This page is aimed at upstream developers who would like their software to be packaged for Debian (why would you want this?), or whose software is already packaged for Debian. It attempts to document what we do with your software, the resources we make available to you and what you can do to make the packaging process smoother. If you require any clarifications or have any questions about this document, please direct them to the debian-upstream mailing list. For further, more extensive advice on making your project more friendly to Debian and other Free Software distributions, please refer to the External advice section below.

Albeit the page is specific to Debian, many suggestions are useful to make your software easy to deploy, package for other distributions, and maintain in production.

Initial Packaging

Pristine Upstream Source

The source code archive should contain source files only, never any files that are automatically generated from other files. We recognize that it is fairly common to ship lexer and parser code or compiled documentation as part of the source package so administrators building from source do not need to install the build tools, but we need to rebuild all generated files to make sure that they can really be built from source, so please include methods to regenerate these files. For guidelines about source for artwork, audio etc, please take a look at the games advice in the External advice section above.

The "rebuild everything" rule is currently applied inconsistently. For example, most packages do not rebuild the files generated by autoconf and automake. This is mainly for historical reasons, since in the past these tools would often break during automatic builds.

Some projects include a rough /debian directory among source files to ease bleeding-edge package compilation and installation on Debian (and derived) systems. While this is a good effort, it is better to leave it out of the final tarball as it can interfere with debian's own packaging effort. Keeping it only in your VCS repository is usually a much saner default if it lives in a specific packaging branch, which mimics what Debian package maintainers do using git-buildpackage. Though leaving the debian folder in the normal branch can also interfere if the package maintainer is using an upstream git packaging workflow (for example: git tag based git-buildpackage workflow).

No inclusion of third party code

Please do not include other code (like libraries) or data that are also shipped separately inside your source archive, or if you do, please make sure they can be reliably ignored. Instead of shipping third party libraries you should rather make sure your program will be link nicely against recent versions of these libraries. If a security issue is found in one of the bundled packages, it is far easier for the package maintainers or the Security Team to patch and rebuild one package than to scan the entire archive for all copies of this code and patch them individually (this happened for zlib, for example). It's also preferable for the end users to receive an update for just one package (e.g. OpenSSL) rather than a large number of applications.

It is even worse if you maintain your private forks of third party libraries. This is not only troublesome for distributors but in the long run also to your own project. You should always make sure that the patches you might need for your specific application will be backported to the library upstream - that's simply how Free Software works.

To make sure your software will run with different versions of third party code it is way better to provide test cases you can run at any time to get reproducible results (which is also an additional profit for your own project).

Please specify which versions of third party code are supported. Try to keep a degree of backward compatibility where possible and avoid depending strictly on a specific version. Decoupling versions gives extra flexibility to end users to work around a buggy or insecure dependency without having to compile and maintain a forked package.

Source only tarball

Please provide an archive of your source code as tar.{gz,bz2,lzma,xz} file. That's what our toolchain can currently work with.

Debian needs to make sure that it distributes the source code for all binaries in its archives. Debian achieves this by building all binaries itself from your source code.

If your software depends on other libraries, then Debian also needs to make sure that your software compiles and works with the version of these libraries available in Debian. Debian may compile your software against a different version of some library than you do. Therefore it's not of any help for Debian if you include convenience copies of these dependencies in your source tarball.

If you distribute precompiled binaries with your source code, then the Debian Maintainer has extra work to strip out these binaries and repackage your tarball. This is not an ideal situation. Debian would prefer to build the software packages it provides from the original tarballs you released.


The DFSGLicenses page describes the licenses currently found in Debian.

Releases and Versions

Each time you reach a point in development of your software where you feel everything generally works and you've fixed a variety of bugs or implemented some interesting new features, please release a downloadable tarball with a version number. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to keep supporting that version afterwards if you're short of resources, so long as you make that clear. But please don't develop only in a version control repository and with snapshots, or do releases only as tags. It makes it more difficult to grab a stable point that you think generally works. A distro needs to pull in this stable point rather than an automatic snapshot which inadvertently happened in the middle of some known transition or partial development.

Each time you make a new release, give it a new version number which is greater than the previous version number. (This sounds obvious, but it's amazing how often this doesn't happen.) If anything changes, please give the new release a new version number. Even if what changed was fixing an obvious mistake or accident and the previous version wasn't usable, always give the new release a new version number.

