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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Wed, 06 Jul 2011

Debian Mozilla team creates a Release archive for Iceweasel

The versioning of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, and the rebranded Iceweasel browser in Debian, going from 3.6.x to 4.x and now 5.x and 6.x has Linux users (and Debian users in particular) constantly messing with their sources to make sure they’ve got the version of Iceweasel they want.

As I explain below, the Debian Mozilla team APT archive has got you covered. But first a little more informational whining:

Almost as soon as the Firefox/Iceweasel 4.x series started, it abruptly ended in favor of 5.x. This is going to keep happening. It’s not that changes in the software are that radical. It’s just version-number-creep on the part of Mozilla. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I could care less. I just want a recent, patched version of the browser (and the Thunderbird/Icedove mail client) on my Debian Squeeze system.

Good news for Debian Squeeze users is that Icedove is in Debian Backports. But not Iceweasel (to the best of my knowledge anyway). So I’m still using the Debian Mozilla team APT archive.

A check there today shows that they no longer recommend use of the Iceweasel-5.0 portion of their archive, though it’s still there on the server.

Now for Squeeze (and presumably other Debian) users, there is a Release archive for Iceweasel. Add (or substitute) the following to your /etc/apt/sources.list (or in my case /etc/apt/sources.list.d/mozilla.list) file:

deb http://mozilla.debian.net/ squeeze-backports iceweasel-release

This presumably brings in the most recent, patched, non-development release of the Iceweasel web browser, which is exactly what I want.

  1. goossbears

    Thursday, July 7, 2011 - 17:53:29

    I keep finding myself getting confused about this whole Firefox/Iceweasel browser updating thing.

    First there was and has been the generalized difference between Firefox and Iceweasel; I get it that Iceweasel is Debian and Ubuntu-specific.

    Second, there has been the difference between the mozilla repositories (for Firefox+Iceweasel and for all OSs including Windows) and the Debian/Ubuntu repositories for Iceweasel. One of your links is specifically to the Debian repository for iceweasel 3.5.16-8 ; another site is Mozilla’s Firefox 5.0 link (http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all.html ); the other Debian Mozilla team APT archive link you mention here is something like a combination of a Mozilla repository +AND+ a Debian/APT repository. So ?WTHIGOH????

    Third, and for pure Debian users utilizing the Debian/APT_ repository, there are the confusingly different Iceweasel versions 3.0, 3.5, 3.6, release (4.x? 5.x?), beta (6.x?), and aurora (x.x?)

    Sure, it’s possible that I and few others are the ONLY Debian users out there who are a bit confused by all this. If more and more other readers are confused by some of this, though, is there any chance that you could de-confuse us? It would be awesome if you could, or at least point in the right direction!

    1. Innocent Bystander

      Thursday, July 7, 2011 - 19:06:01

      Would it be simpler just to install Firefox and Thunderbird directly? Why would Debian need a special version?

      I use LinuxMint 11 and Firefox 5 works OK. I suppose that FF5 would work OK for Debian too.

    2. steven

      Thursday, July 7, 2011 - 20:08:44


      The more you run Linux (and BSD, for that matter) releases (more time and more different systems), the more you can get a handle on how this works.

      I’ll admit that the renaming of the Firefox web browser as Iceweasel and the Thunderbird e-mail program as Icedove is confusing.

      The applications are basically the same, except that in the case of Debian (and of most projects/distributions) the developers on the project are building the applications and their various pieces from source code so they’re built the way the developers want them to be built — for performance, security and architecture (which kind of processor) reasons.

      The renaming of the applications has to do with Mozilla’s copyright on the Firefox and Thunderbird names and logos. Debian doesn’t want to redistribute those kinds of things, so as a compromise they rebranded the applications with different names and logos that don’t carry the same restrictions.

      Once you figure out the equivalents (Firefox = Iceweasel, Thunderbird = Icedove, Seamoney = Iceape, etc.), it all becomes clear.

      I have heard that things are changing in regard to either the copyright stance at Mozilla, or Debian (or both), and that the applications could very weill carry their “original” names in the next Stable release of Debian.

      I don’t care one way or the other, but it would lead to less confusion were this to actually happen.

      Regarding the versions of the browser and e-mail client, some distributions have more liberal update policies and ship newer versions of browsers in older systems. Ubuntu does this now, and I generally am supportive of it.

      I work in a lot of web-browsers-accessed applications, and I can understand somebody wanting to keep an older browser around so that particular application continues working optimally. But the larger problem is poorly written web-based applications. Better coding would “free” these applications from being tied to particular browser releases.

      Anyhow, I digress.

