Table of Contents
Debian is about a lot more than just packaging software and maintaining those packages. This chapter contains information about ways, often really critical ways, to contribute to Debian beyond simply creating and maintaining packages.
As a volunteer organization, Debian relies on the discretion of its members in choosing what they want to work on and in choosing the most critical thing to spend their time on.
We encourage you to file bugs as you find them in Debian packages. In fact, Debian developers are often the first line testers. Finding and reporting bugs in other developers' packages improves the quality of Debian.
Try to submit the bug from a normal user account at which you are likely to receive mail, so that people can reach you if they need further information about the bug. Do not submit bugs as root.
You can use a tool like reportbug(1) to submit bugs. It can automate and generally ease the process.
Make sure the bug is not already filed against a package. Each package has a
bug list easily reachable at
Utilities like querybts(1) can also provide you with this
information (and reportbug will usually invoke
querybts before sending, too).
Try to direct your bugs to the proper location. When for example your bug is about a package which overwrites files from another package, check the bug lists for both of those packages in order to avoid filing duplicate bug reports.
For extra credit, you can go through other packages, merging bugs which are reported more than once, or tagging bugs `fixed' when they have already been fixed. Note that when you are neither the bug submitter nor the package maintainer, you should not actually close the bug (unless you secure permission from the maintainer).
From time to time you may want to check what has been going on with the bug
reports that you submitted. Take this opportunity to close those that you
can't reproduce anymore. To find out all the bugs you submitted, you just have
Reporting a great number of bugs for the same problem on a great number of
different packages — i.e., more than 10 — is a deprecated practice. Take
all possible steps to avoid submitting bulk bugs at all. For instance, if
checking for the problem can be automated, add a new check to
lintian so that an error or warning is emitted.
If you report more than 10 bugs on the same topic at once, it is recommended
that you send a message to
your intention before submitting the report, and mentioning the fact in the
subject of your mail. This will allow other developers to verify that the bug
is a real problem. In addition, it will help prevent a situation in which
several maintainers start filing the same bug report simultaneously.
Please use the programs dd-list and if appropriate
whodepends (from the package
devscripts) to generate a list
of all affected packages, and include the output in your mail to
Note that when sending lots of bugs on the same subject, you should send the
bug report to
<firstname.lastname@example.org> so that the bug report
is not forwarded to the bug distribution mailing list.
You may wish to use BTS usertags when submitting bugs across a number of packages. Usertags are similar to normal tags such as 'patch' and 'wishlist' but differ in that they are user-defined and occupy a namespace that is unique to a particular user. This allows multiple sets of developers to 'usertag' the same bug in different ways without conflicting.
To add usertags when filing bugs, specify the
To: email@example.com Subject:
[ ... ]User:
tag-name [ tag-name ... ]
Note that tags are seperated by spaces and cannot contain underscores. If you
are filing bugs for a particular group or team it is recommended that you
User to an appropriate mailing list after describing
your intention there.
To view bugs tagged with a specific usertag, visit
Even though there is a dedicated group of people for Quality Assurance, QA
duties are not reserved solely for them. You can participate in this effort by
keeping your packages as bug-free as possible, and as lintian-clean (see Section A.2.1, “
lintian”) as possible. If you do not find that possible, then you
should consider orphaning some of your packages (see Section 5.9.4, “Orphaning a package”). Alternatively, you may ask the help of other people
in order to catch up with the backlog of bugs that you have (you can ask for
<firstname.lastname@example.org>). At the same time, you can look for
co-maintainers (see Section 5.12, “Collaborative maintenance”).
From time to time the QA group organizes bug squashing parties to get rid of as
many problems as possible. They are announced on
<email@example.com> and the announcement explains
which area will be the focus of the party: usually they focus on release
critical bugs but it may happen that they decide to help finish a major upgrade
(like a new perl version which requires recompilation of all
the binary modules).
The rules for non-maintainer uploads differ during the parties because the announcement of the party is considered prior notice for NMU. If you have packages that may be affected by the party (because they have release critical bugs for example), you should send an update to each of the corresponding bug to explain their current status and what you expect from the party. If you don't want an NMU, or if you're only interested in a patch, or if you will deal yourself with the bug, please explain that in the BTS.
People participating in the party have special rules for NMU, they can NMU without prior notice if they upload their NMU to DELAYED/3-day at least. All other NMU rules apply as usually; they should send the patch of the NMU to the BTS (to one of the open bugs fixed by the NMU, or to a new bug, tagged fixed). They should also respect any particular wishes of the maintainer.
If you don't feel confident about doing an NMU, just send a patch to the BTS. It's far better than a broken NMU.
During your lifetime within Debian, you will have to contact other maintainers for various reasons. You may want to discuss a new way of cooperating between a set of related packages, or you may simply remind someone that a new upstream version is available and that you need it.
