1. Overview of Debian Maintainer Tools¶
This section contains a rough overview of the tools available to maintainers. The following is by no means complete or definitive, but just a guide to some of the more popular tools.
Debian maintainer tools are meant to aid developers and free their time for critical tasks. As Larry Wall says, there's more than one way to do it.
Some people prefer to use high-level package maintenance tools and some do not. Debian is officially agnostic on this issue; any tool that gets the job done is fine. Therefore, this section is not meant to stipulate to anyone which tools they should use or how they should go about their duties of maintainership. Nor is it meant to endorse any particular tool to the exclusion of a competing tool.
Most of the descriptions of these packages come from the actual package
descriptions themselves. Further information can be found in the package
documentation itself. You can also see more info with the command
apt-cache show package-name.
1.1. Core tools¶
The following tools are pretty much required for any maintainer.
dpkg-dev contains the tools (including
dpkg-source) required to
unpack, build, and upload Debian source packages. These utilities
contain the fundamental, low-level functionality required to create and
manipulate packages; as such, they are essential for any Debian
debconf provides a consistent interface to configuring packages
interactively. It is user interface independent, allowing end-users to
configure packages with a text-only interface, an HTML interface, or a
dialog interface. New interfaces can be added as modules.
You can find documentation for this package in the
Many feel that this system should be used for all packages that require
interactive configuration; see Configuration management with debconf.
is not currently required by Debian Policy, but that may change in the
fakeroot simulates root privileges. This enables you to build
packages without being root (packages usually want to install files with
root ownership). If you have
dpkg-buildpackage will use it automatically.
1.2. Package lint tools¶
According to the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (FOLDOC),
is: "A Unix C language processor which carries out more thorough checks
on the code than is usual with C compilers." Package lint tools help
package maintainers by automatically finding common problems and policy
violations in their packages.
lintian dissects Debian packages and emits information about bugs
and policy violations. It contains automated checks for many aspects of
Debian policy as well as some checks for common errors.
You should periodically get the newest
check over all your packages. Notice that the
-i option provides
detailed explanations of what each error or warning means, what its
basis in Policy is, and commonly how you can fix the problem.
Refer to Testing the package for more information on how and when to use Lintian.
You can also see a summary of all problems reported by Lintian on your
packages at https://lintian.debian.org/. These reports contain
lintian output for the whole development distribution
lintian-brush contains a set of scripts that can automatically
fix more than 80 common lintian issues in Debian packages.
It comes with a wrapper script that invokes the scripts, updates the changelog (if desired) and commits each change to version control.
piuparts is the
.deb package installation, upgrading, and removal
piuparts tests that
.deb packages handle installation, upgrading,
and removal correctly. It does this by creating a minimal Debian
installation in a chroot, and installing, upgrading, and removing packages
in that environment, and comparing the state of the directory tree before
piuparts reports any files that have been added, removed,
or modified during this process.
piuparts is meant as a quality assurance tool for people who create
.deb packages to test them before they upload them to the Debian
debdiff (from the
devscripts package, devscripts)
compares file lists and control files of two packages. It is a simple
regression test, as it will help you notice if the number of binary
packages has changed since the last upload, or if something has changed
in the control file. Of course, some of the changes it reports will be
all right, but it can help you prevent various accidents.
You can run it over a pair of binary packages:
debdiff package_1-1_arch.deb package_2-1_arch.deb
Or even a pair of changes files:
debdiff package_1-1_arch.changes package_2-1_arch.changes
For more information please see debdiff 1.
diffoscope provides in-depth comparison of files, archives, and directories.
diffoscope will try to get to the bottom of what makes files or directories
different. It will recursively unpack archives of many kinds and transform
various binary formats into more human readable form to compare them.
Originally developed to compare two
.deb files or two
nowadays it can compare two tarballs, ISO images, or PDF just as easily and
supports a huge variety of filetypes.
The differences can be shown in a text or HTML report or as JSON output.
duck, the Debian Url ChecKer, processes several fields in the
systemd.unit files and checks if URLs,
VCS links and email address domains found therein are valid.
adequate checks packages installed on the system and reports bugs
and policy violations.
The following checks are currently implemented:
missing copyright file
Python modules not byte-compiled
missing libraries, undefined symbols, symbol size mismatches
program name collisions
binfmtinterpreters and detectors
i18nspector is a tool for checking translation templates (POT), message
catalogues (PO) and compiled message catalogues (MO) files for common problems.
cme is a tool from the
libconfig-model-dpkg-perl package is an editor
for dpkg source files with validation. Check the package description to see
what it can do.
licensecheck attempts to determine the license that applies to each
file passed to it, by searching the start of the file for text belonging
to various licenses.
blhc is a tool which checks build logs for missing hardening flags.
