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You are running Debian stable because you prefer the stable Debian tree. It runs great, there is just one problem: The software is a little bit outdated compared to other distributions. That is where backports come in.

Backports are recompiled packages from testing (mostly) and unstable (in a few cases only, e.g. security updates), so they will run without new libraries (wherever it is possible) on a stable Debian distribution. It is recommended to pick out single backports which fit your needs, and not to use all backports available.

This article illustrates how to:

For official instructions on how to use Debian Backports, visit

On Sept. 5th, 2010, Backports became an official service (see announcement).

If your system is already configured to use, you may want to Migrate from to

Configuring your stable system

Adding the repository

Using Synaptic

   Configuration > Repository

Using the command line

Become root and open the file /etc/apt/sources.list in your favorite editor:

human@debian:~$ su
debian:/home/human# nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following lines:

# Backports repository
deb lenny-backports main contrib non-free

If you are a free software enthusiast, you might want to remove the contrib and non-free sections. (See Debian sections for details.)

Now that you have added the repository, update APT's cache to include the backports in the list of available packages:

debian:/home/human# aptitude update


Using backports

Finding backports

There are a several different ways to find out if a backport of a certain Debian package exists. A pretty convenient one is using Debian's web-based package search ( If you are running Iceweasel, simply use the built-in search plugin (Deb Search).

Installing backports on the command line

The backports repository is deactivated by default. So, if you want to install a backported package, you will have to state that explicitly.

For example:

debian:/home/human# aptitude -t lenny-backports install iceweasel

The -t option here specifies lenny-backports as the target release. This would install Iceweasel 3.5 from Backports instead of version 3.0 from the Debian stable release.

Automatic upgrades

Because the Backports repository is deactivated by default, your installed backports will not recieve upgrades automatically. However, you can use pinning to cause APT to perform automatic upgrades. Pinning basically means controlling which version of which package is to be selected for installation. (See the APT HOWTO and man apt_preferences for in-depth explanation.)

In order to make APT perfom automatic upgrades of installed backports, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file /etc/apt/preferences in an editor of your choice. (as root)

  2. Insert the text below.
  3. Save and exit.

Package: *
Pin: release a=lenny-backports
Pin-Priority: 200

After changing APT's behavior in that file, it will act like this:

If a package was installed from Backports and there is a newer version there, it will be upgraded from there. Other packages that are also available from Backports will not be upgraded to the Backports version unless explicitly stated with -t lenny-backports.


Reporting bugs

Because of limitations in the Debian Bug Tracking System, any bugs relevant to backported packages still have to be reported to the debian-backports list.

Migrate from to

On Sept. 5th, 2010, Backports became an official service (see announcement).

Systems configured to use should reconfigured to use the new repository/URL (in /etc/apt/source.list*), since service will be stopped at some point.

  1. replace with in /etc/apt/source.list*.

  2. run aptitude update

  3. remove the key from your keyring. Depending how you installed it...
    • apt-get purge debian-backports-keyring

    • apt-key del 16BA136C

No public key

Backports is now an official service residing at Previously, when the service was hosted at, users were required to install the debian-backports-keyring package in order to verify the integrity of downloaded backports before installation. This is no longer necessary.

However, APT may warn with the following message after updating package lists:

'W: There is no public key available for the following key IDs: EA8E8B2116BA136C'

This is due to Debian Backports release files currently being double-signed (official ftpmaster key and old key). The warning is an APT bug and can be safely ignored.

External links

ToDo : update the screenshot !