Guidelines for cross-build friendly packages

This page describes good (and bad) practice in packaging (and upstream code) with respect to cross-building Debian-based packages. Little of this is yet mandated by policy, but some is and more will be in the future.

There are often lots of ways of 'fixing' a cross-build problem, but unless you are an expert in the area it will not be clear what the implications of using one method over another are. This page endeavours to document standard guidelines so that packagers can use it as a reference, and Debian and derivatives can develop policy in this area.

If you are not sure what the correct changes are to make your source packages cross-compile, do not hesitate to ask the cross team on the mailing list! Your question can also help to make this wiki page more useful to anybody interested in cross compiling Debian packages.


This somewhat confusing terminology is GNU's fault.


dpkg-architecture is responsible for translating between triplets, Debian architecture names and multiarch paths. This provides a consistent interface and namespace.

cross-building is defined as BUILD != HOST. more explicitly in debian/rules:

   2   native build
   3 else
   4   crossbuild
   5 endif

We cannot run tests to determine aspects of the host machine which will be different on the build machine.

When cross-building the build must select the correct tools whose output varies with architecture. This is usually done with an explicit GNU triplet prefix (arm-linux-gnueabi- ia64-linux-gnu-). This applies to the following tools: gcc, g++, binutils (ld, as, strip, ar, readelf etc), pkg-config.

Salsa CI

The default Salsa-CI pipeline now includes a test-crossbuild-arm64 job, that will attempt to cross-compile your package on the default amd64 build architecture for the arm64 host architecture.

So use this default pipeline to get automatic feedback whether your package is cross-compilable (or not).

NOTE: Currently the test-crossbuild-arm64 job has the allow_failure: true property set, so even if the cross-build job fails, the entire pipeline will still be reported as success. You can either manually check the status of each job of the pipeline, or override the property to false in your pipeline definition. This will make sure, that your pipeline fails in case of a future cross-compilation regression:

   1 test-crossbuild-arm64:
   2   allow_failure: false

If your package cannot be cross compiled, for example because it belongs to a package class that cannot be made cross-compilable yet, you can disable this step in salsaci like this:

   1 variables:

Common problems

Apart from language-specific cross-problems, the most common problems are:

See also the section Common Problems

Build environment

Usually, dh_auto_build does the right thing, and no special logic is needed to configure the cross-build environment. In some cases (most notably when not using dh_auto_build) some environment variables do need to be set for cross-builds to work correctly. If possible, try to use dh_auto_build.

Below is a list of what is set by various tools, however the interface to package building is still defined as the debian/rules targets and your rules file should not rely on any outside environment setting.

The recommended way to set the architecture variables provided by dpkg-architecture is to include this snippet provided by dpkg-dev:

   2 include /usr/share/dpkg/

The include makes the variables available to debian/rules, and the DPKG_EXPORT_BUILDFLAGS exports them to the commands invoked by debian/rules also. This is available from dpkg-dev 1.16.1 onward, and will not overwrite any previously-supplied values.

Environment set by build tools


all the dpkg-architecture variables:


(It also sets some FAKEROOT stuff that we don't care about here, and sanitises a load of stuff out of your normal environment.)


sbuild uses dpkg-buildpackage so sets the same things as that, and:

CONFIG_SITE=/etc/dpkg-cross/cross-config.$DEB_HOST_ARCH  (for autoconf cache settings provided by dpkg-cross)

anything else configured to be set in build environment.


pbuilder automatically adds nocheck to DEB_BUILD_OPTIONS and DEB_BUILD_PROFILES unless passing --no-auto-cross.


xdeb uses dpkg-buildpackage so sets the same things as that, and:

CONFIG_SITE=/etc/dpkg-cross/cross-config.$DEB_HOST_ARCH  (for autoconf cache settings provided by dpkg-cross)


Make sets some things itself too. Some of them not very helpfully, like the implicit $(CC)=cc.


Many Build-Dependencies must use the architecture of the HOST architecture (e.g. C-libraries you want to link against).

Other Build-Dependencies must be executed on the BUILD machine. These are obviously compilers, but also interpreters, documentation generators,...

To help the cross-building environment, you can (and probably should, if things go wrong) annotate Build-Dependencies, so that the correct architecture is picked.

Declare "Indep" Build-Dependencies

Typically, cross-compilation is mostly interesting as a way to produce arch:any packages, as the host architecture can use arch:all packages produced on any (non-crossbuilding) build machine.

To allow the dependency resolver to not worry about any Build-Depends that it won't need anyhow, make sure to declare all build-dependencies that are only needed for building arch:all packages using the Build-Depends-Indep stanza.