Looking up the email address of the maintainer for the package can be
distracting. Fortunately, there is a simple email alias,
, which provides a way to
email the maintainer, whatever their individual email address (or addresses)
may be. Replace
package with the name of a source
or a binary package.
You may also be interested in contacting the persons who are subscribed to a
given source package via Section 4.10, “The Package Tracking System”. You can do so
by using the
If you notice that a package is lacking maintenance, you should make sure that the maintainer is active and will continue to work on their packages. It is possible that they are not active any more, but haven't registered out of the system, so to speak. On the other hand, it is also possible that they just need a reminder.
There is a simple system (the MIA database) in which information about
maintainers who are deemed Missing In Action is recorded. When a member of the
QA group contacts an inactive maintainer or finds more information about one,
this is recorded in the MIA database. This system is available in
/org/qa.debian.org/mia on the host
and can be queried with the mia-query tool.
Use mia-query --help to see how to query the database.
If you find that no information has been recorded about an inactive maintainer yet,
or that you can add more information, you should generally proceed as follows.
The first step is to politely contact the maintainer, and wait a reasonable time for a response. It is quite hard to define reasonable time, but it is important to take into account that real life is sometimes very hectic. One way to handle this would be to send a reminder after two weeks.
If the maintainer doesn't reply within four weeks (a month), one can assume that a response will probably not happen. If that happens, you should investigate further, and try to gather as much useful information about the maintainer in question as possible. This includes:
echelon information available through the developers' LDAP database, which indicates
when the developer last posted to a Debian mailing list. (This includes
mails about uploads distributed via the
Also, remember to check whether the maintainer is marked as on vacation in
The number of packages this maintainer is responsible for, and the condition of those packages. In particular, are there any RC bugs that have been open for ages? Furthermore, how many bugs are there in general? Another important piece of information is whether the packages have been NMUed, and if so, by whom.
Is there any activity of the maintainer outside of Debian? For example, they might have posted something recently to non-Debian mailing lists or news groups.
A bit of a problem are packages which were sponsored — the maintainer is not
an official Debian developer. The
echelon information is not
available for sponsored people, for example, so you need to find and contact the
Debian developer who has actually uploaded the package. Given that they signed
the package, they're responsible for the upload anyhow, and are likely to know
what happened to the person they sponsored.
It is also allowed to post a query to
asking if anyone is aware of the whereabouts of the missing maintainer. Please
Cc: the person in question.
Once you have gathered all of this, you can contact
<firstname.lastname@example.org>. People on this alias will use the
information you provide in order to decide how to proceed. For example, they
might orphan one or all of the packages of the maintainer. If a package has
been NMUed, they might prefer to contact the NMUer before orphaning the package
— perhaps the person who has done the NMU is interested in the package.
One last word: please remember to be polite. We are all volunteers and cannot dedicate all of our time to Debian. Also, you are not aware of the circumstances of the person who is involved. Perhaps they might be seriously ill or might even have died — you do not know who may be on the receiving side. Imagine how a relative will feel if they read the e-mail of the deceased and find a very impolite, angry and accusing message!
On the other hand, although we are volunteers, we do have a responsibility. So you can stress the importance of the greater good — if a maintainer does not have the time or interest anymore, they should let go and give the package to someone with more time.
If you are interested in working in the MIA team, please have a look at the
README file in
qa.debian.org where the technical details and the MIA procedures are
documented and contact
Debian's success depends on its ability to attract and retain new and talented volunteers. If you are an experienced developer, we recommend that you get involved with the process of bringing in new developers. This section describes how to help new prospective developers.
Sponsoring a package means uploading a package for a maintainer who is not able to do it on their own. It's not a trivial matter, the sponsor must verify the packaging and ensure that it is of the high level of quality that Debian strives to have.
Debian Developers can sponsor packages. Debian Maintainers can't.
The process of sponsoring a package is:
The maintainer prepares a source package (
.dsc) and puts it online
somewhere (like on mentors.debian.net) or even better, provides
a link to a public VCS repository (see Section 4.4.5, “The VCS servers”) where
the package is maintained.
The sponsor downloads (or checkouts) the source package.
The sponsor reviews the source package. If she finds issues, she informs the maintainer and asks her to provide a fixed version (the process starts over at step 1).
The sponsor could not find any remaining problem. She builds the package, signs it, and uploads it to Debian.
Before delving in the details of how to sponsor a package, you should ask yourself whether adding the proposed package is beneficial to Debian.
There's no simple rule to answer this question, it can depend on many factors: is the upstream codebase mature and not full of security holes? Are there pre-existing packages that can do the same task and how do they compare to this new package? Has the new package been requested by users and how large is the user base? How active are the upstream developers?
You should also ensure that the prospective maintainer is going to be a good maintainer. Does she already have some experience with other packages? If yes, is she doing a good job with them (check out some bugs)? Is she familiar with the package and its programming language? Does she have the skills needed for this package? If not, is she able to learn them?
