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Free Software Project Management HOWTO

Benjamin "Mako" Hill

Revision History                                                             
Revision v0.3.2          15 April 2002            Revised by: bch            
Revision v0.3.1          18 June 2001             Revised by: bch            
Revision v0.3            5 May 2001               Revised by: bch            
Revision v0.2.1          10 April 2001            Revised by: bch            
Revision v0.2            8 April 2001             Revised by: bch            
Revision v0.01           27 March 2001            Revised by: bch            
Initial Release                                                              

This HOWTO is designed for people with experience in programming and some
skills in managing a software project but who are new to the world of free
software. This document is meant to act as a guide to the non-technical
aspects of free software project management and was written to be a crash
course in the people skills that aren't taught to commercial coders but that
can make or break a free software project.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
    1.1. Copyright Information
    1.2. Disclaimer
    1.3. New Versions
    1.4. Credits
    1.5. Feedback
    1.6. Translations
2. Starting a Project
    2.1. Choosing a Project
    2.2. Naming your project
    2.3. Licensing your Software
    2.4. Choosing a Method of Version Numbering
    2.5. Documentation
    2.6. Other Presentation Issues
3. Maintaining a Project: Interacting with Developers
    3.1. Delegating Work
    3.2. Accepting and Rejecting Patches
    3.3. Stable and Development Branches
    3.4. Other Project Management issues
    3.5. Forks
4. Maintaining a Project: Interacting with Users
    4.1. Testing and Testers
    4.2. Setting up Support Infrastructure
    4.3. Releasing Your Program
    4.4. Announcing Your Project
A. GNU Free Documentation License
    A.1. 0. PREAMBLE
    A.10. 9. TERMINATION

1. Introduction

Skimming through provides mountains of reasons for this HOWTO's
existence--the Internet is littered with excellently written and useful
programs that have faded away into the universe of free software
forgottenness. This dismal scene made me ask myself, "Why?"

This HOWTO tries to do a lot of things (probably too many), but it can't
answer that question and won't attempt it. What this HOWTO will attempt to do
is give your Free Software project a fighting chance--an edge. If you write a
piece of crap that no one is interested in, you can read this HOWTO until you
can recite it in your sleep and your project will probably fail. Then again,
you can write a beautiful, relevant piece of software and follow every
instruction in this HOWTO and your software may still not make it. Sometimes
life is like that. However, I'll go out a limb and say that if you write a
great, relevant pieces of software and ignore the advise in this HOWTO,
you'll probably fail more often.

A lot of the information in this HOWTO is best called common sense. Of
course, as any debate on interfaces will prove, what is common sense to some
programmers proves totally unintuitive to others. After explaining bits and
pieces of this HOWTO to Free Software developers on several occasions, I
realized that writing this HOWTO might provide a useful resource and a forum
for programmers to share ideas about what has and has not worked for them.

As anyone involved in any of what seems like an unending parade of ridiculous
intellectual property clashes will attest to, a little bit of legalese proves

1.1. Copyright Information

This document is copyrighted (c) 2000 Benjamin "Mako" Hill and is distributed
under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under
the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later
version published by the Free Software Foundation with no Invariant Sections,
no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license can be
found in Appendix A.

1.2. Disclaimer

No liability for the contents of this documents can be accepted. Use the
concepts, examples and other content at your own risk. As this is a new
edition of this document, there may be errors and inaccuracies, that may of
course be damaging to your project (and potentially your system). Proceed
with caution, and although this is highly unlikely, the author(s) does not
take any responsibility for that.

All copyrights are held by their by their respective owners, unless
specifically noted otherwise. Use of a term in this document should not be
regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.

Naming of particular products or brands should not be seen as endorsements.

1.3. New Versions

This version is the part of the third pre-release cycle of this HOWTO. It is
written to be released to developers for critique and brainstorming. Please
keep in mind that this version of the HOWTO is still in an infant stage and
will continue to be revised extensively.

The latest version number of this document should always be listed on the
projects homepage hosted by []

The newest version of this HOWTO will always be made available at the same
website, in a variety of formats:

    FreeSoftwareProjectManagement-HOWTO/t1.html] HTML.
    FreeSoftwareProjectManagement-HOWTO.html] HTML (single page).
    FreeSoftwareProjectManagement-HOWTO.txt] plain text.
��*�[] Compressed postscript.
    FreeSoftwareProjectManagement-HOWTO.sgml.gz] Compressed SGML source.

1.4. Credits

In this version I have the pleasure of acknowledging:

Fellow Debian developer Martin Michlmayr and Vivek Venugopalan who sent me
information and links to extremely interesting articles. I've added both to
the bibliography and I've added information from each into the HOWTO. Thanks
to Andrew Shugg who pointed out several errors in the document. Also, a big
thanks to Sung Wook Her (AKA RedBaron) who is doing the first translation of
the HOWTO into Korean. I've been happy to see that people have enjoyed and
benefited from the HOWTO so far.

Older thanks that I don't want to take out yet include: Josh Crawford, Andy
King, and Jaime Davila who all read through this in entirety and gave me
feedback that has helped me make changes and improvements to this document. I
can't thank you guys enough for your help. An extra "Thank You" goes to Andy
King who who read through this several times and submitted patches to make
life easier for me.

