GNU.WIKI: The GNU/Linux Knowledge Base

  [HOME] [HowTo] [ABS] [MAN1] [MAN2] [MAN3] [MAN4] [MAN5] [MAN6] [MAN7] [MAN8] [MAN9]


Debian Binary Package Building HOWTO

Chr. Clemens Lee


2002-11-30, $Date: 2005/08/09 20:49:46 $
Revision History                                                             
Revision 4.0           2005-08-09            Revised by: ccl                 
updated email address and added link to Turkish translation by Oguz Yarimtepe
Revision 3.0           2003-12-19            Revised by: ccl                 
fixed two typos reported by Claudio Cattazzo                                 
Revision 2.0           2003-12-13            Revised by: ccl                 
applying Frank Lichtenheld's feedback                                        
Revision 1.0           2003-11-08            Revised by: ccl                 
first version                                                                

  This mini-HOWTO shows how to build a minimal Debian .deb package.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
    1.1. Resources on the Web
2. Getting Started
3. Package Structure
    3.1. debian-binary
    3.2. data.tar.gz
    3.3. control.tar.gz
4. Hands On
    4.1. control
    4.2. dpkg-deb
5. Double Check
    5.1. lintian
    5.2. Minimal Documentation
    5.3. fakeroot
    5.4. More Documentation
6. Summary
7. What Else
8. Credits
9. Links

1. Introduction

  The intended use of such a newly created archive is to install it only on
your own box, not to get them into the official Debian distribution. To
follow the 'official' process, please study the [
maint-guide/] Debian New Maintainers' Guide.

  Normal Debian packages get a proper source package, including a debian/
rules file which automates the steps involved in creating the binary package.
Here we just show how to package a simple shell script or binary executable
into a small binary package.

  BTW, I assume you know how to use 'tar', 'man', and what a '.tar.gz' file
and [] Debian is (and how to use an editor ;-), but I
assume you have never touched programs like 'ar' or 'dpkg'.

1.1. Resources on the Web

  [] The Debian
Reference gives an excellent overview as well as detailed information for
everything Debian specific.

  The official document for creating your own Debian packages is the [http://] Debian New Maintainers' Guide.

2. Getting Started

  From the Debian Reference 2.2.2 2002-11-30: "The internals of this Debian
binary package format are described in the deb(5) manual page. Because this
internal format is subject to change (between major releases of Debian),
always use dpkg-deb(8) for manipulating .deb files."

  From the dpkg-deb man page: "dpkg-deb packs, unpacks and provides
information about Debian archives. .deb files can also be manipulated with ar
and tar alone if necessary. Use dpkg to install and remove packages from your

  You might find lots of example .deb files in directory '/var/cache/apt/
archives/'. With 'dpkg-deb -I somepackage.deb' you might get a general
overview of what this package offers in particular. 'dpkg-deb -c
somepackage.deb' lists all files which will be installed.

  List content of the .deb file with 'ar tv somepackage.deb'. Use the 'x'
option to extract the files.

3. Package Structure

  Let's examine one example package a little bit closer. E.g. file
'parted_1.4.24-4_i386.deb' contains these three files:
$ ar tv parted_1.4.24-4_i386.deb                                             
rw-r--r-- 0/0      4 Mar 28 13:46 2002 debian-binary                         
rw-r--r-- 0/0   1386 Mar 28 13:46 2002 control.tar.gz                        
rw-r--r-- 0/0  39772 Mar 28 13:46 2002 data.tar.gz                           

 Now we can start to extract all files including the content of the tar

3.1. debian-binary

 The content of this file is "2.0\n". This states the version of the deb file
format. For 2.0 all other lines get ignored.

3.2. data.tar.gz

 The 'data.tar.gz' file contains all the files that will be installed with
their destination paths:
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:57 ./                                         
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:49 ./sbin/                                    
-rwxr-xr-x root/root     31656 2002-03-28 13:44:49 ./sbin/parted                              
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:38 ./usr/                                     
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:41 ./usr/share/                               
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:38 ./usr/share/man/                           
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:52 ./usr/share/man/man8/                      
-rw-r--r-- root/root      1608 2002-03-28 13:44:37 ./usr/share/man/man8/parted.8.gz           
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:41 ./usr/share/doc/                           
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2002-03-28 13:44:52 ./usr/share/doc/parted/                    
-rw-r--r-- root/root      1880 2002-03-07 14:20:08 ./usr/share/doc/parted/README.Debian       
-rw-r--r-- root/root      1347 2002-02-27 01:40:50 ./usr/share/doc/parted/copyright           
-rw-r--r-- root/root      6444 2002-03-28 13:37:33 ./usr/share/doc/parted/changelog.Debian.gz 
-rw-r--r-- root/root     15523 2002-03-28 02:36:43 ./usr/share/doc/parted/changelog.gz        

 It must be the last file in the deb archive.