Version numbers are only useful if they increase every time something changes. There are an infinite number. You won't run out. It's far more useful to know that version numbers always increase and that everyone with version N has identical code than it is to hit psychologically-significant numbers or to set version numbers to meet past plans about what would go into which version.

Be bold about increasing version numbers. Don't get trapped in sub-sub-sub-versions. Don't be scared about crossing magic numbers. Call it v1.0 not v0.9.8.93. You will be moving on to v1.1 soon enough when problems are found.

Consider committing to long-term support of versions of your software in stable releases of major distros. If this is a problem, discuss it with the distros before they make a release.


If your build system is autotools please generate your tarballs by running make distcheck, which builds and verifies the tarballs. Other build systems will have standard targets to create source tarballs, please use them.

If you make tarballs of your releases, please sign them with your OpenPGP keys. This wiki provides further information on creating and signing OpenPGP keys and finding somebody to sign your key. External advice for GnuPG 1.x is available for best practice OpenPGP key management, but take into account it is considered outdated.

If you make release announcements, please sign them with your OpenPGP keys, and include digests for the release artifacts, with strong digests such as SHA2-256, SHA2-512 or SHA3 variants instead of say MD5, SHA-1 or RIPEMD-160.


Debian tries to build and distribute documentation packages (often named <binary_package_name>-doc). Many users prefer locally installed documentation for various reasons: it works when you are on a plane, behind a restrictive company firewall, when the online documentation refers to a newer version, and grepping for a string can be much faster than using a search engine.

Please include the documentation in your source package and do not hotlink online contents (e.g. javascript libraries, images... ) or include 3rd party libraries and non-free material.

(If you are using your documentation to generate your project website you might include these items with an optional build flag)

Manual pages

For executable programs that take arguments, please consider writing a manual page, rather than expecting users to pass --help or similar. Note that generating the man page from --help output (with a tool such as help2man) can range from unhelpful to problematic in cross-compiling scenarios.

For libraries written in languages where manual pages are often made available (such as the C and Perl ecosystems), please consider writing manual pages for these too.

It is recommended that manual pages contain an EXAMPLES section, containing working syntax that uses the functionality documented by the manual page. For example, command-line invocations of a utility for some of its standard usages, or an example call to an API function.

Hardcoded Paths

Debian's Policy requires that Debian packages follow the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard for file locations. Debian packages are not installed into /usr/local. Thus Debian config files are found in /etc and manual pages in /usr/share/man. If your program normally installs to a different location please be sure to provide a mechanism to change the locations without patching the source. Use of environment variables for this purpose is recommended.

User home directories

When reading/writing cache, configuration, data or sockets for your software, please follow the XDG Base Directory Specification to determine the right paths. There are libraries available in Debian.

When accessing files relative to the user's home directory, first check the HOME environment variable (using getenv(3) or similar) and fall back on information from the password database (using getpwuid(3) or similar) when HOME is not present.


Dependencies can be a pain point for packaging. Please:

Test suites



Assign a SONAME, track ABI compatibility and change the SONAME when ABI compatibility is broken. Avoid breaking ABI if it is possible. You can use the ABI Compliance Checker as a method of double-checking your own ABI compatibility tracking.

Use private libraries instead of public shared libraries if your library is only meant for use in your application.

Use 'hidden' as the default symbol visibility and only whitelist public parts of the API.

Bug tracking

Version Control System

Please provide read access to your version control system.


Using Git as your VCS might be a very good choice. Git is also the most widely used VCS for packaging in Debian and mandatory for Fedora. If you're using Git then you make it easier for some Debian maintainers to submit patches and review changes between versions.

Debian needs to make sure that it really packages your original source code; source code repositories can be compromised. One easy way to do so is to rely on the tag signing capability of Git together with the web-of-trust. So please tag your releases with the following command. You can also sign every commit that enters your repository.

git tag -s $YOUR_VERSION

This wiki provides further information on creating and signing OpenPGP keys and finding somebody to sign your key. External advice is available for best practice OpenPGP key management.

