Chapter 1. About this manual

Table of Contents

1.1. Scope
1.2. New versions of this document
1.3. Authors and Maintainers
1.4. Related documents
1.5. Definitions

1.1. Scope

This manual describes the policy requirements for the Debian distribution. This includes the structure and contents of the Debian archive and several design issues of the operating system, as well as technical requirements that each package must satisfy to be included in the distribution.

This manual also describes Debian policy as it relates to creating Debian packages. It is not a tutorial on how to build packages, nor is it exhaustive where it comes to describing the behavior of the packaging system. Instead, this manual attempts to define the interface to the package management system that the developers have to be conversant with. [1]

The footnotes present in this manual are merely informative, and are not part of Debian policy itself.

The appendices to this manual are not necessarily normative, either. Please see Appendix A, Introduction and scope of these appendices for more information.

In the normative part of this manual, the words must, should and may, and the adjectives required, recommended and optional, are used to distinguish the significance of the various guidelines in this policy document. Packages that do not conform to the guidelines denoted by must (or required) will generally not be considered acceptable for the Debian distribution. Non-conformance with guidelines denoted by should (or recommended) will generally be considered a bug, but will not necessarily render a package unsuitable for distribution. Guidelines denoted by may (or optional) are truly optional and adherence is left to the maintainer's discretion.

These classifications are roughly equivalent to the bug severities serious (for must or required directive violations), minor, normal or important (for should or recommended directive violations) and wishlist (for optional items). [2]

Much of the information presented in this manual will be useful even when building a package which is to be distributed in some other way or is intended for local use only.

udebs (stripped-down binary packages used by the Debian Installer) do not comply with all of the requirements discussed here. See the Debian Installer internals manual for more information about them.

1.2. New versions of this document

This manual is distributed via the Debian package debian-policy.

The current version of this document is also available from the Debian web mirrors at Also available from the same directory are several other formats: policy.html.tar.gz, policy.pdf.gz, and Included in both the same directory and in the debian-policy package is a standalone copy of Appendix J, Upgrading checklist, which indicates policy changes between versions of this document.

1.3. Authors and Maintainers

Originally called "Debian GNU/Linux Policy Manual", this manual was initially written in 1996 by Ian Jackson. It was revised on November 27th, 1996 by David A. Morris. Christian Schwarz added new sections on March 15th, 1997, and reworked/restructured it in April-July 1997. Christoph Lameter contributed the "Web Standard". Julian Gilbey largely restructured it in 2001.

Since September 1998, the responsibility for the contents of this document lies on the debian-policy mailing list. Proposals are discussed there and inserted into policy after a certain consensus is established. The current policy process is described in an appendix, Appendix I, Debian Policy changes process . The actual editing is done by a group of maintainers that have no editorial powers. These are the current maintainers:

  1. Russ Allbery

  2. Bill Allombert

  3. Andreas Barth

  4. Sean Whitton

While the authors of this document have tried hard to avoid typos and other errors, these do still occur. If you discover an error in this manual or if you want to give any comments, suggestions, or criticisms please send an email to the Debian Policy Mailing List, , or submit a bug report against the debian-policy package.

Please do not try to reach the individual authors or maintainers of the Policy Manual regarding changes to the Policy.

1.4. Related documents

There are several other documents other than this Policy Manual that are necessary to fully understand some Debian policies and procedures.

The external "sub-policy" documents are referred to in:

In addition to those, which carry the weight of policy, there is the Debian Developer's Reference. This document describes procedures and resources for Debian developers, but it is not normative; rather, it includes things that don't belong in the Policy, such as best practices for developers.

The Developer's Reference is available in the developers-reference package. It's also available from the Debian web mirrors at

Finally, a specification for machine-readable copyright files is maintained as part of the debian-policy package using the same procedure as the other policy documents. Use of this format is optional.

1.5. Definitions

The following terms are used in this Policy Manual:


The character encoding specified by ANSI X3.4-1986 and its predecessor standards, referred to in MIME as US-ASCII, and corresponding to an encoding in eight bits per character of the first 128 Unicode characters, with the eighth bit always zero.


The transformation format (sometimes called encoding) of Unicode defined by RFC 3629. UTF-8 has the useful property of having ASCII as a subset, so any text encoded in ASCII is trivially also valid UTF-8.

[1] Informally, the criteria used for inclusion is that the material meet one of the following requirements:

Standard interfaces

The material presented represents an interface to the packaging system that is mandated for use, and is used by, a significant number of packages, and therefore should not be changed without peer review. Package maintainers can then rely on this interface not changing, and the package management software authors need to ensure compatibility with this interface definition. (Control file and changelog file formats are examples.)

Chosen Convention

If there are a number of technically viable choices that can be made, but one needs to select one of these options for inter-operability. The version number format is one example.

Please note that these are not mutually exclusive; selected conventions often become parts of standard interfaces.

[2] Compare RFC 2119. Note, however, that these words are used in a different way in this document.