3.3. control.tar.gz

 In our example this file has the following content:
-rw-r--r--    1 root     root         1336 Mar 28  2002 control              
-rw-r--r--    1 root     root          388 Mar 28  2002 md5sums              
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root          253 Mar 28  2002 postinst             
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root          194 Mar 28  2002 prerm                

 'md5sums' contains for each file in data.tar.gz the md5sum. In our example
the content looks like this:
1d15dcfb6bb23751f76a2b7b844d3c57  sbin/parted                                
4eb9cc2e192f1b997cf13ff0b921af74  usr/share/man/man8/parted.8.gz             
2f356768104a09092e26a6abb012c95e  usr/share/doc/parted/README.Debian         
a6259bd193f8f150c171c88df2158e3e  usr/share/doc/parted/copyright             
7f8078127a689d647586420184fc3953  usr/share/doc/parted/changelog.Debian.gz   
98f217a3bf8a7407d66fd6ac8c5589b7  usr/share/doc/parted/changelog.gz          

  Don't worry, the 'md5sum' file as well as the 'postinst' and 'prerm' files
are not mandatory for your first package. But please take a note of their
existence, every proper official Debian package has them for good reasons.

  'prerm' and 'postinst' seem to take care of removing old documentation
files and adding a link from doc to share/doc.
$ cat postinst                                                                 
set -e                                                                         
# Automatically added by dh_installdocs                                        
if [ "$1" = "configure" ]; then                                                
  if [ -d /usr/doc -a ! -e /usr/doc/parted -a -d /usr/share/doc/parted ]; then 
    ln -sf ../share/doc/parted /usr/doc/parted                                 
# End automatically added section                                              
$ cat prerm                                                                    
set -e                                                                         
# Automatically added by dh_installdocs                                        
if [ \( "$1" = "upgrade" -o "$1" = "remove" \) -a -L /usr/doc/parted ]; then   
  rm -f /usr/doc/parted                                                        
# End automatically added section                                              

  And finally the most interesting file:
$ cat control                                                                
Package: parted                                                              
Version: 1.4.24-4                                                            
Section: admin                                                               
Priority: optional                                                           
Architecture: i386                                                           
Depends: e2fsprogs (>= 1.27-2), libc6 (>= 2.2.4-4), libncurses5 (>= \        
5.2.20020112a-1), libparted1.4 (>= 1.4.13+14pre1), libreadline4 (>= \        
4.2a-4), libuuid1                                                            
Suggests: parted-doc                                                         
Conflicts: fsresize                                                          
Replaces: fsresize                                                           
Installed-Size: 76                                                           
Maintainer: Timshel Knoll <>                               
Description: The GNU Parted disk partition resizing program                  
 GNU Parted is a program that allows you to create, destroy,                 
 resize, move and copy hard disk partitions. This is useful                  
 for creating space for new operating systems, reorganizing                  
 disk usage, and copying data to new hard disks.                             
 This package contains the Parted binary and manual page.                    
 Parted currently supports DOS, Mac, Sun, BSD, GPT and PC98                  
 disklabels/partition tables, as well as a 'loop' (raw disk)                 
 type which allows use on RAID/LVM. Filesystems supported are                
 ext2, ext3, FAT (FAT16 and FAT32) and linux-swap. Parted can                
 also detect HFS (Mac OS), JFS, NTFS, ReiserFS, UFS and XFS                  
 filesystems, but cannot create/remove/resize/check these                    
 filesystems yet.                                                            
 The nature of this software means that any bugs could cause                 
 massive data loss. While there are no known bugs at the moment,             
 they could exist, so please back up all important files before              
 running it, and do so at your own risk.                                     