1.3. Helpers for
Package building tools make the process of writing
files easier. See Helper scripts for more information about
why these might or might not be desired.
debhelper is a collection of programs that can be used in
debian/rules to automate common tasks related to building binary
debhelper includes programs to install various
files into your package, compress files, fix file permissions, and
integrate your package with the Debian menu system.
Unlike some approaches,
debhelper is broken into several small,
simple commands, which act in a consistent manner. As such, it allows
more fine-grained control than some of the other debian/rules tools.
There are a number of little
debhelper add-on packages, too
transient to document. You can see the list of most of them by doing
apt-cache search ^dh-.
When choosing a
debhelper compatibility level for your package, you
should choose the highest compatibility level that is supported in the
most recent stable release. Only use a higher compatibility level if you
need specific features that are provided by that compatibility level
that are not available in earlier levels.
In the past the compatibility level was defined in
however nowadays it is much better to not use that but rather to use a
versioned build-dependency like
dh-make package contains
dh_make, a program that creates a
skeleton of files necessary to build a Debian package out of a source
tree. As the name suggests,
dh_make is a rewrite of
its template files use
dh_* programs from
While the rules files generated by
dh_make are in general a
sufficient basis for a working package, they are still just the
groundwork: the burden still lies on the maintainer to finely tune the
generated files and make the package entirely functional and
equivs is another package for making packages. It is often suggested
for local use if you need to make a package simply to fulfill
dependencies. It is also sometimes used when making meta-packages,
which are packages whose only purpose is to depend on other packages.
1.4. Package builders¶
The following packages help with the package building process, general
dpkg-buildpackage, as well as handling supporting tasks.
git-buildpackage provides the capability to inject or import Debian
source packages into a Git repository, build a Debian package from the
Git repository, and helps in integrating upstream changes into the
These utilities provide an infrastructure to facilitate the use of Git
by Debian maintainers. This allows one to keep separate Git branches of
a package for
unstable and possibly
distributions, along with the other benefits of a version control
debootstrap package and script allows you to bootstrap a Debian
base system into any part of your filesystem. By base system, we mean
the bare minimum of packages required to operate and install the rest of
Having a system like this can be useful in many ways. For instance, you
chroot into it if you want to test your build dependencies. Or
you can test how your package behaves when installed into a bare base
system. Chroot builders use this package; see below.
pbuilder constructs a chrooted system, and builds a package inside
the chroot. It is very useful to check that a package's build
dependencies are correct, and to be sure that unnecessary and wrong
build dependencies will not exist in the resulting package.
A related package is
cowbuilder, which speeds up the build process
using a COW filesystem on any standard Linux filesystem.
sbuild is another automated builder. It can use chrooted
environments as well. It can be used stand-alone, or as part of a
networked, distributed build environment. As the latter, it is part of
the system used by porters to build binary packages for all the
available architectures. See wanna-build for more
information, and https://buildd.debian.org/ to see the system in
1.5. Package uploaders¶
The following packages help automate or simplify the process of uploading packages into the official archive.
dupload is a package and a script to automatically upload Debian
packages to the Debian archive, to log the upload, and to send mail
about the upload of a package. You can configure it for new upload
locations or methods.
dput package and script do much the same thing as
but in a different way. It has some features over
dupload, such as
the ability to check the GnuPG signature and checksums before uploading,
and the possibility of running
dinstall in dry-run mode after the
1.6. Maintenance automation¶
The following tools help automate different maintenance tasks, from
adding changelog entries or signature lines and looking up bugs in Emacs
to making use of the newest and official
devscripts is a package containing wrappers and tools that are very
helpful for maintaining your Debian packages. Example scripts include
debchange (or its alias,
dch), which manipulates your
debian/changelog file from the command-line, and
is a wrapper around
bts utility is also
very helpful to update the state of bug reports on the command line.
uscan can be used to watch for new upstream versions of your
suspicious-source outputs a list of files which are not
common source files.
See the devscripts 1 manual page for a complete list of available scripts.
reportbug is a tool designed to make the reporting of bugs in Debian
and derived distributions relatively painless. Its features include:
Integration with mutt and mh/nmh mail readers.
Access to outstanding bug reports to make it easier to identify whether problems have already been reported.