Your Build System

General Considerations

Generated files

We need to be able to build everything from source. To ensure that build-dependencies are still working, we also like to rebuild everything from scratch periodically so it is best for generated files to not be available in the tarball. Those that are (such as generated build systems - autotools) need to be regenerated when their source changes or they are removed. We encourage maintainers of Debian packages to rebuild all generated files, including build systems.

Verbose builds

We need to record as much detail from the build log as possible so that we can debug build failures and other strange issues. Your build system may have a silent building option to hide the full commands (including arguments) used during building. If it does, we recommend that it be off by default or that one of the following commands enables verbose building.

./configure --disable-silent-rules
make V=1

No Downloads

You should never assume that Internet access is available during building. Debian guarantees that every binary package can be built from the available source packages for licensing and security reasons.

Out-of-Tree Builds

Please ensure that your software can be built from outside the source tree, both from in entirely different locations and from specific subdirectories of the source tree.

If you are using autotools then you can check this by running make distcheck. This will export a release tarball and run some dummy builds using it.

The reason for this is that if your software can be built in different ways, we need to build all of them in different directories. Sometimes we also need to be able to build your software for multiple architectures at the same time.

Out-of-VCS Builds

Do not assume your VCS tools (e.g. Git) nor your VCS repository are available during the build. You can use cvs2cl/svn2cl/git2cl to export VCS logs and autorevision to export VCS meta-data, for embedding in tarballs.

Cleaning the Tree

(if out-of-tree works, we can rm -rf the build tree, otherwise we need clean targets that remove anything that can be automatically rebuilt, including generated source)

Including a file in your distribution and then modifying it as part of the build is confusing and leads to spurious differences that appear to be Debian-local modifications unless the packager takes special care. Files of this type should instead be generated from a template with a different file name, the way that Autoconf handles config.h, generated from, and the generated file removed in your clean or distclean target and not included in the distribution.


Please honor the DESTDIR environment variable or make variable and use its contents as a prefix in front of all installation paths. (Supporting changing prefix at make install time without changing any of the paths built into the software is also good practice, but not strictly necessary if DESTDIR is used.) Automake's make distcheck will verify that your package supports this, as well as out-of-tree builds and other best practices, so if you're using Automake, that's a nice check to do before a release.

After running make, running make install should not rebuild any files and in particular shouldn't encode any new paths. Otherwise, it's very hard to install the software in a temporary staging area without including the paths to the staging area in the final software (which in the case of RPATH can even be a security concern).

Assume that the directories into which you're installing files may not already exist and create them if necessary using mkdir -p (possibly via the $(MKDIR_P) macro provided by Autoconf and Automake), install -d, installdirs, or some similar technique.


You should never optimise for the CPU that is being used for the build by default. Debian buildd machines often support more CPU features than the baseline supported by individual Debian architectures, so if you optimise for the build machines then users will probably get crashes due to illegal instructions. If you want to build additional optimised versions of libraries, they should be installed in hardware capabilities directories documented in the manual page.

Autoconf and Automake

If you use config.guess and config.sub, please make a habit of always copying the latest versions from or some other source (such as /usr/share/misc on a Debian system with autotools-dev installed) into your package when you release. If you use autoreconf, it can do this for you automatically provided that you keep your local system version up to date. Most of your users may not care about the changes, but Debian often does, since Debian supports a wide variety of architectures.


Some make variables are reserved to the user, and the Automake manual and the GNU coding standards advise never to use them for switches that are required for proper compilation of the package. When a Debian binary package is built, default environment variables are prepared by dpkg-buildflags (In dpkg 1.17.0: CFLAGS, CPPFLAGS, CXXFLAGS, FFLAGS, GCJFLAGS and LDFLAGS), to allow the build system to override the corresponding variables in the Makefile. We therefore strongly recommend to follow the above advice, and to make your makefiles use these variables (where relevant) in a way that our build system can override them.


Please don't use SCons. It is hard to use it correctly. For instance SCons is designed to ignore environment variables such as CFLAGS (unless your add code for this). It also does not support DESTDIR out of the box. As an upstream you have to explicitly add code for that (or Debian has to patch). Support for SONAMEs (library versioning) is also absent. The general observation is that many projects, that use SCons, do not have a working install target. Since projects work around these limitations individually there is no way to just use a SCons project in Debian, but more work is required to invoke it correctly.

The Gentoo wiki has a detailed list of shortcomings.