Karl Fogel, the author of Open Source Development with CVS published by the
Coriolis Open Press. Large parts of his book are available [http://] on the web. 225 pages of the book are available under
the GPL and constitute the best tutorial on CVS I've ever seen. The rest of
the book covers, "the challenges and philosophical issues inherent in running
an Open Source project using CVS." The book does a good job of covering some
of the subjects brought up in this HOWTO and much more. The book's website
has information on ordering the book and provides several translations of the
chapters on CVS. If you are seriously interested in running a Free Software
project, you want this book. I tried to mention Fogel in sections of this
HOWTO where I knew I was borrowing directly from his ideas. If I missed any,
I'm sorry. I'll try and have those fixed in future versions.

Karl Fogel can be reached at <kfogel (at) red-bean (dot) com>

Also providing support material, and inspiration for this HOWTO is Eric S.
Raymond for his prolific, consistent, and carefully crafted arguments and
Lawrence Lessig for reminding me of the importance of Free Software.
Additionally, I want to thank every user and developer involved with the
[] Debian Project. The project has provided me with a
home, a place to practice free software advocacy, a place to make a
difference, a place to learn from those who have been involved with the
movement much longer than I, and proof of a free software project that
definitely, definitely works.

Above all, I want to thank Richard Stallman for his work at the Free Software
Foundation and for never giving up. Stallman provides and articulates the
philosophical basis that attracts me to free software and that drives me
toward writing a document to make sure it succeeds. RMS can always be emailed
at <rms (at) gnu (dot) org>.

1.5. Feedback

Feedback is always and most certainly welcome for this document. Without your
submissions and input, this document wouldn't exist. Do you feel that
something is missing? Don't hesitate to contact me to have me write a
chapter, section, or subsection or to write one yourself. I want this
document to be a product of the Free Software development process that it
heralds and I believe that its ultimate success will be rooted in its ability
to do this. Please send your additions, comments, and criticisms to the
following email address: <>.

1.6. Translations

I know that not everyone speaks English. Translations are nice and I'd love
for this HOWTO to gain the kind of international reach afforded by translated

I've been contacted by a reader who promises a translation into Korean.
However, this HOWTO is still young and other than the promise of Korean,
English is all that is currently available. If you would like to help with or
do a translation, you will gain my utmost respect and admiration and you'll
get to be part of a cool process. If you are at all interested, please don't
hesitate to contact me at: <>.

2. Starting a Project

With very little argument, the beginning is the most difficult period in a
project's life to do successful free software project management. Laying a
firm foundation will determine whether your project flourishes or withers
away and dies. It is also the subject that is of most immediate interest to
anyone reading this document as a tutorial.

Starting a project involves a dilemma that you as a developer must try and
deal with: no potential user for your program is interested in a program that
doesn't work, while the development process that you want to employ holds
involvement of users as imperative.

It is in these dangerous initial moments that anyone working to start a free
software project must try and strike a balance along these lines. One of the
most important ways that someone trying to start a project can work toward
this balance is by establishing a solid framework for the development process
through some of the suggestions mentioned in this section.

2.1. Choosing a Project

If you are reading this document, there's a good chance you already have an
idea for a project in mind. Chances are also pretty good that it fills a
perceived gap by doing something that no other free software project does or
by doing something in a way that is unique enough to necessitate a brand new
piece of software.

2.1.1. Identify and articulate your idea

Eric S. Raymond writes about how free software projects start in his essay, 
"The Cathedral and the Bazaar," which comes as required reading for any free
software developer. It is available online .

In "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Raymond tells us that: "every good work of
software starts by scratching a developers itch." Raymond's now widely
accepted hypothesis is that new free software programs are written, first and
foremost, to solve a specific problem facing the developer.

If you have an idea for a program in mind, chances are good that it targets a
specific problem or "itch" you want to see scratched. This idea is the
project. Articulate it clearly. Write it out. Describe the problem you will
attack in detail. The success of your project in tackling a particular
problem will be tied to your ability to identify that problem clearly early
on. Find out exactly what it is that you want your project to do.

Monty Manley articulates the importance of this initial step in an essay, "
Managing Projects the Open Source Way." As the next section will show, there
is a lot of work that needs to be done before software is even ready to be
coded. Manley says, "Beginning an OSS project properly means that a developer
must, first and foremost, avoid writing code too soon!"

2.1.2. Evaluate your idea

In evaluating your idea, you need to first ask yourself a few questions. This
should happen before you move any further through this HOWTO. Ask yourself: 
Is the free software development model really the right one for your project?

Obviously, since the program scratches your itch, you are definitely
interested in seeing it implemented in code. But, because one hacker coding
in solitude fails to qualify as a free software development effort, you need
to ask yourself a second question: Is anybody else interested?

Sometimes the answer is a simple "no." If you want to write a set of scripts
to sort your MP3 collection on your machine, maybe the free software
development model is not the best one to choose. However, if you want to
write a set of scripts to sort anyone's MP3s, a free software project might
fill a useful gap.

