Chapter 5. Other files under the debian directory

Table of Contents

5.1. README.Debian
5.2. compat
5.3. conffiles
5.4. package.cron.*
5.5. dirs
5.6. package.doc-base
5.7. docs
5.8. emacsen-*
5.9. package.examples
5.10. package.init and package.default
5.11. install
5.13. package.links
5.14. {package.,source/}lintian-overrides
5.15. manpage.*
5.15.1. manpage.1.ex
5.15.2. manpage.sgml.ex
5.15.3. manpage.xml.ex
5.16. package.manpages
5.17. NEWS
5.18. {pre,post}{inst,rm}
5.19. package.symbols
5.20. TODO
5.21. watch
5.22. source/format
5.23. source/local-options
5.24. source/options
5.25. patches/*

The dh_make command had major updates since this old document was written. So some parts of this document aren't applicable any more.

The rewrite of this tutorial document with updated contents and more practical examples is available as Guide for Debian Maintainers. Please use this new tutorial as the primary tutorial document.

The debmake command is used in place of the dh_make command in my new Guide for Debian Maintainers.

To control most of what debhelper does while building the package, you put optional configuration files under the debian directory. This chapter will provide an overview of what each of these does and its format. Please read the Debian Policy Manual and Debian Developer's Reference for guidelines for packaging.

The dh_make command will create some template configuration files under the debian directory. Take a look at all of them.

In this chapter, files in the debian directory are referred to without the leading debian/ for simplicity whenever the meaning is obvious.

Some template configuration files for debhelper may not be created by the dh_make command. In such cases, you need to create them with an editor.

If you wish or need to activate any of these, please do the following:

Any debhelper configuration files without a package prefix, such as install, apply to the first binary package. When there are many binary packages, their configurations can be specified by prefixing their name to their configuration filenames such as package-1.install, package-2.install, etc.

Any extra details or discrepancies between the original package and your Debian version should be documented here.

dh_make created a default one; this is what it looks like:

gentoo for Debian
<possible notes regarding this package - if none, delete this file>
 -- Josip Rodin <>, Wed, 11 Nov 1998 21:02:14 +0100

If you have nothing to be documented, remove this file. See dh_installdocs(1).

The compat file defines the debhelper compatibility level. Currently, you should set it to the debhelper v10 as follows:

$ echo 10 > debian/compat

You may use compat level v9 in certain circumstances for compatibility with older systems. However, using any level below v9 is not recommended and should be avoided for new packages.

One of the most annoying things about software is when you spend a great deal of time and effort customizing a program, only to have an upgrade stomp all over your changes. Debian solves this problem by marking such configuration files as conffiles. [54] When you upgrade a package, you'll be asked whether you want to keep your old configuration files or not.

dh_installdeb(1) automatically flags any files under the /etc directory as conffiles, so if your program only has conffiles there you do not need to specify them in this file. For most package types, the only place conffiles should ever be is under /etc, and so this file doesn't need to exist.

If your program uses configuration files but also rewrites them on its own, it's best not to make them conffiles because dpkg will then prompt users to verify the changes all the time.

If the program you're packaging requires every user to modify the configuration files in the /etc directory, there are two popular ways to arrange for them to not be conffiles, keeping dpkg quiet:

  • Create a symlink under the /etc directory pointing to a file under the /var directory generated by the maintainer scripts.

  • Create a file generated by the maintainer scripts under the /etc directory.

For information on maintainer scripts, see Section 5.18, “{pre,post}{inst,rm}.

If your package requires regularly scheduled tasks to operate properly, you can use these files to set that up. You can set up regular tasks that either happen hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly, or alternatively happen at any other time that you wish. The filenames are:

  • package.cron.hourly - Installed as /etc/cron.hourly/package; run once an hour.

  • package.cron.daily - Installed as /etc/cron.daily/package; run once a day.

  • package.cron.weekly - Installed as /etc/cron.weekly/package; run once a week.