If you choose to use SCons anyway, please ensure that the usual environment compiler variables (CC, CFLAGS, ...) and path variables (DESTDIR, BINDIR, LIBDIR, ...) are honoured. There is a recipe, that addresses some of these.


Using waf as build system is discouraged. One of the reasons is the recommendation to ship a waf executable in every single package using it, instead of using a system wide one. Also note that just shipping the waf executable (which contains a binary blob) is considered to be not compliant with the Debian Free Software guidelines by the FTP Team. Please see #645190 and UnpackWaf for more details on the issue and how to avoid it, if you have to use waf.

While waf in supports running with a system provided waf rather than the bundled minimized binary, upstream waf very explicitly discourages this.


As it happens way too often: please do not ship any prebuilt class or jar files or any other generated files without accompanying source code and do not download such files during the build process. Please document each dependency and in particular: where can its source code be obtained.

Maven is a very popular build tool for Java code and it is easy to use for Debian packaging, too. It does provide a documentation of dependencies in the pom.xml files and we can point Maven to dependencies available in Debian and detain it from downloading anything.


Please use one of the standard Perl build systems, either Module::Build or ExtUtils::MakeMaker, and please try not to modify it in too many odd ways. That helps greatly in preparing packages.

Please remember that builds need to be done unattended and provide some mechanism to set defaults or bypass any prompts with known answers.

(we like stuff from CPAN, why?) (plugins => see above)

Here is a link to the debian-perl group's internal policy regarding perl packages in debian pkg-perl policy.


(they have a standard way of packaging too) (plugins => see above)


Please help us in supporting architectures for which the native code compiler (ocamlopt) is not available. Practically this mean to support in your build tool (makefile or corresponding) one of the following 2 behaviors:

  1. automatically detect whether ocamlopt is available or not, build native code objects/executables only if this is the case, install native code executables only if they have been built
  2. provide different make targets (or corresponding tool invocations) to build and install bytecode stuff vs native code stuff. Usual names for that are: all vs opt (to build bytecode/native code stuff) and install vs install-opt

(other languages with their own deployment tools)

After initial packaging

If your package has been packaged for Debian, thank you and congratulations. We hope that you will get new users. There are some resources that you may want to take advantage of:

Note that subscription to PTS is recommended but optional. The Debian maintainer will forward you bugs that need your help or your interest.


(why we maintain ancient versions in stable) (what to do if you think we shouldn't do this)

If you fix bugs, please try to have only the bug fix in the commit. This will let us more easily backport the fix to the version included in a Debian release.


(converting old system wide data) (converting old user data)

Downstream Patches

(we need your help in understanding your package) (please add unit tests even for functionality you believe is trivial so we can see if a patch breaks something)


You can view the build logs for packages at buildd.d.o. These can be useful for discovering build failures and compiler warnings that occur on less common architectures.

Be mindful about portability. Debian releases for a number of architectures and kernels.

GettingPorted - things to keep in mind when developing a program or packaging it so that it remains portable.

CrossBuildPackagingGuidelines - thinks to keep in mind so that your software is able to be cross-compiled.


Do not brand your software as part of any particular distribution, since that will need to be removed every time your software enters a new distribution.

Optionally provide build-time or run-time ways for distributors to add branding and other per-distribution settings to your software.

Language extensions in scripts

Debian policy says in section 10.4 Scripts

Here you can find good reasons for this:

  1. Wikipedia about command names

    • The use of a filename extension in a command name appears occasionally, usually as a side effect of the command having been implemented as a script (in Bourne shell, Python, etc.) and the interpreter name being suffixed to the command name, a practice common on systems like Windows and Mac OS X, which rely on globally set associations between filename extension and interpreter, but sharply deprecated in UNIX-derived systems like Linux and Apple's Mac OS X, where the interpreter is normally specified as a header in the script. ...
  2. Commandname extensions considered harmful

    • Commands should never have filename extensions. Rely on interpreter directives instead or some other paradigm that prevent the implementation from being exposed, or worse yet, lied about, within the very name of the command.
  3. one out of several good mails on Debian policy list

Bootstrapping/Crossbuilding Language Compilers/Interpreters

This section is for authors and maintainers of programming language compilers and interpreters that are either self-hosted (written in the same language they compile/interpret) or do not allow to build binaries for foreign architectures.