Luckily, the Internet is a place so big and so diverse that, chances are,
there is someone, somewhere, who shares your interests and who feels the same
"itch." It is the fact that there are so many people with so many similar
needs and desires that introduces the third major question: Has somebody
already had your idea or a reasonably similar one?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Finding Similar Projects

There are places you can go on the web to try and answer the question above.
If you have experience with the free software community, you are probably
already familiar with many of these sites. All of the resources listed below
offer searching of their databases:
    [] describes itself as, "the Web's
    largest index of Linux and Open Source software" and its reputation along
    these lines is totally unparalleled and unquestioned. If you can't find
    it on freshmeat, its doubtful that you (or anyone else) will find it at
    [] Slashdot provides "News for Nerds. Stuff that
    matters," which usually includes discussion of free software, open
    source, technology, and geek culture news and events. It is not unusual
    for a particularly sexy development effort to be announced here, so it is
    definitely worth checking.
    [] SourceForge houses and facilitates a growing
    number of open source and free software projects. It is also quickly
    becoming a nexus and a necessary stop for free software developers.
    SourceForge's software map and new release pages should be necessary
    stops before embarking on a new free software project. SourceForge also
    provides a Code Snippet Library which contains useful reusable chunks of
    code in an array of languages which can come in useful in any project.
Google and Google's Linux Search
    [] Google and Google's Linux Search, provides
    powerful web searches that may reveal people working on similar projects.
    It is not a catalog of software or news like freshmeat or Slashdot, but
    it is worth checking to make sure you aren't pouring your effort into a
    redundant project.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Deciding to Proceed

Once you have successfully charted the terrain and have an idea about what
kinds of similar free software projects exist, every developer needs to
decide whether to proceed with their own project. It is rare that a new
project seeks to accomplish a goal that is not at all similar or related to
the goal of another project. Anyone starting a new project needs to ask
themselves: "Will the new project be duplicating work done by another
project? Will the new project be competing for developers with an existing
project? Can the goals of the new project be accomplished by adding
functionality to an existing project?"

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," try to contact the
developer of the existing project(s) in question and see if he or she might
be willing to collaborate with you.

For many developers this may be the single most difficult aspect of free
software project management, but it is an essential one. It is easy to become
fired up by an idea and get caught up in the momentum and excitement of a new
project. It is often extremely difficult to do, but it is important that any
free software developer remembers that the best interests of the free
software community and the quickest way to accomplish your own project's
goals and the goals of similar projects can often be accomplished by not
starting a new development effort.

2.2. Naming your project

While there are plenty of projects that fail with descriptive names and
plenty that succeed without them, I think naming your project is worth giving
a bit of thought. Leslie Orchard tackles this issue in an Advogato article.
His article is short and definitely worth looking over quickly.

The synopsis is that Orchard recommends you pick a name where, after hearing
the name, many users or developers will both:

��*�Know what the project does.
��*�Remember it tomorrow.

Humorously, Orchard's project, "Iajitsu," does neither. It is probably
unrelated that development has effectively frozen since the article was

He makes a good point though. There are companies whose only job is to make
names for pieces of software. They make ridiculous amount of money doing it
and are supposedly worth it. While you probably can't afford a company like
this, you can afford to learn from their existence and think a little bit
about the name you are giving your project because it does matter.

If there is a name you really want but it doesn't fit Orchard's criteria, you
can still go ahead. I thought "gnubile" was one of the best I'd heard for a
free software project ever and I still talk about it long after I've stopped
using the program. However, if you can be flexible on the subject, listen to
Orchard's advice. It might help you.

2.3. Licensing your Software

On one (somewhat simplistic) level, the difference between a piece of free
software and a piece of propriety software is the license. A license helps
you as the developer by protecting your legal rights to have your software
distributed under your terms and helps demonstrate to those who wish to help
you or your project that they are encouraged to join.

2.3.1. Choosing a license

Any discussion of licenses is also sure to generate at least a small flame
war as there are strong feelings that some free software licenses are better
than others. This discussion also brings up the question of "Open Source
Software" and the debate over the terms "Open Source Software" and "Free
Software". However, because I've written the Free Software Project Management
HOWTO and not the Open Source Software Project Management HOWTO, my own
allegiances in this argument are in the open.

In attempting to reach a middle ground through diplomacy without sacrificing
my own philosophy, I will recommend picking any license that conforms to the 
Debian Free Software Guidelines. Originally compiled by the Debian project
under Bruce Perens, the DFSG forms the first version of the Open Source
Definition. Examples of free licenses given by the DFSG are the GPL, the BSD,
and the Artistic License. As ESR mentions in his his HOWTO[ESRHOWTO], don't
write your own license if at all possible. The three licenses I mention all
have long interpretive traditions. They are also definitely free software
(and can therefore be distributed as part of Debian and in other places that
permit the transfer of free software).

Conforming to the definition of free software offered by Richard Stallman in 
"The Free Software Definition", any of these licenses will uphold, "users'
freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software."
There are plenty of other licenses that also conform to the DFSG but sticking
with a more well-known license will offer the advantage of immediate
recognition and understanding. Many people write three or four sentences in a
COPYING file and assume that they have written a free software license--as my
long experience with the debian-legal mailing professes, this is very often
not the case.

In attempting a more in-depth analysis, I agree with Karl Fogel's description
of licenses as falling into two groups: those that are the GPL and those that
are not the GPL.

Personally, I license all my software under the GPL. Created and protected by
the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project, the GPL is the license for
the Linux kernel, GNOME, Emacs, and the vast majority of GNU/Linux software.
It's the obvious choice but I also believe it is a good one. Any BSD fanatic
will urge you to remember that there is a viral aspect to the GPL that
prevents the mixture of GPL'ed code with non-GPL'ed code. To many people
(myself included), this is a benefit, but to some, it is a major drawback.

