You might have heard it everywhere on the net, but in case you didn’t know, Debian 9 Stretch came out on the 17th of June. I downloaded it that same same day and played with it quite a bit, and I have to say it is awesome! FYI, Stretch is the name of the little purple octopus from the famous animated cartoons Toy Story.
I really like what the Debian team has done with this 9th version of one of the most stable linux distros out there. After 26 months of development and hard work, it’s nice to see this new version released, knowing that will be maintained for the next 5 years.
A special emphasis has been placed on security, which in my opinion is more than welcome, since there is not one week that passes without a critical flaw or ransomware being discovered. For this, Debian’s security teams worked thoroughly and closely with long-term management ones to provide a reliable solution today and maintain it at this level for the next 5 years. For those interested in security (like me), Stretch brings a bunch of forensics tools. Let’s see what this version has to offer.
4.9 LTS Linux Kernel
The Stretch version is powered by Linux 4.9 LTS kernel. This kernel version is extremely stable and reliable. Most probably, this one will be followed by the next LTS release, i.e., Linux 4.14.
Gnome has been updated from 3.14 to 3.22, and, for the first time in Debian, gnome-software made its appearance.
KDE Plasma 5.8
In this version of Debian, the leap has been made from KDE 4.14 to KDE Plasma 5.8.
Rootless X Window System
In the Stretch version of X.org, one can run the server as a regular user rather than as root, which is a good point for security.
Firefox and Thunderbird are back
After 10 years of rebranding, Firefox and Thunderbird return to Debian, and replace their alter egos Iceweasel and Icedove. This distro comes with Firefox 52 ESR (Extended Support Release) and Thunderbird 45.
Improved UEFI support
The UEFI support was first introduced in Wheezy and has been greatly improved in Stretch, now also supporting 32-bit UEFI firmware installs with a 64-bit kernel. The Debian live images now include support for UEFI booting as a new feature, too.
“Modern” GnuPG library
The Stretch release is the first version of Debian to feature the modern branch of GnuPG in the gnupg package. This one comes with elliptic curve cryptography, better defaults, a more modular architecture, and improved smartcard support. The classic branch of GnuPG (version 1.4, which is now deprecated) is still provided and maintained as gnupg1, for legacy reasons.
In this version, OpenSSL has been updated from 1.0.1t to 1.1.0f, therefore some obsolete encryption schemes like 3DES et RC4 are no longer available, which breaks retro-compatibility with the old libs, like TLS on Windows XP (who still uses Windows XP these days anyways?).
The most well-spread SSH server has also been updated to version 7.4 from 6.7. In this version, the old encryption algorithms and the SSH 1 protocol are deactivated by default.
GNU GCC 6 compiler by default
For the Stretch release, the Debian version of the GNU GCC 6 compiler now defaults to compiling “position independent executables” (PIE). Accordingly, the vast majority of all executables will now support address space layout randomization (ASLR), which mitigates a number of exploits that are now probabilistic rather than deterministic.
MariaDB as default database
Starting with Stretch, MariaDB becomes the default MySQL variant in Debian. Therefore, MySQL 5.6 was replaced by the more performant MariaDB 10.1. One can perform an upgrade to Debian 9, and the change from MySQL 5.6 to the MariaDB 10.1 will be done automatically.
Postgres updated to 9.6
The world’s most advanced open source database has been updated from 9.4 to 9.6 in this version, bringing functionalities like parallel execution of sequential scans, joins and aggregates, synchronous replication with multiple standby servers, and much more.
PHP 5.6 updated to 7.0
Ever since PHP 5 appeared, the most popular web development language package has always been present in Debian’s repos. Starting with Stretch, we can find PHP 7.0 installed by default (which comes with great performance improvements, new engine exceptions, operators and type hints). Even so, it is still not the last version, since PHP 7.1 was released in December 2016. For those of you who are interested to use cutting edge PHP, you can find PHP 7.1 in the sury.org Debian repository.
Python 3.4 updated to 3.5.
In this version of Debian, Python is also updated from 3.4 to 3.5, which brings cool new features like coroutines (which provide a native way to perform asynchronous programming) and type hinting (another long-awaited addition to Python, which provides an option for annotating variables, – including function arguments – to indicate the type of variable in use).
I have to say, I am really impressed with the enormous list of features and updates brought by Stretch. Usually, I use Debian (thanks to its rock-solidness) as a server for (mostly) web development and security, and I haven’t been disappointed so far. But looking at all the enhancements that were made on the GUI side (especially with Gnome and KDE), I’m seriously considering about using it for my day-to-day activities, too.
You can go ahead and download Debian 9 in different flavors — GNOME, KDE, LXDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, and MATE. This release comes ready for no less than 10 architectures. If you don’t feel like installing it and you just want to test it, you can just download the live CD and give it a test drive.