Automatic checking for newer versions of packages.
reportbug is designed to be used on systems with an installed mail
transport agent; however, you can edit the configuration file and send
reports using any available mail server.
This package also includes the
querybts script for browsing the
Debian bug tracking system.
autotools-dev contains best practices for people who maintain
packages that use
automake. Also contains
config.guess files, which are known to
work on all Debian ports.
dpkg-repack creates a Debian package file out of a package that has
already been installed. If any changes have been made to the package
while it was unpacked (e.g., files in
/etc were modified), the new
package will inherit the changes.
This utility can make it easy to copy packages from one computer to another, or to recreate packages that are installed on your system but no longer available elsewhere, or to save the current state of a package before you upgrade it.
alien converts binary packages between various packaging formats,
including Debian, RPM (RedHat), LSB (Linux Standard Base), Solaris, and
dpkg-dev-el is an Emacs lisp package that provides assistance when
editing some of the files in the
debian directory of your package.
For instance, there are handy functions for listing a package's current
bugs, and for finalizing the latest entry in a
dpkg-depcheck (from the
devscripts package, devscripts)
runs a command under
strace to determine all the packages that were
used by the said command.
For Debian packages, this is useful when you have to compose a
Build-Depends line for your new package: running the build process
dpkg-depcheck will provide you with a good first
approximation of the build-dependencies. For example:
dpkg-depcheck -b debian/rules build
dpkg-depcheck can also be used to check for run-time dependencies,
especially if your package uses exec 2 to run other programs.
For more information please see dpkg-depcheck 1.
1.7. Porting tools¶
The following tools are helpful for porters and for cross-compilation.
dpkg-cross is a tool for installing libraries and headers for
cross-compiling in a way similar to
dpkg. Furthermore, the
enhanced to support cross-compiling.
1.8. Documentation and information¶
The following packages provide information for maintainers or help with building documentation.
debian-policy package contains the Debian Policy Manual
and related documents, which are:
Debian Policy Manual
Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS)
Debian Menu sub-policy
Debian Perl sub-policy
Debian configuration management specification
Machine-readable debian/copyright specification
Autopkgtest - automatic as-installed package testing
Authoritative list of virtual package names
Policy checklist for upgrading your packages
The Debian Policy Manual the policy relating to packages and details of
the packaging mechanism. It covers everything from required
options to the way the maintainer scripts (
postinst etc.) work,
package sections and priorities, etc.
Also useful is the file
which lists changes between versions of policy.
doc-debian contains lots of useful Debian-specific documentation:
Debian Linux Manifesto
Constitution for the Debian Project
Debian Social Contract
Debian Free Software Guidelines
Debian Bug Tracking System documentation
Introduction to the Debian mailing lists
developers-reference package contains the document you are
reading right now, the Debian Developer's Reference, a set of
guidelines and best practices which has been established by and for
the community of Debian developers.
maint-guide package contains the Debian New Maintainers' Guide.
This document tries to describe the building of a Debian package to ordinary Debian users and prospective developers. It uses fairly non-technical language, and it's well covered with working examples.
This tutorial is an introduction to Debian packaging. It teaches prospective developers how to modify existing packages, how to create their own packages, and how to interact with the Debian community.
In addition to the main tutorial, it includes three practical sessions
on modifying the
grep package, and packaging the
and a Java library.
how-can-i-help shows opportunities for contributing to Debian.
how-can-i-help hooks into
APT to list opportunities for contributions to
Debian (orphaned packages, bugs tagged 'newcomer') for packages installed
locally, after each
APT invocation. It can also be invoked directly, and
then lists all opportunities for contribution (not just the new ones).
docbook-xml provides the DocBook XML DTDs, which are commonly used
for Debian documentation (as is the older debiandoc SGML DTD). This
manual, for instance, is written in DocBook XML.
docbook-xsl package provides the XSL files for building and
styling the source to various output formats. You will need an XSLT
processor, such as
xsltproc, to use the XSL stylesheets.
Documentation for the stylesheets can be found in the various
To produce PDF from FO, you need an FO processor, such as
fop. Another tool to generate PDF from DocBook XML is
debiandoc-sgml provides the DebianDoc SGML DTD, which has been
commonly used for Debian documentation, but is now deprecated
python3-sphinx should be used instead).
Contains the public GPG keys of Debian Developers and Maintainers. See Maintaining your public key and the package documentation for more information.
debian-el provides an Emacs mode for viewing Debian binary packages.
This lets you examine a package without unpacking it.