Many people write three or four sentences in a COPYING file and assume that
they have written a free software license--as my long experience with the
debian-legal mailing professes, this is very often not the case. It may not
protect you, it may not protect your software, and it may make things very
difficult for people that want to use your software but who pay a lot of
attention to the subtle legal points of licenses. If you are passionate about
a home-brewed license, run it by either people at []
OSI or the debian-legal mailing list first protect yourself from
unanticipated side-effects of your license.

The three major licenses can be found at the following locations:

��*�The GNU General Public License
��*�The BSD License
��*�The Artistic License

In any case, please read through any license before your release your
software under it. As the primary developer, you can't afford any license

2.3.2. The mechanics of licensing

The text of the GPL offers a good description of the mechanics of applying a
license to a piece of software. My quick checklist for applying a license

��*�Make yourself or the FSF the copyright holder for the work. In a few rare
    cases, you might want to make a sponsoring organization (if it's big and
    powerful enough) the copyright holder instead. Doing this is as simple as
    putting the name in the blank when you modify the notice of copyright
    below. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to file with any
    organization. The notice alone is enough to copyright your work.
��*�If at all possible, attach and distribute a full copy of the license with
    the source and binary by including a separate file.
��*�At the top of each source file in your program, attach a notice of
    copyright and include information on where the full license can be found.
    The GPL recommends that each file begin with:
    |one line to give the program's name and an idea of what it does.            |
    |Copyright (C) yyyy  name of author                                          |
    |                                                                            |
    |This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or               |
    |modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License                 |
    |as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2              |
    |of the License, or (at your option) any later version.                      |
    |                                                                            |
    |This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,             |
    |but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of              |
    |GNU General Public License for more details.                                |
    |                                                                            |
    |You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License           |
    |along with this program; if not, write to the Free Software                 |
    |Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place - Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307, USA. |
    |                                                                            |
    The GPL goes on to recommend attaching information on methods for
    contacting you (the author) via email or physical mail.
��*�The GPL continues and suggests that if your program runs in an
    interactive mode, you should write the program to output a notice each
    time it enters interactive mode that includes a message like this one
    that points to full information about the programs license:
    |Gnomovision version 69, Copyright (C) year name of author      |
    |Gnomovision comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY; for details     |
    |type `show w'.  This is free software, and you are welcome     |
    |to redistribute it under certain conditions; type `show c'     |
    |for details.                                                   |
    |                                                               |
��*�Finally, it might be helpful to include a "copyright disclaimer" from an
    employer or a school if you work as a programmer or if it seems like your
    employer or school might be able to make an argument for ownership of
    your code later on. These aren't often needed but there are plenty of
    free software developers who have gotten into trouble and wish they'd
    asked for one.

2.3.3. Final license warning

Please, please, please, place your software under some license. It may not
seem important, and to you it may not be, but licenses are important. For a
piece of software to be included in the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, it
must have a license that fits the Debian Free Software Guidelines. If your
software has no license, it can not be distributed as a package in Debian
until you re-release it under a free license. Please save yourself and others
trouble by releasing the first version of your software with a clear license.

2.4. Choosing a Method of Version Numbering

The most important thing about a system of version numbering is that there is
one. It may seem pedantic to emphasize this point but you'd be surprised at
the number of scripts and small programs that pop up without any version
number at all.

The second most important thing about a system of numbering is that the
numbers always go up. Automatic version tracking systems and people's sense
of order in the universe will fall apart if version numbers don't rise. It
doesn't really matter if 2.1 is a big jump and 2.0.005 is a small jump but it
does matter that 2.1 is more recent than 2.0.005.

Follow these two simple rules and you will not go (too) wrong. Beyond this,
the most common technique seems to be the "major level," "minor level," 
"patch level" version numbering scheme. Whether you are familiar with the
name or not, you interact with it all the time. The first number is the major
number and it signifies major changes or rewrites. The second number is the
minor number and it represents added or tweaked functionality on top of a
largely coherent structure. The third number is the patch number and it
usually will only refer to releases fixing bugs.

The widespread use of this scheme is why I know the nature and relative
degree in the differences between a 2.4.12 release of the Linux kernel and a
2.4.11, 2.2.12, and 1.2.12 without knowing anything about any of the

You can bend or break these rules, and people do. But beware, if you choose
to, someone will get annoyed, assume you don't know, and try and educate you,
probably not nicely. I always follow this method and I implore you to do so
as well.

There are several version numbering systems that are well known, useful, and
that might be worth looking into before you release your first version.

Linux kernel version numbering:
    The Linux kernel uses a versioning system where any odd minor version
    number refers to an development or testing release and any even minor
    version number refers to a stable version. Think about it for a second.
    Under this system, 2.1 and 2.3 kernels were and always will be
    development or testing kernels and 2.0, 2.2. and 2.4 kernels are all
    production code with a higher degree of stability and more testing.
    Whether you plan on having a split development model (as described in 
    Section 3.3) or only one version released at a time, my experience with
    several free software projects and with the Debian project has taught me
    that use of Linux's version numbering system is worth taking into
    consideration. In Debian, all minor versions are stable distributions
    (2.0, 2.1, etc). However, many people assume that 2.1 is an unstable or
    development version and continue to use an older version until they get
    so frustrated with the lack of development progress that they complain
    and figure the system out. If you never release an odd minor version but
    only release even ones, nobody is hurt, and less people are confused.
    It's an idea worth taking into consideration.
Wine version numbering:
    Because of the unusual nature of wine's development where the
    not-emulator is constantly improving but not working toward any
    immediately achievable goal, wine is released every three weeks. Wine
    does this by labeling their releases in "Year Month Day" format where
    each release might be labeled "wine-XXXXXXXX" where the version from
    January 04, 2000 would be "wine-20000104". For certain projects, "Year
    Month Day" format can make a lot of sense.
Mozilla milestones:
    When one considers Netscape 6 and vendor versions, the mozilla's project
    development structure is one of the most complex free software models
    available. The project's version numbering has reflected the unique
    situation in which it is developed.
    Mozilla's version numbering structure has historically been made up of
    milestones. From the beginning of the mozilla project, the goals of the
    project in the order and degree to which they were to be achieved were
    charted out on a series of road maps. Major points and achievements along
    these road-maps were marked as milestones. Therefore, although Mozilla
    was built and distributed nightly as "nightly builds," on a day when the
    goals of a milestone on the road-map had been reached, that particular
    build was marked as a "milestone release."
    While I haven't seen this method employed in any other projects to date,
    I like the idea and think that it might have value in any testing or
    development branch of a large application under heavy development.

