8. Debian Policy changes process

8.1. Introduction

To introduce a change in the current Debian Policy, the change proposal has to go through a certain process. 1

8.2. Change Goals

  • The change should be technically correct, and consistent with the rest of the policy document. This means no legislating the value of π. This also means that the proposed solution be known to work; iterative design processes do not belong in policy.

  • The change should not be too disruptive; if very many packages become instantly buggy, then instead there should be a transition plan. Exceptions should be rare (only if the current state is really untenable), and probably blessed by the TC.

  • The change has to be reviewed in depth, in the open, where any one may contribute; a publicly accessible, archived, open mailing list.

  • Proposal should be addressed in a timely fashion.

  • Any domain experts should be consulted, since not every policy mailing list subscriber is an expert on everything, including policy maintainers.

  • The goal is rough consensus on the change, which should not be hard if the matter is technical. Technical issues where there is no agreement should be referred to the TC; non-technical issues should be referred to the whole developer body, and perhaps general resolutions lie down that path.

  • Package maintainers whose packages may be impacted should have access to policy change proposals, even if they do not subscribe to policy mailing lists (policy gazette?).

8.3. Current Process

Each suggested change goes through different states. These states are denoted through either usertags of the debian-policy@packages.debian.org user or, for moreinfo, patch, pending, and wontfix, regular tags.

Current list of bugs

The Policy delegates are responsible for managing the tags on bugs and will update tags as new bugs are submitted or as activity happens on bugs. All Debian Developers should feel free to add the seconded tag as described below. Other tags should be changed with the coordination of the Policy Team.

8.3.1. State A: More information required

The Policy delegates are unable to determine whether the bug is really a Policy matter, or judge that there are missing details that would prevent a fruitful discussion (and may result in a confused and unhelpful discussion).

Policy delegates ask the original submitter to provide the missing details. Others are asked to refrain from discussing whatever they take the issue to be, limiting their postings to attempts to supply the missing details.

TAG: moreinfo

What needs to happen next: Submitter (or someone else) provides the requested information within 30 days, or the bug is closed.

The majority of bugs will skip this stage.

8.3.2. State B: Discussion

Discuss remedy. Alternate proposals. Discussion guided by delegates. There should be a clear time limit to this stage, but as yet we have not set one.

TAG: discussion

What needs to happen next: Reach a conclusion and consensus in the discussion and make a final proposal for what should be changed (if anything), moving to the proposal tag.

8.3.3. State C: Proposal

A final proposal has emerged from the discussion, and there is a rough consensus on how to proceed to resolve the issue.

TAG: proposal

What needs to happen next: Provided that the rough consensus persists, develop a patch against the current Policy document with specific wording of the change. Often this is done in conjunction with the proposal, in which case one may skip this step and move directly to patch tag.

8.3.4. State D: Wording proposed

A patch against the Policy document reflecting the consensus has been created and is waiting for formal seconds. The standard patch tag is used for this state, since it’s essentially equivalent to the standard meaning of that tag.

TAG: patch

What needs to happen next: The proposal needs to be reviewed and seconded. Any Debian developer who agrees with the change and the conclusion of rough consensus from the discussion should say so in the bug log by seconding the proposal.

8.3.5. State E: Seconded

The proposal is signed off on by N Debian Developers. To start with, we’re going with N=3, meaning that if three Debian Developers agree, not just with the proposal but with the conclusion that it reflects consensus and addresses the original issue – it is considered eligible for inclusion in the next version of Policy. Since Policy is partly a technical project governance method, one must be a Debian Developer to formally second, although review and discussion is welcome from anyone. Once this tag has been applied, the bug is waiting for a Policy team member to apply the patch to the package repository.

TAG: seconded

What needs to happen next: A Policy maintainer does the final review and confirmation, and then applies the patch for the next Policy release.

This tag is not used very much because normally a Policy maintainer applies the patch and moves the proposal to the next state once enough seconds are reached.

8.3.6. State F: Accepted

Change accepted, will be in next upload. The standard pending tag is used for this state since it matches the regular meaning of pending.

TAG: pending

What needs to happen next: The bug is now in the waiting queue for the next Policy release, and there’s nothing left to do except for upload a new version of Policy.

8.3.7. State G: Reject

Rejected proposals. The standard wontfix is used for this state. Normally, bugs in this state will not remain open (excepting stalled); instead, a Policy team member will close them with an explanation. The submitter may then appeal to the tech-ctte if they so desire. Alternately, issues appealed to the tech-ctte may remain open with this tag while that appeal proceeds.

TAG: wontfix

We may use one of the following tags here. It’s not clear whether we need more tags for this stage.


Not a policy matter


Referred to the Technical Committee (tech-ctte)


Referred to the developer body


Rejected by a Policy delegate


Consensus on a proposal was not forthcoming, and the bug is to be closed. Those wishing to restart discussion should open a new bug, but only if they have a concrete new change proposal.


Consensus on a proposal was not forthcoming. However, the bug should be kept open, as a form of documentation, and to minimise the number of duplicate filings.

What may need to happen next: The bug should be closed once a final resolution is reached (excepting stalled), or retagged to an appropriate state if that final resolution reverses the decision to reject the proposal.

8.4. Other Tags

All Policy bugs are additionally categorized by class of bug.

The normative tag is used for bugs that make normative changes to Policy, meaning that the dictates of Policy will change in some fashion as part of the resolution of the bug if the proposal is accepted. The full process is followed for such bugs.

TAG: normative

The informative tag is used for bugs about wording issues, typos, informative footnotes, or other changes that do not affect the formal dictates of Policy, just the presentation. The same tags are used for these bugs for convenience, but the Policy maintainers may make informative changes without following the full process. Informative bugs fall under their discretion.

TAG: informative

The packaging tag is used for bugs about the packaging and build process of the debian-policy Debian package. These bugs do not follow the normal process and will not have the other tags except for pending and wontfix (used with their normal meanings).

TAG: packaging


This process was originally developed by Margarita Manterola, Clint Adams, Russ Allbery and Manoj Srivastava. In 2017, Sean Whitton deprecated the ‘issue’ usertag and added use of the ‘moreinfo’ tag, after discussions at DebConf17.