I've been using Linux for more than 2 years now, and I'm a satisfied user. I started with Ubuntu, then switched to Fedora and now I'm fond of Linux Mint.

Linux is often described as "stable". I have some inkling of what it might mean, but today I felt the need to understand it completely.

So my question is...

What does it mean that operating system is stable? What are the features of stable system?

  • 4
    Fortunately you're young enough and never had to use anything below Windows XP. Then you'd understand what an instable operating system is and by contrast what an stable OS is. Google for BSOD
    – OscarRyz
    Mar 31, 2011 at 21:18
  • I'm almost 22 years old and I used Windows 98 about 12 years ago. I just wanted precise definition, not definition based on feelings. Mar 31, 2011 at 21:37
  • For precise definition ( if you trust in wikimedia ) here's what stable means: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/stable#Etymology_2 Hence an "stable" operating system would be one that is "relatively unchanging, permanent; firmly fixed or established, not easily to be moved, changed, unbalanced, destroyed or altered in value." For instance, if a wild program runs in it, that program should not shutdown the whole OS ( as happened very frequently with Windows OS prior the XP version )
    – OscarRyz
    Mar 31, 2011 at 21:42

6 Answers 6


A "stable" OS, much like a "stable" application of any kind, is simply one that is not prone to error, or is robust enough to deal with said error without the operating system ceasing to, well, operate. There is no real standard for calling an OS "stable"; it can vary among distros, and even build-to-build (you may hear of getting the "latest stable build", as opposed to a "beta" build), but generally the term will stick where it applies.


There are often both stable & unstable versions of software by open source projects. 'Stable' means that a version has already been tested and used, so it will often times have fewer bugs than the 'unstable' version, which is less well-tested. If you're using Linux as a production server NEVER use a unstable version, because it may have security holes or unknown bugs. However, sometimes the stable version won't have some features that have been added to the unstable version.

  • 1
    Red herring. There is nothing saying that an unstable version of software will have either more bugs or more security holes than a stable version. Mar 31, 2011 at 20:11
  • 1
    @Ignacio: there's a saying, I think from TDD people, that goes something like: "code that hasn't been tested is wrong".
    – ninjalj
    Mar 31, 2011 at 20:18
  • @ninjalj: Sure, but that has nothing to do with the stable/unstable designation. Mar 31, 2011 at 20:19
  • I think you're confusing the term with development stages. In the OP context it means the whole OS ( linux , any version ) compared with OTHER OS ( Did you ever used Windows ME? ) :)
    – OscarRyz
    Mar 31, 2011 at 21:22
  • Or Win 98 which I refer to as the original BSOD OS...youtube.com/watch?v=IW7Rqwwth84
    – Moab
    Apr 1, 2011 at 22:20

For me, "Stable" means it doesn't change very much. So a "Stable" version of a distribution, might have security updates but few other changes; certainly none which are likely to make a working application stop working.

An "Unstable" means that it is liable to change its interfaces, e.g. APIs, command structure, filesystem layout, or other things which can cause a working system to become a non-working one.


The Debian project (and possibly other Linux distributions) uses the term "stable" and "unstable" to describe releases in the manner @evotopid states.

@KeithS is also correct. "Stable" doesn't have an official definition apart from that.


'Stable' means that a version has already been tested and used, so it will often times have fewer bugs than the 'unstable' version, which is less well-tested. , it is less prone to errors


Well fundamentally a stable system is one that doesn't suffer from instability. Once it is set-up to do a job it keeps on doing that job. No system is perfectly stable but some systems are much more unstable than others.

Instability can be split up into various categories.

  1. Instability caused by software bugs that were always there, but manifest conditionally or randomly.
  2. Instability caused by hardware bugs.
  3. Instability caused by software messing with other software.
  4. Instability caused by changes in the software.

Point 1 is mitigated through software maturity. With lots of users using the software for a long time and reporting bugs, hopefully most of the serious ones will be pinned down and fixed.

Point 2 can be the trickiest to deal with. Sufficiantly bad hardware will ruin aspirations for overall system stability, but many hardware issues once discovered and pinned-down can be mitigated by software changes.

Point 3 is mitigated by designing isolation into the system. So that when a peice of software does go haywire it's effects are hopefully contained to that one peice of software rather than the system as a whole.

Point 4 is why we have "stable releases" of software projects (including but not limited to operating system distributions). Instability caused by changes in software can be significant, but not changing the software at all is not really an option either because user needs and outside influences change.

Stable releases that receive a minimal set of critical and/or low-risk updates over a defined lifetime offering stability for that lifetime. At some point a new stable release replaces the old. There may well be breakage during the upgrade from one stable release to the next but that is something that can be planned-for and scheduled.

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