  • package.cron.monthly - Installed as /etc/cron.monthly/package: run once a month.

  • package.cron.d - Installed as /etc/cron.d/package: for any other time.

Most of these files are shell scripts, with the exception of package.cron.d which follows the format of crontab(5).

No explicit cron.* file is needed to set up log rotation; for that, see dh_installlogrotate(1) and logrotate(8).

This file specifies any directories which we need but which are not created by the normal installation procedure (make install DESTDIR=... invoked by dh_auto_install). This generally means there is a problem with the Makefile.

Files listed in an install file don't need their directories created first. See Section 5.11, “install.

It is best to try to run the installation first and only use this if you run into trouble. There is no preceding slash on the directory names listed in the dirs file.

If your package has documentation other than manual and info pages, you should use the doc-base file to register it, so the user can find it with e.g. dhelp(1), dwww(1), or doccentral(1).

This usually includes HTML, PS and PDF files, shipped in /usr/share/doc/packagename/.

This is what gentoo's doc-base file gentoo.doc-base looks like:

Document: gentoo
Title: Gentoo Manual
Author: Emil Brink
Abstract: This manual describes what Gentoo is, and how it can be used.
Section: File Management
Format: HTML
Index: /usr/share/doc/gentoo/html/index.html
Files: /usr/share/doc/gentoo/html/*.html

For information on the file format, see install-docs(8) and the Debian doc-base manual at the local copy /usr/share/doc/doc-base/doc-base.html/index.html provided by the doc-base package.

For more details on installing additional documentation, look in Section 3.3, “Installation of files to their destination”.

This file specifies the file names of documentation files we can have dh_installdocs(1) install into the temporary directory for us.

By default, it will include all existing files in the top-level source directory that are called BUGS, README*, TODO etc.

For gentoo, some other files are also included:


If your package supplies Emacs files that can be bytecompiled at package installation time, you can use these files to set it up.

They are installed into the temporary directory by dh_installemacsen(1).

If you don't need these, remove them.

The dh_installexamples(1) command installs files and directories listed in this file as example files.

If your package is a daemon that needs to be run at system start-up, you've obviously disregarded my initial recommendation, haven't you? :-)

Please read dh_installinit(1) dh_installsystemd(1) to provide startup script.

The package.default file will be installed as /etc/default/package. This file sets defaults that are sourced by the init script. This package.default file is most often used to set some default flags or timeouts. If your init script has certain configurable features, you can set them in the package.default file, instead of in the init script itself.

If your upstream program provides a file for the init script, you can either use it or not. If you don't use their init script then create a new one in package.init. However if the upstream init script looks fine and installs in the right place you still need to set up the rc* symlinks. To do this you will need to override dh_installinit in the rules file with the following lines:

        dh_installinit --onlyscripts

If you don't need this, remove the files.

If there are files that need to be installed into your package but your standard make install won't do it, put the filenames and destinations into this install file. They are installed by dh_install(1).[55] You should first check that there is not a more specific tool to use. For example, documents should be in the docs file and not in this one.

This install file has one line per file installed, with the name of the file (relative to the top build directory) then a space then the installation directory (relative to the install directory). One example of where this is used is if a binary src/bar is left uninstalled; the install file might look like:

src/bar usr/bin

This means when this package is installed, there will be an executable command /usr/bin/bar.

Alternatively, this install can have the name of the file only without the installation directory when the relative directory path does not change. This format is usually used for a large package that splits the output of its build into multiple binary packages using package-1.install, package-2.install, etc.

The dh_install command will fall back to looking in debian/tmp for files, if it doesn't find them in the current directory (or wherever you've told it to look using --sourcedir).

If your package has info pages, you should install them using dh_installinfo(1) by listing them in a file.

If you need to create additional symlinks in package build directories as package maintainer, you should install them using dh_link(1) by listing their full paths of source and destination files in a package.links file.

