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Packaging Guide

4. Packaging New Software

While there are thousands of packages in the Ubuntu archive, there are still a lot nobody has gotten to yet. If there is an exciting new piece of software that you feel needs wider exposure, maybe you want to try your hand at creating a package for Ubuntu or a PPA. This guide will take you through the steps of packaging new software.

You will want to read the Getting Set Up article first in order to prepare your development environment.

4.1. Checking the Program

The first stage in packaging is to get the released tar from upstream (we call the authors of applications “upstream”) and check that it compiles and runs.

This guide will take you through packaging a simple application called GNU Hello which has been posted on GNU.org.

Download GNU Hello:

$ wget -O hello-2.10.tar.gz "http://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/hello/hello-2.10.tar.gz"

Now uncompress it:

$ tar xf hello-2.10.tar.gz
$ cd hello-2.10

This application uses the autoconf build system so we want to run ./configure to prepare for compilation.

This will check for the required build dependencies. As hello is a simple example, build-essential and texinfo should provide everything we need. For more complex programs, the command will fail if you do not have the needed libraries and development files. Install the needed packages and repeat until the command runs successfully.:

$ ./configure

Now you can compile the source:

$ make

If compilation completes successfully you can install and run the program:

$ sudo make install
$ hello

4.2. Starting a Package

bzr-builddeb includes a plugin to create a new package from a template. The plugin is a wrapper around the dh_make command. Run the command providing the package name, version number, and path to the upstream tarball:

$ sudo apt-get install dh-make bzr-builddeb
$ cd ..
$ bzr dh-make hello 2.10 hello-2.10.tar.gz

Note: unfortunately the bzr dh-make subcommand is no longer available in releases later than Ubuntu 20.04; so, you might need a container or virtual machine (see LXD) running Ubuntu 20.04 for this particular step.

When it asks what type of package type s for single binary. This will import the code into a branch and add the debian/ packaging directory. Have a look at the contents. Most of the files it adds are only needed for specialist packages (such as Emacs modules) so you can start by removing the optional example files:

$ cd hello/debian
$ rm *ex *EX

You should now customise each of the files.

In debian/changelog change the version number to an Ubuntu version: 2.10-0ubuntu1 (upstream version 2.10, Debian version 0, Ubuntu version 1). Also change unstable to the current development Ubuntu release such as trusty.

Much of the package building work is done by a series of scripts called debhelper. The exact behaviour of debhelper changes with new major versions, the compat file instructs debhelper which version to act as. You will generally want to set this to the most recent version which is 9.

control contains all the metadata of the package. The first paragraph describes the source package. The second and following paragraphs describe the binary packages to be built. We will need to add the packages needed to compile the application to Build-Depends:. For hello, make sure that it includes at least:

Build-Depends: debhelper (>= 9)

And append texinfo, as noted earlier:

Build-Depends: debhelper (>= 9), texinfo

You will also need to fill in a description of the program in the Description: field.

copyright needs to be filled in to follow the licence of the upstream source. According to the hello/COPYING file this is GNU GPL 3 or later.

docs contains any upstream documentation files you think should be included in the final package.

README.source and README.Debian are only needed if your package has any non-standard features, we don’t so you can delete them.

source/format can be left as is, this describes the version format of the source package and should be 3.0 (quilt).

rules is the most complex file. This is a Makefile which compiles the code and turns it into a binary package. Fortunately most of the work is automatically done these days by debhelper 7 so the universal % Makefile target just runs the dh script which will run everything needed.

All of these file are explained in more detail in the overview of the debian directory article.

Finally commit the code to your packaging branch (make sure to bzr add any untracked files that changed; for example, debian/source/format):

$ bzr add debian/source/format
$ bzr commit -m "Initial commit of Debian packaging."

4.3. Building the package

Now we need to check that our packaging successfully compiles the package and builds the .deb binary package:

$ bzr builddeb -- -us -uc
$ cd ../../

bzr builddeb is a command to build the package in its current location. The -us -uc tell it there is no need to GPG sign the package. The result will be placed in ...

Note: if it fails with You must run ./configure before running 'make'., add this to debian/rules (make sure to bzr add/commit it) and retry bzr builddeb:

        [ -f Makefile ] || ./configure

You can view the contents of the package with:

$ lesspipe hello_2.10-0ubuntu1_amd64.deb

Install the package and check it works (later you will be able to uninstall it using sudo apt-get remove hello if you want):

$ sudo dpkg --install hello_2.10-0ubuntu1_amd64.deb

You can also install all packages at once using:

$ sudo debi

4.4. Next Steps

Even if it builds the .deb binary package, your packaging may have bugs. Many errors can be automatically detected by our tool lintian which can be run on the source .dsc metadata file, .deb binary packages or .changes file:

$ lintian hello_2.10-0ubuntu1.dsc
$ lintian hello_2.10-0ubuntu1_amd64.deb

To see verbose description of the problems use --info lintian flag or lintian-info command.

For Python packages, there is also a lintian4python tool that provides some additional lintian checks.

After making a fix to the packaging you can rebuild using -nc “no clean” without having to build from scratch:

$ bzr builddeb -- -nc -us -uc

Having checked that the package builds locally you should ensure it builds on a clean system using pbuilder. Since we are going to upload to a PPA (Personal Package Archive) shortly, this upload will need to be signed to allow Launchpad to verify that the upload comes from you (you can tell the upload will be signed because the -us and -uc flags are not passed to bzr builddeb like they were before). For signing to work you need to have set up GPG. If you haven’t set up pbuilder-dist or GPG yet, do so now:

$ bzr builddeb -S
$ cd ../build-area
$ pbuilder-dist trusty build hello_2.10-0ubuntu1.dsc

When you are happy with your package you will want others to review it. You can upload the branch to Launchpad for review:

$ bzr push lp:~<lp-username>/+junk/hello-package

Uploading it to a PPA will ensure it builds and give an easy way for you and others to test the binary packages. You will need to set up a PPA in Launchpad and then upload with dput:

$ dput ppa:<lp-username>/<ppa-name> hello_2.10-0ubuntu1.changes

You can ask for reviews in #ubuntu-motu IRC channel, or on the MOTU mailing list. There might also be a more specific team you could ask such as the GNU team for more specific questions.

4.5. Submitting for inclusion

There are a number of paths that a package can take to enter Ubuntu. In most cases, going through Debian first can be the best path. This way ensures that your package will reach the largest number of users as it will be available in not just Debian and Ubuntu but all of their derivatives as well. Here are some useful links for submitting new packages to Debian:

  • Debian Mentors FAQ - debian-mentors is for the mentoring of new and prospective Debian Developers. It is where you can find a sponsor to upload your package to the archive.
  • Work-Needing and Prospective Packages - Information on how to file “Intent to Package” and “Request for Package” bugs as well as list of open ITPs and RFPs.
  • Debian Developer’s Reference, 5.1. New packages - The entire document is invaluable for both Ubuntu and Debian packagers. This section documents processes for submitting new packages.

In some cases, it might make sense to go directly into Ubuntu first. For instance, Debian might be in a freeze making it unlikely that your package will make it into Ubuntu in time for the next release. This process is documented on the “New Packages” section of the Ubuntu wiki.

4.6. Screenshots

Once you have uploaded a package to debian, you should add screenshots to allow propective users to see what the program is like. These should be uploaded to http://screenshots.debian.net/upload .