2.5. Documentation

A huge number of otherwise fantastic free software applications have withered
and died because their author was the only person who knew how to use them
fully. Even if your program is written primarily for a techno-savvy group of
users, documentation is helpful and even necessary for the survival of your
project. You will learn later in Section 4.3 that you should always release
something that is usable. A piece of software without documentation is not

There are lots of different people you should document for and there are lots
of ways to document your project. The importance of documentation in source
code to help facilitate development by a large community is vital but it
falls outside the scope of this HOWTO. This being the case, this section
deals with useful tactics for user-directed documentation.

A combination of tradition and necessity has resulted in a semi-regular
system of documentation in most free software projects that is worth
following. Both users and developers expect to be able to get documentation
in several ways and it's essential that you provide the information they are
seeking in a form they can read if your project is ever going to get off the
ground. People have come to expect:

2.5.1. Man pages

Your users will want to be able to type "man yourprojectname" end up with a
nicely formatted man page highlighting the basic use of your application.
Make sure that before you release your program, you've planned for this.

Man pages are not difficult to write. There is excellent documentation on the
man page writing process available through the "The Linux Man-Page-HOWTO"
which is available through the Linux Documentation project (LDP) and is
written by Jens Schweikhardt. It is available from Schweikhardt's site or 
from the LDP.

It is also possible to write man pages using DocBook SGML. Because man pages
are so simple and the DocBook method relatively new, I have not been able to
follow this up but would love help from anyone who can give me more
information on how exactly how this is done.

2.5.2. Command line accessible documentation

Most users will expect some basic amount of documentation to be easily
available from the command line. For few programs should this type of
documentation extend for more than one screen (24 or 25 lines) but it should
cover the basic usage, a brief (one or two sentence) description of the
program, a list of the commands with explanations, as well as all the major
options (also with explanations), plus a pointer to more in-depth
documentation for those who need it. The command line documentation for
Debian's apt-get serves as an excellent example and a useful model:
|apt 0.3.19 for i386 compiled on May 12 2000  21:17:27                      |
|Usage: apt-get [options] command                                           |
|       apt-get [options] install pkg1 [pkg2 ...]                           |
|                                                                           |
|apt-get is a simple command line interface for downloading and             |
|installing packages. The most frequently used commands are update          |
|and install.                                                               |
|                                                                           |
|Commands:                                                                  |
|   update - Retrieve new lists of packages                                 |
|   upgrade - Perform an upgrade                                            |
|   install - Install new packages (pkg is libc6 not libc6.deb)             |
|   remove - Remove packages                                                |
|   source - Download source archives                                       |
|   dist-upgrade - Distribution upgrade, see apt-get(8)                     |
|   dselect-upgrade - Follow dselect selections                             |
|   clean - Erase downloaded archive files                                  |
|   autoclean - Erase old downloaded archive files                          |
|   check - Verify that there are no broken dependencies                    |
|                                                                           |
|Options:                                                                   |
|  -h  This help text.                                                      |
|  -q  Loggable output - no progress indicator                              |
|  -qq No output except for errors                                          |
|  -d  Download only - do NOT install or unpack archives                    |
|  -s  No-act. Perform ordering simulation                                  |
|  -y  Assume Yes to all queries and do not prompt                          |
|  -f  Attempt to continue if the integrity check fails                     |
|  -m  Attempt to continue if archives are unlocatable                      |
|  -u  Show a list of upgraded packages as well                             |
|  -b  Build the source package after fetching it                           |
|  -c=? Read this configuration file                                        |
|  -o=? Set an arbitary configuration option, eg -o dir::cache=/tmp         |
|See the apt-get(8), sources.list(5) and apt.conf(5) manual                 |
|pages for more information and options.                                    |
|                                                                           |

It has become a GNU convention to make this type of information accessible
with the "-h" and the "--help" options. Most GNU/Linux users will expect to
be able to retrieve basic documentation these ways so if you choose to use
different methods, be prepared for the flames and fallout that may result.