If lintian reports an erroneous diagnostic for a case where Debian policy allows exceptions to some rule, you can use package.lintian-overrides or source/lintian-overrides to quieten it. Please read the Lintian User's Manual ( and refrain from abusing this.

package.lintian-overrides is for the binary package named package and is installed into usr/share/lintian/overrides/package by the dh_lintian command.

source/lintian-overrides is for the source package. This is not installed.

Your program(s) should have a manual page. If they don't, you should create them. The dh_make command creates some template files for manual pages. These need to be copied and edited for each command missing its manual page. Please make sure to remove unused templates.

If your package has manual pages, you should install them using dh_installman(1) by listing them in a package.manpages file.

To install docs/gentoo.1 as a manpage for the gentoo package, create a gentoo.manpages file as follows:


The dh_installchangelogs(1) command installs this.

These postinst, preinst, postrm, and prerm files [57] are called maintainer scripts. They are scripts which are put in the control area of the package and run by dpkg when your package is installed, upgraded, or removed.

As a novice maintainer, you should avoid any manual editing of maintainer scripts because they are problematic. For more information refer to the Debian Policy Manual, 6 "Package maintainer scripts and installation procedure", and take a look at the example files provided by dh_make.

If you did not listen to me and have created custom maintainer scripts for a package, you should make sure to test them not only for install and upgrade but also for remove and purge.

Upgrades to the new version should be silent and non-intrusive (existing users should not notice the upgrade except by discovering that old bugs have been fixed and perhaps that there are new features).

When the upgrade is necessarily intrusive (eg., config files scattered through various home directories with totally different structure), you may consider as the last resort switching the package to a safe fallback state (e.g., disabling a service) and providing the proper documentation required by policy (README.Debian and NEWS.Debian). Don't bother the user with debconf notes invoked from these maintainer scripts for upgrades.

The ucf package provides a conffile-like handling infrastructure to preserve user changes for files that may not be labeled as conffiles such as those managed by the maintainer scripts. This should minimize issues associated with them.

These maintainer scripts are among the Debian enhancements that explain why people choose Debian. You must be very careful not to turn them into a source of annoyance.

Packaging of a library is not easy for a novice maintainer and should be avoided. Having said it, if your package has libraries, you should have debian/package.symbols files. See Section A.2, “Managing debian/package.symbols.

The dh_installdocs(1) command installs this.

The watch file format is documented in the uscan(1) manpage. The watch file configures the uscan program (in the devscripts package) to watch the site where you originally got the source. This is also used by the Debian Package Tracker service.

Here are its contents:

# watch control file for uscan
version=3\.tar\.gz debian uupdate

Normally with a watch file, the URL at is downloaded and searched for links of the form <a href=...>. The basename (just the part after the final /) of each linked URL is compared against the Perl regular expression pattern (see perlre(1)) gentoo-(.+)\.tar\.gz. Out of the files that match, the one with the greatest version number is downloaded and the uupdate program is run to create an updated source tree.

Although this is true for other sites, the SourceForge download service at is an exception. When the watch file has a URL matching the Perl regexp ^http://sf\.net/, the uscan program replaces it with and then applies this rule. The URL redirector service at is designed to offer a stable redirect service to the desired file for any watch pattern of the form\.tar\.gz. This solves issues related to periodically changing SourceForge URLs.

If the upstream offers the cryptographic signature of the tarball, it is recommended to verify its authenticity using the pgpsigurlmangle option as described in uscan(1).

In the debian/source/format file, there should be a single line indicating the desired format for the source package (check dpkg-source(1) for an exhaustive list). After squeeze, it should say either:

  • 3.0 (native) for native Debian packages or

  • 3.0 (quilt) for everything else.

The newer 3.0 (quilt) source format records modifications in a quilt patch series within debian/patches. Those changes are then automatically applied during extraction of the source package. [58] The Debian modifications are simply stored in a debian.tar.gz archive containing all files under the debian directory. This new format supports inclusion of binary files such as PNG icons by the package maintainer without requiring tricks. [59]

When dpkg-source extracts a source package in 3.0 (quilt) source format, it automatically applies all patches listed in debian/patches/series. You can avoid applying patches at the end of the extraction with the --skip-patches option.