      The way many distributions work, including Debian Stable (currently Squeeze) is that the software that ships with the distribution does not change. There can be bug-fixes and security updates, but the basic version numbers of the applications — and their functionality (and lack thereof) should not change during the release.

      Hence Squeeze ships with Iceweasel (aka Firefox) 3.5.x. Had the 3.5 series of Firefox continued, I’m sure those updates would have made it into Debian Squeeze, but since the Firefox project moved to 3.6, then 4, now 5 and 6, Debian Squeeze sticks with 3.5.x.

      Debian’s developers may still choose to fix security issues in the 3.5.x browser, and those patched packages will install when you do a software update.

      But it’s hard work to backport security fixes into old code. Many developers would rather that Mozilla handle the fixes upstream, and they’ll just continue packaging what is available in the upstream repository.

      The thing about Linux (and BSD) that many users are surprised/gladdened/horrified by, depending on their viewpoint, is that in projects like Ubuntu, every six months you can get a “new” web browser / office suite, etc., but you also get an entirely new system, down to the kernel level, to go with it.

      However, Debian Stable and some other systems keep the same base for a lot longer. The Ubuntu LTS (long-term support) release is among these. While the LTS now includes a newer, rolling browser, as does Red Hat Enterprise Linux, if I’m correct, Debian does not have this “liberal” of a package update policy.

      That’s where these other repositories come in: With the Debian Mozilla Team APT archive, and eventually with Debian Backports, you can modify your existing Debian system to install and run newer versions of the Iceweasel and Icedove applications.

      I prefer to work with repositories rather than binaries/packages downloaded from Mozilla directly because I want the Debian system to check for updates and install them when they’re available. Especially for web browsers, I don’t want to be in the position of going to the Mozilla web site every time there’s an update to download a new package.

      With Google Chrome there’s no package available from Debian, though they do package Chromium (which is very, very old in Squeeze).

      In this case I used the Debian package that Google provides. It sets up your system to use Google’s APT package repository and pulls updates from there — And Google Chrome is updated so often that it would be painful if it weren’t automatic.

      If Mozilla offered its own repository for .deb packages that worked with Debian, I’d consider using it. But to the best of my knowledge, they don’t, so I’m happy to use the Debian Mozilla team’s repository and choose the version I want to run by adjusting the repository line in my sources files.

      Playing around with the sources.list files isn’t terribly scary or overly technical, but the payoff is huge.

      I’ve been able to add newer versions of key applications to my existing Debian Squeeze system to improve my experience while keeping the stable base that runs so well on my hardware.

      If the stable Debian distribution runs well on your hardware, I strongly suggest looking into extra repositories like the Debian Mozilla APT archive and Debian Backports, and even packages like the ones I use from Google, Dropbox that add repositories to your system automatically.

      At the moment, I prefer keeping my “core” distribution stable while getting the newer bits I need. Debian allows you to do that. It’s not alone — you can do this in Ubuntu and maybe even in RHEL/CentOS. But it works for me in Debian, so that’s what I’m doing.

    3. paris

      Saturday, July 9, 2011 - 13:20:19

      Just one question:

      Do you have any idea, if/when will iceweasel 4/5/6…./120000 will get into sid? I mean it was fine for it to be in experimental 3 months ago,but now?

      I just hate it to have to add experimental, upgrade iceweasel (when i manually find there is an update) and then remove experimental again from my sources..i have to remove it cause it breaks several stuff on my system.


    4. craigevil

      Sunday, July 10, 2011 - 00:14:19

      Prepare yourself for the upcoming changes on the mozilla.debian.net repository - http://lists.alioth.debian.org/pipermail/pkg-mozilla-maintainers/2011-July/010180.html

      Debian Mozilla team APT archive - http://mozilla.debian.net/

    5. Orlandus

      Monday, July 11, 2011 - 06:28:15

      It’s not a matter of copyright, as steven says, but rather of trademarks.

      A product name can’t be “copyrighted”.

    6. John Allen

      Monday, July 11, 2011 - 10:03:40

      Quote “I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I could care less.”

      I sure you meant “could not care less”

    7. steven

      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 06:32:56

      Yes, it’s trademark, not copyright — a slip there on my part.

      And I suppose “could not care less” is the more acceptable use of the cliche that some say as “I could care less.” For the latter, I accept my usage because once people start using a phrase a certain way for a certain length of time, it becomes correct in its own way.

      Thanks for reading in any case (or “in any event,” if you prefer).

    8. Jim

      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 20:35:59

      Thank you, went through about 5 different methods of installing IW5, finally got one that worked. ^_^