2.5.3. Files users will expect

In addition to man pages and command-line help, there are certain files where
people will look for documentation, especially in any package containing
source code. In a source distribution, most of these files can be stored in
the root directory of the source distribution or in a subdirectory of the
root called "doc" or "Documentation." Common files in these places include:

README or Readme
    A document containing all the basic installation, compilation, and even
    basic use instructions that make up the bare minimum information needed
    to get the program up and running. A README is not your chance to be
    verbose but should be concise and effective. An ideal README is at least
    30 lines long and more no more than 250.
INSTALL or Install
    The INSTALL file should be much shorter than the README file and should
    quickly and concisely describe how to build and install the program.
    Usually an INSTALL file simply instructs the user to run "./configure;
    make; make install" and touches on any unusual options or actions that
    may be necessary. For most relatively standard install procedures and for
    most programs, INSTALL files are as short as possible and are rarely over
    100 lines.
CHANGELOG, Changelog, ChangeLog, or changelog
    A CHANGELOG is a simple file that every well-managed free software
    project should include. A CHANGELOG is simple the file that, as its name
    implies, logs or documents the changes you make to your program. The most
    simple way to maintain a CHANGELOG is to simply keep a file with the
    source code for your program and add a section to the top of the
    CHANGELOG with each release describing what has been changed, fixed, or
    added to the program. It's a good idea to post the CHANGELOG onto the
    website as well because it can help people decide whether they want or
    need to upgrade to a newer version or wait for a more significant
    A NEWS file and a ChangeLog are similar. Unlike a CHANGELOG, a NEWS file
    is not typically updated with new versions. Whenever new features are
    added, the developer responsible will make a note in the NEWS file. NEWS
    files should not have to be changed before a release (they should be kept
    up to date all along) but it's usually a good idea to check first anyway
    because often developers just forget to keep them as current as they
    For those of you that don't already know, FAQ stands for Frequently Asked
    Questions and a FAQ is a collection of exactly that. FAQs are not
    difficult to make. Simply make a policy that if you are asked a question
    or see a question on a mailing list two or more times, add the question
    (and its answer) to your FAQ. FAQs are more optional than the files
    listed above but they can save your time, increase usability, and
    decrease headaches on all sides.

2.5.4. Website

It's only indirectly an issue of documentation but a good website is quickly
becoming an essential part of any free software project. Your website should
provide access to your documentation (in HTML if possible). It should also
include a section for news and events around your program and a section that
details the process of getting involved with development or testing and make
an open invitation. It should also supply links to any mailing lists, similar
websites, and provide a direct link to all the available ways of downloading
your software.

2.5.5. Other documentation hints

��*�All your documentation should be in plaintext, or, in cases where it is
    on your website primarily, in HTML. Everyone can cat a file, everyone has
    a pager, (almost) everyone can render HTML. You are welcome to distribute
    information in PDF, PostScript, RTF, or any number of other widely used
    formats but this information must also be available in plaintext or HTML
    or people will be very angry at you. In my opinion, info falls into this
    category as well. There is plenty of great GNU documentation that people
    simply don't read because it only in info. And this does make people
    angry. It's not a question of superior formats; it is a question of
    accessability and the status quo plays a huge role in this determination.
��*�It doesn't hurt to distribute any documentation for your program from
    your website (FAQs etc) with your program. Don't hesitate to throw any of
    this in the program's tarball. If people don't need it, they will delete
    it. I can repeat it over and over: Too much documentation is not a sin.
��*�Unless your software is particular to a non-English language (a Japanese
    language editor for example), please distribute it with English language
    documentation. If you don't speak English or not not confident in your
    skills, ask a friend for help. Like it or not, fair or unfair, English is
    the language of free software. However, this does not mean you should
    limit your documentation to only English. If you speak another language,
    distribute translations of documentation with your software if you have
    the time and energy to do so. They will invariably be useful to someone.
��*�Finally, please spell-check your documentation. Misspellings in
    documentation are bugs. I'm very guilty of committing this error and it's
    extremely easy to do. If English is not your first language, have a
    native speaker look over or edit your documentation or web pages. Poor
    spelling or grammar goes a long way to making your code look
    unprofessional. In code comments, this type of thing is less important
    but in man pages and web pages these mistakes are not acceptable.

2.6. Other Presentation Issues

Many of the remaining issues surrounding the creation of a new free software
program fall under what most people describe as common sense issues. Its
often said that software engineering is 90 percent common sense combined with
10 percent specialized knowledge. Still, they are worth noting briefly in
hopes that they may remind a developer of something they may have forgotten.

2.6.1. Package File Names

I agree with ESR when he says that: " It's helpful to everybody if your
archive files all have GNU-like names -- all-lower-case alphanumeric stem
prefix, followed by a dash, followed by a version number, extension, and
other suffixes." There is more info (including lots of examples of what not
to do in his Software Release Practices HOWTO which is included in this
HOWTO's bibliography and can be found through the LDP.

2.6.2. Package formats

Package formats may differ depending on the system you are developing for.
For windows based software, Zip archives (.zip) usually serve as the package
format of choice. If you are developing for GNU/Linux, *BSD, or any UN*X,
make sure that your source code is always available in tar'ed and gzip'ed
format (.tar.gz). UNIX compress (.Z) has gone out of style and usefulness and
faster computers have brought bzip2 (.bz2) into the spot-light as a more
effective compression medium. I now make all my releases available in both
gzip'ed and bzip2'ed tarballs.

Binary packages should always be distribution specific. If you can build
binary packages against a current version of a major distribution, you will
only make your users happy. Try to foster relationships with users or
developers of large distributions to develop a system for the consistent
creation of binary packages. It's often a good idea to provide RedHat RPM's
(.rpm), Debian deb's (.deb) and source RPM's SRPM's if possible. Remember: 
While these binaries packages are nice, getting the source packaged and
released should always be your priority. Your users or fellow developers can
and will do the the binary packages for you.