 Further information about the control file can be obtained via 'man 5

4. Hands On

  Now it is time to get practical ourselves. I have a simple shell script
named 'linuxstatus' which I want to install as '/usr/bin/linuxstatus'. So
first let's create a directory named 'debian' next to the file 'linuxstatus'.
$ mkdir -p ./debian/usr/bin                                                  
$ cp linuxstatus ./debian/usr/bin                                            

4.1. control

 Let's start with the control file. The version number must have a dash with
an additional Debian package version number, e.g. '1.1-1'. If your program
consists e.g. only of portable shell scripts, use 'all' as its

  For 'Depends' you might need to find out to which package a certain file or
program your new package relies onto belongs to. You can use 'dpkg -S <file>'
for this to find this out, e.g.:
$ dkpg -S /bin/cat                                                           
coreutils: /bin/cat                                                          

 Then to find out more about package 'coreutils' you can use the command
'apt-cache showpkg coreutils', which will tell you among other things the
current version number that is installed on the system.

  As a side note, there are two more ways to find the same information. There
is a web page where you can search for Debian files: [
distrib/packages] Go to the bottom of
that page to fill out the web form.

  Last not least there is a nice GUI application named 'kpackage', which
provides convenient package browsing options and also allows to search after
packages given individual file names.

  'Suggests', 'Conflicts', and 'Replaces' etc. can be left out if not needed.

 So here is the result of our first 'control' file:
Package: linuxstatus                                                         
Version: 1.1-1                                                               
Section: base                                                                
Priority: optional                                                           
Architecture: all                                                            
Depends: bash (>= 2.05a-11), textutils (>= 2.0-12), awk, procps (>= \        
1:2.0.7-8), sed (>= 3.02-8), grep (>= 2.4.2-3), coreutils (>= 5.0-5)         
Maintainer: Chr. Clemens Lee <>                              
Description: Linux system information                                        
 This script provides a broad overview of different                          
 system aspects.                                                             

 The 'control' file gets copied into a directory called 'DEBIAN' inside the
other 'debian' directory.
$ mkdir -p debian/DEBIAN                                                                          
$ find ./debian -type d | xargs chmod 755   # this is necessary on Debian Woody, don't ask me why 
$ cp control debian/DEBIAN                                                                        

 If you expect your package to have a bigger audience in the future it might
help to read this []
Writing Debian package descriptions article.

4.2. dpkg-deb

 Now it is almost done. Just type:
$ dpkg-deb --build debian                                                    
dpkg-deb: building package `linuxstatus' in `debian.deb'.                    
$ mv debian.deb linuxstatus_1.1-1_all.deb                                    

 Uh, that was all easier than expected. Now we just have to install this
package on our box and we are done:
root# dpkg -i ./linuxstatus_1.1-1_all.deb                                    

 Type 'linuxstatus' or 'ls -l /usr/bin/linuxstatus' to see if it worked. If
you don't like your package any more, just type 'dpkg -r linuxstatus' and
check again that the package is deinstalled. If you install a newer version
you don't have to remove the old one first, thought.

  If you are curious about the version numbering scheme and naming
conventions for a Debian package, have a read at [
manuals/reference/ch-system.en.html#s-pkgname] this section in [http://] The Debian Reference.

5. Double Check

  Now that you have gotten a first impression and build your own binary
package, it is time to get a little bit more serious and have a look at the
quality of the package that we have produced.

5.1. lintian

  Luckily for us the Debian project provides a 'lint' like tool for checking
Debian packages. This tool is named 'lintian'. If you have not installed it
yet on your system, this is a good moment (apt-get install lintian).

  Now we use this little treasure tool on our new package file:
$ lintian linuxstatus_1.1-1_all.deb                                          
E: linuxstatus: binary-without-manpage linuxstatus                           
E: linuxstatus: no-copyright-file                                            
W: linuxstatus: prerm-does-not-remove-usr-doc-link                           
W: linuxstatus: postinst-does-not-set-usr-doc-link                           

  Uh, doesn't look so perfect. We miss a man page, copyright file, and also
those 'prerm' and 'postinst' scripts.

5.2. Minimal Documentation

 This is not the place to say much about writing and creating man pages,
there are many books that have one or another chapter related to this topic
and there is also [] The Linux
MAN-PAGE-HOWTO online. So lets do a little time warp and assume you have now
a perfect man page for your script at location ./man/man1/linuxstatus.1.

