How to Install GNOME 41 Desktop Unstable on Debian 11 Bullseye

Many Debian 11 users know that Gnome 38 is the default version of the codename Bullseye operating system. However, as much hype has been built around the new Gnome 41 desktop, many would be looking for an opportunity to install and test or permanently use the latest on offer from GNOME.

GNOME 41 introduces many changes from visual changes, new apps, and overhaul back-end changes to improve performance. Overall, it is vastly different from what previous GNOME versions have looked like before.

In the following tutorial, you will learn how to install the new GNOME 41 desktop from the unstable (sid) repository on your Debian 11 Bullseye operating system.

Prerequisites

  • Recommended OS: Debian 11 Bullseye
  • User account: A user account with sudo or root access.

Update Operating System

Update your Debian operating system to make sure all existing packages are up to date:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

The tutorial will be using the sudo command and assuming you have sudo status.

To verify sudo status on your account:

sudo whoami

Example output showing sudo status:

[joshua@debian~]$ sudo whoami
root

To set up an existing or new sudo account, visit our tutorial on Adding a User to Sudoers on Debian.

To use the root account, use the following command with the root password to log in.

su
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Add Debian Unstable (Sid) Repository

The first task is to add the unstable repositories to your APT sources list. GNOME is still being imported and worked on for future Debian releases, so this is the only repository branch you can install and get updates from for now.

First, open the sources.list file.

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Next, add the unstable repository to the file.

deb http://deb.debian.org/debian unstable main contrib non-free
deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian unstable main contrib non-free

Example:

Now save the file CTRL+O, then exit CTRL+X.

DO NOT UPDATE YOUR PACKAGES YET!

Setup APT Pinning for Unstable (Sid) Repositories

By adding the unstable repositories, you will quickly get unwanted update alters for your packages that will draw off the unstable repository you just added. You do not want to update all your packages, or else you would have just installed Sid, to begin with. An easy solution is to use apt-pinning

First, open the following preferences configuration file.

sudo nano /etc/apt/preferences

Next, add the following.

Package: *
Pin: release a=bullseye
Pin-Priority: 500

Package: *
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 100

The order goes all updates are preferenced to Bullseye Repository with a higher score (500) than Unstable Repository (100), so you are not prompted on various packages to be updated from the unstable repository.

Example:

Now save the file CTRL+O, then exit CTRL+X.

Lastly, update your repository list:

sudo apt update

Now proceed to the installation part of the tutorial once complete.

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Install GNOME Desktop 41

Now that the unstable repository has been added, you can install GNOME 41 and its dependencies.

In your terminal, execute the following command.

sudo apt -t unstable install gnome-session gnome-shell gnome-backgrounds gnome-applets gnome-control-center mutter gjs

Example output:

Type “Y”, then press the “ENTER KEY” to proceed.

As you can see, the command uses “-t unstable” to install the latest GNOME software from the unstable repository.

Note, you may see similar message outputs as below. Press the “q” button to quit the information message.

Example:

During the installation, you will see the following prompt about configuring the “libc6:amd64” package.

Example:

Press the “ENTER KEY,” which will take you to the following message.

Example:

By default, <No> is selected. However, you can select <Yes> if you have no essential services running. Press the “ENTER KEY” to proceed when you have finalized your choice.

Once the GNOME Session manager has completed installing, reboot your Debian 11 operating system:

sudo reboot

Once you log back on, confirm the upgrade has been successful by typing the following command in your terminal:

gnome-shell --version

Example output:

GNOME Shell 41.0

Alternatively, install the package screenfetch.

sudo apt install screenfetch -y

In your terminal, type the following command to print the system information, which will show your GNOME version.

Congratulations, you have upgraded to the latest GNOME 41 build-in development by the Debian team. Note, the about section may show GNOME 38; ignore this.

How to Update the GNOME 41 Packages

The best way to keep the updates rolling in with GNOME 41 without affecting your other system packages is to add the packages to apt-pinning individually that you installed.

First, re-open the preferences file.

sudo nano /etc/apt/preferences

Next, add the following to the existing.

Package: *
Pin: release a=bullseye
Pin-Priority: 500

Package: *
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 100

Package: gnome-session
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 1000

Package: gnome-backgrounds
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 1000

Package: gnome-applets
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 1000

Package: gnome-control-center
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 1000

Package: mutter
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 1000

Package: gjs
Pin: release a=unstable
Pin-Priority: 1000

As before, all standard packages will use the Bullseye repository. The unstable can be drawn upon to install any other unstable packages but should not affect the existing ones. The exception is now that all the GNOME 41 packages are prioritized at “1000” to install over Bullseye, at “500”.

Only the packages listed will be updated from the unstable repository in the future. There are other alternatives, but this is an easier way.

Now save the file CTRL+O, then exit CTRL+X.

Lastly, update your repository list:

sudo apt update
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Comments and Conclusion

In the tutorial, you have learned about Debian’s experimental repository, installing it, and pulling the latest GNOME desktop from the Debian team in charge of adapting it to future releases. Overall, Gnome 41 will look very different once you change from the default GNOME 38. Some of the noticeable changes are rounded window corners, smoother animations which give it a more modern look amongst many other changes.

For more information about the status of GNOME 41 for Debian, visit the status page, which is updated regularly.

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