/!\ devfs is obsolete. Debian/Etch uses udev (except for DebianInstaller)

Devfs is an alternative to "real" character and block special devices on your root filesystem. Kernel device drivers can register devices by name rather than major and minor numbers. These devices will appear in devfs automatically, with whatever default ownership and protection the driver specified. A daemon (devfsd) can be used to override these defaults. Devfs has been in the kernel since 2.3.46.

There are two aspects to devfs:

The reason to make a distinction is because devfs can be mounted many times, with each mount showing the same device namespace. Changes made are global to all mounted devfs filesystems. Also, because the devfs namespace exists without any devfs mounts, you can easily mount the root filesystem by referring to an entry in the devfs namespace.

See also udev