It's common to join the Project as a Member after having contributed to it for some time.
Helping with the project
The Debian Project consists of volunteers, and our products are developed entirely by volunteers. We are generally looking for new contributors who have an interest in free software, and some free time.
Joining the Project is a commitment, and requires one to read and accept to follow the guidelines described in our Social Contract and in our Free Software Guidelines. These also should be followed to some extent by any person willing to contribute to the project.
A lot of communication in the project happens on our mailing lists. If you want to get a feeling for the inner workings of the Debian project, you should not hesitate to subscribe to the debian-devel-announce and debian-news lists. Both are very low-volume and document what's going on in the community. The Debian Project News (published on debian-news) summarizes recent discussions from Debian related mailing lists and blogs and provides links to them.
As a prospective developer, you should also subscribe to debian-mentors, an open forum trying to help new maintainers (and also, though less often, people who are new to the Project and want to help with something else than package maintenance). Other interesting lists are debian-devel, debian-project, debian-release, debian-qa and, depending on your interests, a lot of others.
See the Mailing List Subscription page for a complete listing. (For those who wish to reduce the number of mails, there are "-digest" lists as read-only, digestified versions for some high-traffic lists. It's also worth knowing that you can use the Mailing List Archives page to read the mails on various lists with your web browsers.)
If you are interested in maintaining packages, then you should look at our Work-Needing and Prospective Packages list to see which packages already in the project either need maintainers or some care. Taking over an abandoned package is the best way to start out as a maintainer – not only does it aid Debian in keeping its packages well maintained, but it gives you the opportunity to learn from the previous maintainer.
You can also aid by contributing to the writing of documentation, doing web site maintenance, translation (i18n & l10n), publicity, legal support or other roles in the Debian community. Our Quality Assurance site lists several other possibilities.
You don't need to be an official Debian Developer to carry out just about all of these tasks. Existing Debian Developers acting as sponsors can integrate your work into the project. It is generally best to try and find a developer who is working in the same area as you and has an interest in what you have done.
Finally, Debian provides many teams of developers working together on common tasks. Anybody can participate on a team, whether an official Debian Developer or not. Working together with a team is an excellent way to gain experience before starting the New Member process and is one of the best places to find package sponsors. So find a team that suits your interests and jump right in.
Actually joining the Project
After you have contributed for some time and are sure about your involvement in the Debian project, you can join Debian in a more official role. There are two different roles in which you might join Debian:
- Debian Maintainer (DM): The first step in which you can upload your own packages to the Debian archive yourself.
- Debian Developer (DD): The traditional full membership role in Debian. A DD can participate in Debian elections. Uploading DDs can upload any package to the archive. Before applying as an uploading DD you should have a track record of maintaining packages for at least six months. For example uploading packages as a DM, working inside a team or maintaining packages uploaded by sponsors. Non-uploading DDs have the same packaging rights as Debian Maintainers. Before applying as a non-uploading DD, you should have a visible and significant track record of work inside the project.
In spite of the fact that many of the rights and responsibilities of a DM and a DD are identical, there are currently independent processes for applying for either role. See the Debian Maintainer wiki page for details on becoming a Debian Maintainer. And see the New Members Corner page to find out how to apply for official Debian Developer status.
Note that during much of Debian's history, the Debian Developer role was the only role; the Debian Maintainer role was introduced on 5th August 2007. This is why you see the term "maintainer" used in a historical sense where the term Debian Developer would be more precise. For example, the process of applying to become a Debian Developer was still known as the "Debian New Maintainer" process until 2011 when it was renamed to "Debian New Member" process.
Besides the many developers, there's many areas you can help Debian with, including testing, documentation, porting, donations of money and use of machines for development and connectivity. We are constantly looking for mirrors in some parts of the world.