When you want to manage Debian packaging activities under a VCS, you typically create one branch (e.g., upstream) tracking the upstream source and another branch (e.g., typically master for Git) tracking the Debian package. For the latter, you usually want to have unpatched upstream source with your debian/* files for the Debian packaging to ease merging of the new upstream source.

After you build a package, the source is normally left patched. You need to unpatch it manually by running dquilt pop -a before committing to the master branch. You can automate this by adding the optional debian/source/local-options file containing unapply-patches. This file is not included in the generated source package and changes the local build behavior only. This file may contain abort-on-upstream-changes, too (see dpkg-source(1)).


The autogenerated files in the source tree can be quite annoying for packaging since they generate meaningless large patch files. There are custom modules such as dh_autoreconf to ease this problem as described in Section 4.4.3, “Customization of rules file”.

You can provide a Perl regular expression to the --extend-diff-ignore option argument of dpkg-source(1) to ignore changes made to the autogenerated files while creating the source package.

As a general solution to address this problem of the autogenerated files, you can store such a dpkg-source option argument in the source/options file of the source package. The following will skip creating patch files for config.sub, config.guess, and Makefile.

extend-diff-ignore = "(^|/)(config\.sub|config\.guess|Makefile)$"

The old 1.0 source format created a single large diff.gz file containing package maintenance files in debian and patch files for the source. Such a package is a bit cumbersome to inspect and understand for each source tree modification later. This is not so nice.

The newer 3.0 (quilt) source format stores patches in debian/patches/* files using the quilt command. These patches and other package data which are all contained under the debian directory are packaged as the debian.tar.gz file. Since the dpkg-source command can handle quilt formatted patch data in the 3.0 (quilt) source without the quilt package, it does not need a Build-Depends on quilt. [60]

The quilt command is explained in quilt(1). It records modifications to the source as a stack of -p1 patch files in the debian/patches directory and the source tree is untouched outside of the debian directory. The order of these patches is recorded in the debian/patches/series file. You can apply (=push), un-apply (=pop), and refresh patches easily. [61]

For Chapter 3, Modifying the source, we created three patches in debian/patches.

Since Debian patches are located in debian/patches, please make sure to set up the dquilt command properly as described in Section 3.1, “Setting up quilt.

When anyone (including yourself) provides a patch foo.patch to the source later, modifying a 3.0 (quilt) source package is quite simple:

$ dpkg-source -x gentoo_0.9.12.dsc
$ cd gentoo-0.9.12
$ dquilt import ../foo.patch
$ dquilt push
$ dquilt refresh
$ dquilt header -e
... describe patch

The patches stored in the newer 3.0 (quilt) source format must be fuzz free. You can ensure this with dquilt pop -a; while dquilt push; do dquilt refresh; done.

[55] This replaces the deprecated dh_movefiles(1) command which is configured by the files file.

[56] Note that help2man's placeholder man page will claim that more detailed documentation is available in the info system. If the command is missing an info page, you should manually edit the man page created by the help2man command.

[57] Despite this use of the bash shorthand expression {pre,post}{inst,rm} to indicate these filenames, you should use pure POSIX syntax for these maintainer scripts for compatibility with dash as the system shell.

[58] See DebSrc3.0 for a summary on the switch to the new 3.0 (quilt) and 3.0 (native) source formats.

[59] Actually, this new format also supports multiple upstream tarballs and more compression methods. These are beyond the scope of this document.

[60] Several methods of patch set maintenance have been proposed and are in use for Debian packages. The quilt system is the preferred maintenance system in use. Others include dpatch, dbs, and cdbs. Many of these keep such patches as debian/patches/* files.

[61] If you are asking a sponsor to upload your package, this kind of clear separation and documentation of your changes is very important to expedite the package review by your sponsor.