2.6.3. Version control systems

A version control system can make a lot of these problems of packaging (and a
lot of other problems mentioned in this HOWTO) less problematic. If you are
using *NIX, CVS is your best bet. I recommend Karl Fogel's book on the
subject (and the [] posted HTML version)

CVS or not, you should probably invest some time into learning about a
version control system because it provides an automated way of solving many
of the problems described by this HOWTO. I am not aware of any free version
control systems for Windows or Mac OS but I know that CVS clients exist for
both platforms. Websites like [] SourceForge do a great
job as well with a nice, easy-to-use web interface to CVS.

I'd love to devote more space in this HOWTO to CVS because I love it (I even
use CVS to keep versions straight on this HOWTO!) but I think it falls
outside the scope of this document and already has its own HOWTOs. Most
notably is the CVS Best Practices HOWTO[CVSBESTPRACTICES] which I've included
in the attached bibliography.

2.6.4. Useful tidbits and presentation hints

Other useful hints include:

��*�Make sure that your program can always be found in a single location.
    Often this means that you have a single directory accessible via FTP or
    the web where the newest version can be quickly recognized. One effective
    technique is a provide a symlink called "yourprojectname-latest" that is
    always pointing to the most recent released or development version of
    your free software application. Keep in mind that this location will
    receive many requests for downloads around releases so make sure that the
    server you choose has adequate bandwidth.
��*�Make sure that there is a consistent email address for bug reports. It's
    usually a good idea to make this something that is NOT your primary email
    address like yourprojectname@host or yourprojectname-bugs@host. This way,
    if you ever decide to hand over maintainership or if your email address
    changes, you simply need to change where this email address forwards. It
    also will allow for more than one person to deal with the influx of mail
    that is created if your project becomes as huge as you hope it will.

3. Maintaining a Project: Interacting with Developers

Once you have gotten your project started, you have overcome the most
difficult hurdles in the development process of your program. Laying a firm
foundation is essential, but the development process itself is equally
important and provides just as many opportunities for failure. In the next
two sections, I will describe running a project by discussing how to maintain
a development effort through interactions with developers and with users.

In releasing your program, your program becomes free software. This
transition is more than just a larger user base. By releasing your program as
free software, your software becomes the free software community's software.
The direction of your software's development will be reshaped, redirected,
and fully determined by your users and, to a larger extent, by other
developers in the community.

The major difference between free software development and propriety software
development is the developer base. As the leader of a free software project,
you need to attract and keep developers in a way that leaders of proprietary
software projects simply don't have to worry about. As the person leading
development of a free software project, you must harness the work of fellow
developers by making responsible decisions and by responsibly choosing not to
make decisions. You have to direct developers without being overbearing or
bossy. You need to strive to earn respect and never forget to give it out.

3.1. Delegating Work

By now, you've hypothetically followed me through the early programming of a
piece of software, the creation of a website and system of documentation, and
we've gone ahead and (as will be discussed in Section 4.3) released it to the
rest of the world. Times passes, and if things go well, people become
interested and want to help. The patches begin flowing in.

Like the parent of any child who grows up, it's now time to wince, smile and
do most difficult thing in any parents life: It's time to let go.

Delegation is the political way of describing this process of "letting go."
It is the process of handing some of the responsibility and power over your
project to other responsible and involved developers. It is difficult for
anyone who has invested a large deal of time and energy into a project but it
essential for the growth of any free software project. One person can only do
so much. A free software project is nothing without the involvement of a
group of developers. A group of developers can only be maintained through
respectful and responsible leadership and delegation.

As your project progresses, you will notice people who are putting
significant amounts of time and effort into your project. These will be the
people submitting the most patches, posting most on the mailing lists, and
engaging in long email discussions. It is your responsibility to contact
these people and to try and shift some of the power and responsibility of
your position as the project's maintainer onto them (if they want it). There
are several easy ways you can do this:

In a bit of a disclaimer, delegation need not mean rule by committee. In many
cases it does and this has been proven to work. In other cases this has
created problems. Managing Projects the Open Source Way argues that "OSS
projects do best when one person is the clear leader of a team and makes the
big decisions (design changes, release dates, and so on)." I think this often
true but would urge developers to consider the ideas that the project leader
need not be the project's founder and that these important powers need not
all rest with one person but that a release manager may be different than a
lead developer. These situations are tricky politically so be careful and
make sure it's necessary before you go around empowering people.

3.1.1. How to delegate

You may find that other developers seem even more experienced or
knowledgeable than you. Your job as a maintainer does not mean you have to be
the best or the brightest. It means you are responsible for showing good
judgment and for recognizing which solutions are maintainable and which are

Like anything, its easier to watch others delegate than to do it yourself. In
a sentence: Keep an eye out for other qualified developers who show an
interest and sustained involvement with your project and try and shift
responsibility toward them. The following ideas might be good places to start
or good sources of inspiration:
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Allow a larger group of people to have write access to your CVS
repository and make real efforts toward rule by a committee

[] Apache is an example of a project that is run by
small group of developers who vote on major technical issues and the
admission of new members and all have write access to the main source
repository. Their process is detailed [
ABOUT_APACHE.html] online.