   1 Build-Depends-Indep:
   2  doxygen,

Architecture qualifiers

What is required in package dependencies is for the depending source package to distinguish build-dependencies which are satisfiable by any architecture ('tools') from build-dependencies which can only be satisfied by packages of the same architecture ('libraries' generally). This is very similar to the Multi-Arch: field options 'foreign' (for tools) and 'same' (for libraries), respectively. However it's not exactly the same because the architecture relationship is defined by the depending package, not the depended-on package, because only the depending-on package knows what it needs the build-dependency for. This is recognised in the multiarch spec with the Multi-Arch: option 'allowed' and the Depends: package:any syntax.

Despite the relationship being 'from the wrong end', in practice it is almost always right to use the Multi-arch field to decide if the build or host version (or both) of a package should be installed. By marking the exceptions to this rule in a packages' build-dependencies we minimise the package metadata changes needed (most packages will need no changes to their Build-Depends for this reason).

Exceptions to the normal case are specified using the build-dependency qualifiers :native and :any.

Build Dependencies are resolved according to this table:

Build-Depends: foo

Build-Depends: foo:any

Build-Depends: foo:native

no Multi-Arch field




Multi-Arch: same




Multi-Arch: foreign

any, preferably DEB_BUILD_ARCH



Multi-Arch: allowed


any, preferably DEB_BUILD_ARCH


See also Ubuntu/MultiarchCrossCompilers

Use ':any' qualifier for dependencies

For some Multi-Arch: allowed packages a given dependency must have the HOST architecture in one case, and the BUILD architecture in another case.

If you require your Multi-Arch: allowed Build-Dependency to be executable on the HOST machine, annotate this by adding the :any architecture qualifier:

   1 Build-Depends:
   2  python3:any,

As shown in the table above, the :any qualifier is only valid for packages that are marked as Multi-Arch: allowed.

Avoid the ':native' qualifier if possible

If you need the build (i.e 'native') architecture rather than the host architecture, it can be very tempting to just append :native to the build dependency and call it a day. Please think twice before doing this and instead ask yourself whether the package providing the build dependency cannot be marked as Multi-Arch: foreign instead. The problems with using the :native qualifier without thought are:

The :native qualifier is disallowed on build dependencies twoards M-A:foreign packages because that indicates either (or both) markings is in error. Either the interface is architecture-dependent and thus can be requested to be :native, or it is architecture-independent and the target can be provided as M-A:foreign.

Use `dh-sequence-...` meta build-dependencies if possible

If you are using dh addons, it is often better to use a Build-Dependency on the relevant dh-sequence-... virtual package instead of invoking dh --with=... and manually adding Build-Dependencies.

Adding a dh-sequence-... B-D will:

The fun part is, that this also works when using Build-Depends-Indep. So the following will activate the sphinx sequence and install the relevant Build-Dependencies only when doing an arch:all build:

   1 Build-Depends-Indep:
   2  dh-sequence-sphinxdoc,

Hints for specific groups of packages

Perl extensions

Whenever building a Perl extension module (often called "xs" module), perl-xs-dev should be added to Build-Depends.

Python extensions

When building a Python extension, pythonSOMETHING-dev is often added to Build-Depends. For working with cross compilation, that should be replaced with pythonSOMETHING-dev:native, libpythonSOMETHING-dev. Where SOMETHING is either empty, a version or -all.




python-dev:native, libpython-dev


python3-all-dev:native, libpython3-all-dev


python3-dev:native, libpython3-dev


python3.11-dev:native, libpython3.11-dev


The libtool binary in your PATH makes cross-building impossible. Replace your build dependency on libtool-bin with libtool and change your package such that it runs libtoolize and configure. The latter will create a libtool that knows about your host architecture.


dh automatically takes care of most cross-building issues. Convert your packaging to dh instead of calling the tools yourself.

Setting the correct compiler

Simply hardcoding 'gcc' will not allow cross-building, and is arguably wrong for other reasons (like using llvm/clang instead).

The easiest way to re-initialize common tool variables inside debian/rules is relying on dpkg:

   1 include /usr/share/dpkg/

Formerly, you could set CC manually:


When dh deals with make build systems, using dh_auto_build will automatically pass cross tools as command variables.

When not using dh, things are a bit more complicated, as unfortunately make always sets $(CC) (to 'cc') so you cannot just test if it is already set, and set it if not.

This state can be detected with $(origin CC) see

In the end, this can be done this way for instance:

   1 DEB_HOST_GNU_TYPE   ?= $(shell dpkg-architecture -qDEB_HOST_GNU_TYPE)
   3 ifeq ($(origin CC),default)
   4 CC := $(DEB_HOST_GNU_TYPE)-gcc
   5 endif
   7 override_dh_auto_build:
   8     $(MAKE) CC=$(CC) build

Note: nowadays debhelper takes care of this, so these lines are usually not needed anymore.