  The same for a 'copyright' file. You can find enough examples under the /
usr/share/doc directory with this command: find /usr/share/doc -name

  So here is our own example of a 'copyright' file:
Copyright: Chr. Clemens Lee <>                               
The home page of linuxstatus is at:                                                       
The entire code base may be distributed under the terms of the GNU General   
Public License (GPL), which appears immediately below.  Alternatively, all   
of the source code as any code derived from that code may instead be         
distributed under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), at the       
choice of the distributor. The complete text of the LGPL appears at the      
bottom of this file.                                                         
See /usr/share/common-licenses/(GPL|LGPL)                                    

  For the 'prerm' and 'postinst' scripts we copy one to one the [#postinst]
examples from the 'parted' package above into files with the same name in our
own project directory. These files should work for us just as well.

  Now we create the debian package again. In the 'control' file we first
increase the version number from 1.1-1 to 1.2-1 (since we have written a new
man page we increase our internal release number). We also need to copy the
new files to their appropriate places:
$ mkdir -p ./debian/usr/share/man/man1                                       
$ mkdir -p ./debian/usr/share/doc/linuxstatus                                
$ find ./debian -type d | xargs chmod 755                                    
$ cp ./man/man1/linuxstatus.1 ./debian/usr/share/man/man1                    
$ cp ./copyright ./debian/usr/share/doc/linuxstatus                          
$ cp ./prerm ./postinst ./debian/DEBIAN                                      
$ gzip --best ./debian/usr/share/man/man1/linuxstatus.1                      
$ dpkg-deb --build debian                                                    
dpkg-deb: building package `linuxstatus' in `debian.deb'.                    
$ mv debian.deb linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                    

  Gzip is necessary because lintian expects man page files to be compressed
as small as possible.

5.3. fakeroot

 Now lets see if our package has become a better Debian citizen:
$ lintian linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                                                     
E: linuxstatus: control-file-has-bad-owner prerm clemens/clemens != root/root                           
E: linuxstatus: control-file-has-bad-owner postinst clemens/clemens != root/root                        
E: linuxstatus: bad-owner-for-doc-file usr/share/doc/linuxstatus/ clemens/clemens != root/root          
E: linuxstatus: bad-owner-for-doc-file usr/share/doc/linuxstatus/copyright clemens/clemens != root/root 
E: linuxstatus: debian-changelog-file-missing                                                           

  Ups, new complains. OK, we will not give up. Actually most errors seem to
be the same problem. Our files are all packaged for user and group 'clemens',
while I assume most people would prefer having them installed as 'root/root'.
But this is easily fixed using the tool 'fakeroot'. So lets fix and check
this quickly (while ignoring the changelog issue):
$ fakeroot dpkg-deb --build debian                                           
dpkg-deb: building package `linuxstatus' in `debian.deb'.                    
$ mv debian.deb linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                    
$ lintian linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                          
E: linuxstatus: debian-changelog-file-missing                                

  Fine, but we have yet another file to add to the package.

5.4. More Documentation

 Let me tell you already that next to a 'changelog' file in the 'doc/
linuxstatus' directory a 'changelog.Debian' file is also required. Both
should be gzipped as well.

  Here are two example files, 'changelog':
linuxstatus (1.2-1)                                                          
  * Made Debian package lintian clean.                                       
 -- Chr. Clemens Lee <>  2002-12-13                          

 and 'changelog.Debian':
linuxstatus Debian maintainer and upstream author are identical.             
Therefore see also normal changelog file for Debian changes.                 

  The Debian Policy file has more details regarding the [http://]
format of the changelog file.

  Now hopefully our last step will be:
$ cp ./changelog ./changelog.Debian ./debian/usr/share/doc/linuxstatus       
$ gzip --best ./debian/usr/share/doc/linuxstatus/changelog                   
$ gzip --best ./debian/usr/share/doc/linuxstatus/changelog.Debian            
$ fakeroot dpkg-deb --build ./debian                                         
dpkg-deb: building package `linuxstatus' in `debian.deb'.                    
$ mv debian.deb linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                    
$ lintian linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                          

  Ah, we get no more complains :-). As root you can install now this package
over the old one, again with the standard 'dpkg -i' command.
root# dpkg -i ./linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb                                    
(Reading database ... 97124 files and directories currently installed.)      
Preparing to replace linuxstatus 1.1-1 (using linuxstatus_1.2-1_all.deb) ... 
Unpacking replacement linuxstatus ...                                        
Setting up linuxstatus (1.2-1) ...                                           

6. Summary

  Not to get confused, let us recapture all steps we have taken to build our
binary Debian package.

