Chapter 2. Prerequisites

Table of Contents

2.1. People around Debian
2.2. How to contribute
2.3. Social dynamics of Debian
2.4. Technical reminders
2.5. Debian documentation
2.6. Help resources
2.7. Archive situation
2.8. Contribution approaches
2.9. Novice contributor and maintainer

Here are the prerequisites which you need to understand before you to get involved with Debian.

There are several types of people interacting around Debian with different roles:

  • upstream author: the person who made the original program.
  • upstream maintainer: the person who currently maintains the program.
  • maintainer: the person making the Debian package of the program.
  • sponsor: a person who helps maintainers to upload packages to the official Debian package archive (after checking their contents).
  • mentor: a person who helps novice maintainers with packaging etc.
  • Debian Developer (DD): a member of the Debian project with full upload rights to the official Debian package archive.
  • Debian Maintainer (DM): a person with limited upload rights to the official Debian package archive.

Please note that you can’t become an official Debian Developer (DD) overnight, because it takes more than technical skill. Please do not be discouraged by this. If it is useful to others, you can still upload your package either as a maintainer through a sponsor or as a Debian Maintainer.

Please note that you do not need to create any new packages to become an official Debian Developer. Contributing to the existing packages can provide a path to becoming an official Debian Developer too. There are many packages waiting for good maintainers (see Section 2.8, “Contribution approaches”).

Please refer to the following to learn how to contribute to Debian:

Please understand Debian’s social dynamics to prepare yourself for interactions with Debian:

  • We all are volunteers.

    • You can’t impose on others what to do.
    • You should be motivated to do things by yourself.
  • Friendly cooperation is the driving force.

    • Your contribution should not over-strain others.
    • Your contribution is valuable only when others appreciate it.
  • Debian is not your school where you get automatic attention of teachers.

    • You should be able to learn many things by yourself.
    • Attention from other volunteers is a very scarce resource.
  • Debian is constantly improving.

    • You are expected to make high quality packages.
    • You should adapt yourself to change.

Since we focus only on the technical aspects of the packaging in the rest of this guide, please refer to the following to understand the social dynamics of Debian:

Here are some technical reminders to accommodate other maintainers to work on your package easily and effectively to maximize the output of Debian as a whole.

[Note] Note

Debugging of software tends to consume more time than writing the initial working software.

Please make yourself ready to read the pertinent part of the latest Debian documentation to generate perfect Debian packages:

All these documents are published to using the unstable suite versions of corresponding Debian packages. If you wish to have local accesses to all these documents from your base system, please consider to use techniques such as apt-pinning and chroot (Section 7.10, “chroot”).[5]

If this guide contradicts the official Debian documentation, the official Debian documentation is correct. Please file a bug report on the debmake-doc package using the reportbug command.

Here are alternative tutorial documents, which you may read along with this guide:

[Tip] Tip

When reading these tutorials, you should consider using the debmake command in place of the dh_make command.

Before you decide to ask your question in some public place, please do your part of the effort, i.e., read the fine documentation:

Your desired information can be found effectively by using a well-formed search string such as “keyword” to limit the search domain of the web search engine.

Making a small test package is a good way to learn details of the packaging. Inspecting existing well maintained packages is the best way to learn how other people make packages.

If you still have questions about the packaging, you can ask them interactively:

The more experienced Debian developers will gladly help you, if you ask properly after making your required efforts.

[Caution] Caution

Debian development is a moving target. Some information found on the web may be outdated, incorrect, and non-applicable. Please use it carefully.

Please realize the situation of the Debian archive.

  • Debian already has packages for most kinds of programs.
  • The number of packages already in the Debian archive is several tens of times greater than that of active maintainers.
  • Unfortunately, some packages lack an appropriate level of attention by the maintainer.

Thus, contributions to packages already in the archive are far more appreciated (and more likely to receive sponsorship for uploading) by other maintainers.

[Tip] Tip

The wnpp-alert command from the devscripts package can check for installed packages up for adoption or orphaned.

[Tip] Tip

The how-can-i-help package can show opportunities for contributing to Debian on packages installed locally.

Here is pseudo-Python code for your contribution approaches to Debian with a program:

if exist_in_debian(program):
  if is_team_maintained(program):
  if is_orphaned(program): # maintainer: Debian QA Group
  elif is_RFA(program): # Request for Adoption
    if need_help(program):
else: # new packages
  if not is_good_program(program):
  elif not is_distributable(program):
  else: # worth packaging
    if is_ITPed_by_others(program):
      if need_help(program):
    else: # really new
      if is_applicable_team(program):
      if is_DFSG(program) and is_DFSG(dependency(program)):
        file_ITP(program, area="main") # This is Debian
      elif is_DFSG(program):
        file_ITP(program, area="contrib") # This is not Debian
      else: # non-DFSG
        file_ITP(program, area="non-free") # This is not Debian


You either need to file an ITP or adopt a package to start working on it. See the “Debian Developer’s Reference”:

The novice contributor and maintainer may wonder what to learn to start your contribution to Debian. Here are my suggestions depending on your focus:

  • Packaging

    • Basics of the POSIX shell and make.
    • Some rudimentary knowledge of Perl and Python.
  • Translation

    • Basics of how the PO based translation system works.
  • Documentation

    • Basics of text markups (XML, ReST, Wiki, …).

The novice contributor and maintainer may wonder where to start your contribution to Debian. Here are my suggestions depending on your skills:

These activities should give you good exposure to the other Debian people to establish your credibility.

The novice maintainer should avoid packaging programs with the high security exposure:

  • setuid or setgid program
  • daemon program
  • program installed in the /sbin/ or /usr/sbin/ directories

When you gain more experience in packaging, you’ll be able to package such programs.

[4] The overwhelming number of Debian maintainers use git over other VCS systems such as hg, bzr, etc.

[5] It is unwise to run your base system under the pure unstable suite even for the development system. Normally, most package development activities use unstable chroot as in Section 7.10, “chroot”. By using virtualization, you can test demanding situation such as the full Desktop system, network daemons, and system installer in the unstable suite environment even from the base system running the stable suite.

[6] This is not the absolute requirement. The hostile upstream may become a major resource drain for us all. The friendly upstream can be consulted to solve any problems with the program.