This is a good way to set CC in a bash script: : "${CC:=gcc}"  which means if $CC is not already set, set it to 'gcc', otherwise use the existing value. The ':' is the 'null command' and stops the value being executed.

Splitting build sequence into `arch:any` and `arch:all`

As mentioned in #Build-Depends-Indep, it is often a good idea to separate the tasks of building arch:any packages (that need to be cross-compiled) and arch:all packages (where there is no need to do so).

Here's an example of a dh-based packaging build script, that uses sphinx only to generate an arch:all doc package:

   1 %-arch:
   2        dh $@ --buildsystem=cmake
   4 %-indep:
   5        dh $@ --with sphinxdoc --buildsystem=cmake
   7 clean:
   8        dh $@ --buildsystem=cmake
  10 execute_after_dh_auto_build-indep:
  11         dh_auto_build -- manual-html

See also #dh-sequence

Conditionalizing build sequences for build profiles

While using -arch and -any targets works well when separating the parts to build architecture independent and arch:any artifacts, the following method using dh_listpackages is capable of doing the same (decide yourself which style you prefer) while at the same time capable of respecting build profiles:

   1 DOPACKAGES := $(shell dh_listpackages)
   3 binary-arch: build
   4 ifneq (,$(filter mypackage1,$(DOPACKAGES)))
   5     # create artifacts for mypackage1
   6 endif
   7 ifneq (,$(filter mypackage2,$(DOPACKAGES)))
   8     # create artifacts for mypackage2
   9 endif

Running pre-build tests/programs


Sometimes you need to run some programs directly within debian/rules (that is: 'outside' of dh), in which case you should make sure to pick the cross-building variants. You can get cross-building variants of common build tools by including the /usr/share/dpkg/ snippet.

To make everything more optional, the following example does a weak include and defines a fallback:

   1 -include /usr/share/dpkg/
   2 PKG_CONFIG?=pkg-config
   4 export DEB_CFLAGS_MAINT_APPEND = $(shell $(PKG_CONFIG) --cflags foobar)

Autoconf configure tests

autoconf will not do tests that need a program to be run when in 'cross-compiling' mode. To get the results that would be missing we can use the config.cache mechanism to supply pre-seeded answers. These can be architecture-specific answers, or generic 'Debian' answers. In rare cases you may need to change them for your own use-case.

These autoconf cache files are managed by the dpkg-cross package, which contains a set of files in /etc/dpkg-cross/ to pre-seed the answers. cross-config.<arch> contains the architecture-specific stuff (anything depending on size of variables, lengths of pointers, or peculiarities of this arch's glibc implementation). cross-config.cache contains the architecture-independent stuff.

All you need to do in your package to enable this mechanism and use the default settings is to set the environment variable CONFIG_SITE=/etc/dpkg-cross/cross-config.$DEB_HOST_ARCH e.g. /etc/dpkg-cross/cross-config.armel.

If you need a special package-specific variable then you should set PACKAGE=<packagename> to match up with a stanza in one of the config files. This is to avoid clashes if two different packages need a variable set in a different way.

Running run time tests (test suite)

Classic cross-compiling assumes never running any host architecture binaries, and this remains a good policy, but we often have QEMU or similar emulation available these days so it makes sense to control this separately where we can. In practice this means running tests, which should be controlled with DEB_BUILD_OPTS=nocheck rather than 'are we cross-compiling or not'. Cross-build tools will set 'nocheck' by default, but it can be enabled when appropriate.

Running/skipping tests

Normally you don't want to run tests when cross-building.


However there are packages where the tests do make sense, and they can be done using qemu so the responsibility of packagers is just to honor this variable.

Where build profiles are enabled (DebianBootstrap) having a profile for 'check' is useful to annotate build-dependencies which are only needed for checks/tests.

Common Problems


Source packages that build depend on help2man cannot be cross compiled because they require a build architecture binary to be executed for generating the man page. There exist different solutions to the problem:


Source packages using gobject-introspection cannot be cross compiled at this point. There are multiple reasons, but the primary one is that nobody has done so thus far. Technical challenges:

Reporting Bugs

The term FTCBFS, similar to FTBFS, stands for "Failed to cross build from source". Packages with cross building bugs can be tagged like this:

Usertags: ftcbfs

For issues concerning cross build dependency resolution specifically, use the cross-satisfiability usertag instead.

An overview of all cross build bugs reported so far can be found here:


The easy cross problems are solved and what is left is only hard problems. Consider the following list if you have a lot of free time on your hand.