Debian and Yocto Project: How to Get The Most Out of Your Linux Distribution

By Abhishek Jadhav

Freelance Tech Writer

January 07, 2022


Debian and Yocto Project: How to Get The Most Out of Your Linux Distribution

When it comes to the operating system required for embedded systems, the Linux distros have been the most favorable choice for developers. The reason being, the framework has made it convenient for developers to choose their target operating system. 

With plenty of Linux distros available out there in the market, it is often challenging to decide which one will work best for your application. Among other Linux distributions, the dilemma of choosing the right one has always been a difficult decision due to the relentless discussion between Yocto and Debian distros. 

If you want a tailor-made (build everything from scratch) distro for your application, you have the Yocto Project. This is not an embedded Linux distribution but lets you create a custom Linux distro no matter what hardware architecture is in place. The Yocto Project is based upon BitBake and OpenEmbedded (OE) metadata. Through modular architecture, the developers choose to mix and match the required dependencies for the system.

[Image Credit: Yocto Project Docs]

The Yocto Project is very flexible in its compatibility with several architectures, including Intel's x86 and IBM's PowerPC, other than the ARM architecture. In the presence of custom silicon, you can design a BSP containing hardware-specific drivers and other routines that function in a particular hardware environment integrated with the operating system.

When it comes to advantages, trade-offs are often included. Therefore, there's a cost of building and deploying packages that demand more effort from the developers' perspective. The Yocto Project comes with extensive toolchain capabilities that are tested on various hardware architecture and platforms. With the Yocto Project, developers do not have to build a complete Linux image, but instead get packages based on the requirements of their system. Once the Yocto Project is configured accurately, developers can expect to optimize their applications.

Although Yocto comes with several advantages, the framework demands advanced programming skills that can be difficult for beginners when getting started. Customizing the root filesystem and creating your distribution, according to the developer's needs, can be a little tricky and may require more learning.  

Unlike the Yocto Project, Debian is a complete Linux distribution primarily designed for x86 architecture but now expands to other CPU architectures. Debian comes with thousands of packages required for general-purpose computing, which is why it has become the foundation for popular Linux distros, including Ubuntu. 

The Debian Linux distro is restricted by the distro's policy decisions that limit the developer to execute specific functions on the target operating system. Since it is a binary distribution, it has a vast selection of precompiled software packages that developers can easily install. It is favored on servers, desktops, and embedded devices. 

[Image Credit: Tecmint]

Debian has extended support for stable releases for at least five years. When choosing Debian for a particular application, the distro has a wide range of device support, including IoT equipment. 

Advantages of Debian include pre-built rootfs which make the file structure similar to a Linux PC. It also enables the easy integration of Debian packages into a system. Debian does not provide customizable features as much as the Yocto Project does, but it takes care of an open bug tracking system to keep all users informed. 

Even though the choice depends on the type of application being developed, Debian is an ideal choice for those interested in rapid prototyping. However, the features offered by Yocto make it more flexible for customization.

Abhishek Jadhav is an engineering student, freelance tech writer, RISC-V Ambassador, and leader of the Open Hardware Developer Community.

More from Abhishek