  Prerequisite files:

 1. one or more binary executable or shell script files
 2. a man page for each executable file
 3. a 'control' file
 4. a 'copyright' file
 5. a 'changelog' and 'changelog.Debian' file

  Setup temporary 'debian' directories:

 1. create 'debian/usr/bin' directory (or wherever you plan to place your
    executable files)
 2. create 'debian/usr/share/man/man1' (or whatever section your man page
    belongs into)
 3. create 'debian/DEBIAN' directory
 4. create 'debian/usr/share/doc/<package_name>'
 5. make sure all sub directories of 'debian' have file permission 0755

  Copy files into temporary 'debian' tree:

 1. copy executable file into 'debian/usr/bin' directory (or wherever you
    plan to place your executable files)
 2. copy man page file into 'debian/usr/share/man/man1' directory
 3. copy 'control' file into 'debian/DEBIAN' directory
 4. copy 'copyright', 'changelog', and 'changelog.Debian' files into 'debian/
 5. gzip man page, 'copyright', 'changelog', and 'changelog.Debian' files
    with option '--best' inside the temporary 'debian' tree

  Build and check binary Debian package:

 1. invoke 'dpkg-deb --build' using 'fakeroot' on the 'debian' directory
 2. rename resulting 'debian.deb' file to its final package name including
    version and architecture information
 3. check resulting .deb package file for Debian policy compliance using

7. What Else

  There are many details which have not been covered here, like how to
distribute Unix daemons, configuration files and much more.

  But most important, I want to emphasize again that for Debian maintainers,
packages are source packages, not binary packages. They never interact
directly with the internals binary packages. In fact only 'dpkg-deb' and
'dpkg' developers need to know what they are. In fact it is not recommended
to do so.

  If a developer were to explain someone how to build a Debian package, he
will certainly explain how to make a source package and how to build it.

 On the other hand, not every developer wants to submit his software to
Debian (yet), but still wants to profit from the advantages a packaging
system like 'dpkg' offers without releasing package source code. Personally I
will release my freeware projects still as tar.gz files with source code etc.
for all kind of platforms, while I plan to offer more and more '.deb'
packages for the convenience of Debian users who just want to install and use
my software.

  If someone wants to do the next step to submit a software package to
Debian, you have to move on to study the Debian New Maintainers' Guide as
well as the [] Debian Policy Manual
first. On your undertaking to create a Debian source package, also have a
look at the [] debian-mentors mailing
list to see experienced and beginning Debian developers interacting with each
other and tackling similar problem you might encounter.

8. Credits

  Thanks to

��*�Colin Watson for contributing a sentence in the abstract and giving
    feedback regarding structure, focus and title of this HowTo,
��*�Bill Allombert for contributing a sentence in the 'What Else' section and
    giving feedback reinforcing what Colin had said as well,
��*�Santiago Vila for pointing out that 'md' is a local alias and the (Unix)
    world has standardized on 'mkdir',
��*�Tabatha Marshall from the [] TLDP project for general
��*�Joey Hess, Carlo Perassi, and Joe Riel for minor corrections,
��*�Claudio Cattazzo for conversion of my private xml document to standard
    docbook format together which resulted also in a number of minor
    corrections and improvements [2003-10-04],
��*�Frank Lichtenheld for finding errors introduced when the HTML pages get
    generated and for suggesting to use 'dpkg -S <file>' when looking for a
    package containing a certain file [2003-12-13],
��*�Hugh Hartmann for translating [
    Debian-Binary-Package-Building-HOWTO/index.html] this HOWTO to Italian
    and Claudio Cattazzo for revising the translation [2003-12-13], and
��*�Oguz Yarimtepe for translating [
    dpkg-deb-nasil.html] this HOWTO to Turkish [2005-08-09].

9. Links


Debian New          [] http://         
Maintainers' Guide:                          
Debian: �           []          
The Debian          [            
Reference: �        reference.en.html]    
Debian Packages: �  [] http://         
Writing Debian      []    
descriptions: �                                                              
The Linux           [] http://   
MAN-PAGE-HOWTO: �                    
Debian Policy       [] http://       
Manual: �                         
Debian Mentors: �   [] http://        
The Linux           []              
Project: �                                                                   
Plug: my own little [] 
Unix page: �        clemens/unix/                                            

  All copyrights belong to their respective owners. Other site content (c) 2014, GNU.WIKI. Please report any site errors to