There should be a way to build the compiler or interpreter for a certain programming language without that compiler or interpreter. This condition is not met by languages that write their compiler/interpreter in the language that they compile/interpret, like go, ocaml or haskell. Being able to build a compiler/interpreter without the compiler/interpreter present is necessary for bootstrapping a new architecture for which that compiler/interpreter didn't exist for yet. If parts of the core of Debian is written in a certain programming language, then the compiler for that language must additionally support cross compilation so that either compiled binaries for the new architecture can be created on an existing architecture or so that the interpreter is available on the new architecture. This condition is met for the C language with gcc but is not met for Perl which currently cannot be fully cross compiled.

There are a number of ways to achieve above requirements:

Having multiple comilers/interpreters for a language and being able to bootstrap the compiler from nothing is also an important requirement to allow diverse double compilation to verify the existing compiler binaries for backdoors like the Ken Thompson attack (“Reflections on Trusting Trust” 1984).

Media types

If you created a new file format, consider registering its media type (formerly called MIME type) to the IANA ( This will ensure that applications distributed in Debian and other operating systems will recognise this file type.

External advice

Here are some similar guides for upstream developers:

Ubuntu's Upstream Guide

"Distribution-friendly projects" by Diego Pettenò - part 1, part 2, part 3.

How you know your Free or Open Source Software Project is doomed to FAIL (wiki version) by Tom Callaway. See also the associated talks This is why you FAIL at SCALE 2011 and and This is why you fail: The avoidable mistakes open source projects STILL make at OSCON 2015. /!\ includes some advice that large successful projects like Linux, Qt, and GTK do not heed.

Packaging Unix software by Adam Sampson

Releasing FLOSS for Source Installation by David A. Wheeler.

The java packaging nightmare... by Vincent Fourmond

Upstream hints for Java developers by folks at FOSDEM 2010

The real problem with Java in Linux distros by Thierry Carrez (LWN comments)

How to be forkable and not get forked by Mel Chua

Free Software Project Management HOWTO by Benjamin Mako Hill

A blog series by François Marier:

Releasing Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) for Source Installation by David A. Wheeler

How to be a good upstream for games by Debian/Fedora/etc games teams

Writing a C library by David Zeuthen /!\ (includes some advice that can be considered controversial)

How to be a good upstream, a FOSDEM 2010 talk by Petteri Räty of Gentoo (there's also a video available at the FOSDEM 2010 distributions devroom video archive).

Physics Software Rant by Kevin B. McCarty

The cost of going it alone by Dave Neary (LWN comments)

Managing Copyright Information within a Free Software Project by the Software Freedom Law Center (LWN comments)

Community Distribution Patent Policy FAQ by the Software Freedom Law Center with input from Stefano Zacchiroli (LWN comments)

It isn't open source if it doesn't pass "The patch test" by Andy Oliver

Don't call it "open source" unless you mean it by Christian Heilmann (LWN comments)

The open source way by Red Hat

Open Source Community, Simplified by Max Kanat-Alexander

Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel

Ten Simple Rules for the Open Development of Scientific Software by Andreas Prlić and James B. Procter (LWN comments

Guidelines for cross-build friendly packages

How to spread the word about your code by Peter Cooper and Robert Nyman

How to Turn Your Pile of Code into an Open Source Project by Andy Lester

Considerations on a non-profit home for your project by Bradley M. Kuhn

Choosing a license by Dave Neary

FOSS Build and Install Common Practices by Matt Taggart

The Fundamental Theorem of Developing FLOSS by Máirín Duffy (followup)

Expectations of free software developers by Lars Wirzenius

What is source code? by Francesco Poli /!\ Possibly controversial

Missing source code for non-software works in free GNU/Linux distributions by Michał Masłowski

Source required for art licensed under the GPL discussion started by Guus Sliepen

Best Practices Criteria for Open Source Software (OSS) by the Linux Foundation's Core Infrastructure Initiative (LWN article)

Bad practices in FLOSS project management by Julien Danjou

Release management in Open Source projects by Martin Michlmayr.

Why not bundle dependencies by Sebastian Pipping and others

What is Left to do After your Open Source Project is Done by Loup Vaillant

Our Software Dependency Problem by Russ Cox

Spread the word: Marketing your FOSS project by VM Brasseur