycle, with limited success. For etch, the etch-and-a-half update added new versions of the Linux kernel, some X drivers, and the installer to etch shortly before the lenny release. For jessie, there were plans to improve Arm64 support in a similar way, but these were overtaken by the stretch release.

How can we do better?