Most of us just want their phone to be working. But some like to be more on the edge of things, trying out the newest bugsfeatures. The recently announced staging distribution allows users to do just that. Read further to learn its purpose and how to enable it.

Mobian is an overlay over the regular Debian bullseye repository. Its package source is configured in /etc/apt/sources.list with a single line: deb bullseye main. 1

Currently the (relatively) stable Mobian overlay is configured in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/mobian.list containing the following:

deb bullseye main non-free

If you had flashed your device with an image older than April 26th, 2021, you may have a file named /etc/apt/sources.list.d/extrepo_mobian.sources instead, containing the following:

Types: deb
Architectures: amd64 arm64 armhf
Suites: mobian
Components: main non-free
Signed-By: /var/lib/extrepo/keys/mobian.asc

Recently we introduced Mobian staging, in which we include packages that are pretty new and/or might need a bit more testing. Mobian staging is a full Mobian repository, so it includes everything that the “normal” repository includes and a bit more (and some packages a bit newer).

By switching to it, you agree to name your firstborn Debian and to never eat cookies again after 3pm! So think twice before you do it!

The easiest way you can switch to using this repository is by simply changing the word bullseye to staging in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/mobian.list, or the line Suites: mobian to Suites: staging in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/extrepo_mobian.sources. This way, you will be getting all your Mobian packages from instead of

Some of the packages you install will be from the staging Mobian repo and most will be coming directly and unmodified from one of the Debian mirrors.

How do I find out if a package comes from Debian or Mobian?

Great question! Issue a apt policy PACKAGENAME to find possible sources and priorities of packages. (this will be even more useful when we talk about pinning of packages in a future blog post). For instance, at this time apt policy phosh yields:

Installed: 0.9.0-1mobian1
Candidate: 0.9.0-1mobian1
Version table:
 0.9.0-1mobian1 700
     700 staging/main arm64 Packages
     100 /var/lib/dpkg/status
 0.8.1-1mobian1 700
     700 mobian/main arm64 Packages
 0.8.0-1 500
     500 bullseye/main arm64 Packages

So, as an explanation: In this case phosh is available through Debian, mobian or (mobian) staging. And given the priorities (those 700 and 500 numbers), it prefers the mobian ones over the Debian one. And it prefers higher version numbers given the same priority, so it will pick the one from the staging repo.

If you want to learn more about priorities and how apt decides what to install, check the debian wiki page on that topic.

So how is Mobian staging different from Debian unstable?

For now, Mobian staging is still an overlay over Debian bullseye, although this might change in a not-so-distant future. So do not start including the Debian unstable (aka sid) repository, thinking this is what you should be doing. If you include sid repositories, you have finally voided your warranty, as far as support from the Mobian side goes…

Will changes in Mobian staging transition to the stable Mobian

If those changes turn out to be bad no, if yes, they will. Currently there is no automatic transitioning of packages entering staging to the stable version. It will need to be done by hand. The plan is to turn on automatic transitioning at some point in the future though.

  1. Don’t worry about the seemingly insecure http in there. All Debian/Mobian packages are signed and that signature is checked upon installation. As any meddling would be detected by that, the transport of the packages can be insecure. Using http allows better caching of packages “on the way” than using https. ↩︎