It's also a good idea to know where she stands towards Debian: does she agree with Debian's philosophy and does she intend to join Debian? Given how easy it is to become a Debian Maintainer, you might want to only sponsor people who plan to join. That way you know from the start that you won't have to act as a sponsor indefinitely.
New maintainers usually have certain difficulties creating Debian packages — this is quite understandable. They will do mistakes. That's why sponsoring a brand new package into Debian requires a thorough review of the Debian packaging. Sometimes several iterations will be needed until the package is good enough to be uploaded to Debian. Thus being a sponsor implies being a mentor.
Don't ever sponsor a new package without reviewing it. The review of new packages done by ftpmasters mainly ensures that the software is really free. Of course, it happens that they stumble on packaging problems but they really should not. It's your task to ensure that the uploaded package complies with the Debian Free Software Guidelines and is of good quality.
Building the package and testing the software is part of the review, but it's also not enough. The rest of this section contains a non-exhaustive list of points to check in your review. 
Verify that the upstream tarball provided is the same that has been distributed by the upstream author (when the sources are repackaged for Debian, generate the modified tarball yourself).
Run lintian (see Section A.2.1, “
lintian”). It will catch many common
problems. Be sure to verify that any lintian overrides setup by the
maintainer is fully justified.
Run licensecheck (part of Section A.6.1, “
devscripts”) and verify that
debian/copyright seems correct and complete. Look for
license problems (like files with “All rights reserved”
headers, or with a non-DFSG compliant license). grep -ri
is your friend for this task.
Build the package with pbuilder (or any similar tool, see Section A.4.3, “
pbuilder”) to ensure that the build-dependencies are
debian/control: does it follow the
best practices (see Section 6.2, “Best practices for
debian/control”)? Are the dependencies
debian/rules: does it follow the
best practices (see Section 6.1, “Best practices for
debian/rules”)? Do you see some
Proofread the maintainer scripts (
config): will the
postrm work when the dependencies are not
installed? Are all the scripts idempotent (i.e. can you run them multiple
times without consequences)?
Review any change to upstream files (either in
.diff.gz, or in
debian/patches/ or directly embedded in the
tarball for binary files). Are they justified? Are they properly
documented (with DEP-3 for patches)?
For every file, ask yourself why the file is there and whether it's the right way to achieve the desired result. Is the maintainer following the best packaging practices (see Chapter 6, Best Packaging Practices)?
Build the packages, install them and try the software. Ensure you can remove and purge the packages. Maybe test them with piuparts.
If the audit did not reveal any problem, you can build the package and upload it to Debian. Remember that even if you're not the maintainer, the sponsor is still responsible of what he uploaded to Debian. That's why you're encouraged to keep up with the package through the Section 4.10, “The Package Tracking System”.
Note that you should not need to modify the source package to put your name
changelog or in the
control file. The
field of the
control file and the
changelog should list the person who did the
packaging, i.e. the sponsoree. That way she will get all the BTS mail.
Instead you should instruct dpkg-buildpackage to use your key for
the signature. You do that with the
If you use debuild and debsign, you can even configure it permanently
You will usually assume that the package has already gone through a full review. So instead of doing it again, you will carefully analyze the difference between the current version and the new version prepared by the maintainer. If you have not done the initial review yourself, you might still want to have a more deeper look just in case the initial reviewer was sloppy.
To be able to analyze the difference you need both versions. Download the current version of the source package (with apt-get source) and rebuild it (or download the current binary packages with aptitude download). Download the source package to sponsor (usually with dget).
Read the new changelog entry, it should tell you what to expect during the
review. The main tool you will use is debdiff (provide by
devscripts package), you can run it with two source packages (
files), or two binary packages, or two
.changes files (it will then
compare all the binary packages listed in the
If you compare the source packages (excluding upstream files in the case of a new upstream version, for example by filtering the output of debdiff with filterdiff -i '*/debian/*'), you must understand all the changes you see and they should be properly documented in the Debian changelog.
If everything is fine, build the package and compare the binary packages to verify that the changes on the source package have no unexpected consequences (like some files dropped by mistake, missing dependencies, etc.).
You might want to check out the Package Tracking System (see Section 4.10, “The Package Tracking System”) to verify if the
maintainer has not missed something important. Maybe there are translations
updates sitting in the BTS that could have been integrated. Maybe the package
has been NMUed and the maintainer forgot to integrate the changes from the
NMU in his package. Maybe there's a release critical bug that he has left
unhandled and that's blocking migration to
testing. Whatever. If you find
something that she could have done (better), it's time to tell her so that
she can improve for next time, and so that she has a better understanding
of her responsibilities.
If you have found no major problem, upload the new version. Otherwise ask the maintainer to provide you a fixed version.
See the page about advocating a prospective developer at the Debian web site.
Please see Checklist for Application Managers at the Debian web site.