The [] Debian Project is an extreme example of rule by
committee. At current count, more than 700 developers have full
responsibility for aspects of the project. All these developers can upload
into the main FTP server, and vote on major issues. Direction for the project
is determined by the project's social contract and a [
devel/constitution] constitution. To facilitate this system, there are
special teams (i.e. the install team, the Japanese language team) as well as
a technical committee and a project leader. The leader's main responsibility
is to, "appoint delegates or delegate decisions to the Technical Committee."

While both of these projects operate on a scale that your project will not
(at least initially), their example is helpful. Debian's idea of a project
leader who can do nothing but delegate serves as a caricature of how a
project can involve and empower a huge number of developers and grow to a
huge size.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Publicly appoint someone as the release manager for a specific

A release manager is usually responsible for coordinating testing, enforcing
a code freeze, being responsible for stability and quality control, packaging
up the software, and placing it in the appropriate places to be downloaded.

This use of the release manager is a good way to give yourself a break and to
shift the responsibility for accepting and rejecting patches onto someone
else. It is a good way of very clearly defining a chunk of work on the
project as belonging to a certain person and its a great way of giving
yourself room to breath.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Delegate control of an entire branch

If your project chooses to have branches (as described in Section 3.3), it
might be a good idea to appoint someone else to be the the head of a branch.
If you like focusing your energy on development releases and the
implementation of new features, hand total control over the stable releases
to a well-suited developer.

The author of Linux, Linus Torvalds, came out and crowned Alan Cox as "the
man for stable kernels." All patches for stable kernels go to Alan and, if
Linus were to be taken away from work on Linux for any reason, Alan Cox would
be more than suited to fill his role as the acknowledged heir to the Linux

3.2. Accepting and Rejecting Patches

This HOWTO has already touched on the fact that as the maintainer of a free
software project, one of your primary and most important responsibilities
will be accepting and rejecting patches submitted to you by other developers.

3.2.1. Encouraging Good Patching

As the person managing or maintaining the project, you aren't the person who
is going to be making a lot of patches. However, it's worth knowing about
ESR's section on Good Patching Practice in the Software Release Practices
HOWTO[ESRHOWTO]. I don't agree with ESR's claim that most ugly or
undocumented patches are probably worth throwing out at first sight--this
just hasn't been my experience, especially when dealing with bug fixes that
often don't come in the form of patches at all. Of course, this doesn't mean
that I like getting poorly done patches. If you get ugly -e patches, if you
get totally undocumented patches, and especially if they are anything more
than trivial bug-fixes, it might be worth judging the patch by some of the
criteria in ESR's HOWTO and then throwing people the link to the document so
they can do it the "right way."

3.2.2. Technical judgment

In Open Source Development with CVS, Karl Fogel makes a convincing argument
that the most important things to keep in mind when rejecting or accepting
patches are:

��*�A firm knowledge of the scope of your program (that's the "idea" I talked
    about in Section 2.1);
��*�The ability to recognize, facilitate, and direct "evolution" of your
    program so that the program can grow and change and incorporate
    functionality that was originally unforeseen;
��*�The necessity to avoid digressions that might expand the scope of the
    program too much and result and push the project toward an early death
    under its own weight and unwieldiness.

These are the criteria that you as a project maintainer should take into
account each time you receive a patch.

Fogel elaborates on this and states the "the questions to ask yourself when
considering whether to implement (or approve) a change are:"

��*�Will it benefit a significant percentage of the program's user community?
��*�Does it fit within the program's domain or within a natural, intuitive
    extension of that domain?

The answers to these questions are never straightforward and its very
possible (and even likely) that the person who submitted the patch may feel
differently about the answer to these questions than you do. However, if you
feel that that the answer to either of those questions is "no," it is your
responsibility to reject the change. If you fail to do this, the project will
become unwieldy and unmaintainable and many ultimately fail.

3.2.3. Rejecting patches

Rejecting patches is probably the most difficult and sensitive job that the
maintainer of any free software project has to face. But sometimes it has to
be done. I mentioned earlier (in Section 3 and in Section 3.1) that you need
to try and balance your responsibility and power to make what you think are
the best technical decisions with the fact that you will lose support from
other developers if you seem like you are on a power trip or being overly
bossy or possessive of the community's project. I recommend that you keep
these three major concepts in mind when rejecting patches (or other changes):
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bring it to the community

One of the best ways of justifying a decision to reject a patch and working
to not seem like you keep an iron grip on your project is by not making the
decision alone at all. It might make sense to turn over larger proposed
changes or more difficult decisions to a development mailing list where they
can be discussed and debated. There will be some patches (bug fixes, etc.)
which will definitely be accepted and some that you feel are so off base that
they do not even merit further discussion. It is those that fall into the
gray area between these two groups that might merit a quick forward to a
mailing list.

I recommend this process wholeheartedly. As the project maintainer you are
worried about making the best decision for the project, for the project's
users and developers, and for yourself as a responsible project leader.
Turning things over to an email list will demonstrate your own responsibility
and responsive leadership as it tests and serves the interests of your
software's community.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Technical issues are not always good justification

Especially toward the beginning of your project's life, you will find that
many changes are difficult to implement, introduce new bugs, or have other
technical problems. Try to see past these. Especially with added
functionality, good ideas do not always come from good programmers. Technical
merit is a valid reason to postpone an application of a patch but it is not
always a good reason to reject a change outright. Even small changes are
worth the effort of working with the developer submitting the patch to iron
out bugs and incorporate the change if you think it seems like a good
addition to your project. The effort on your part will work to make your
project a community project and it will pull a new or less experienced
developer into your project and even teach them something that might help
them in making their next patch.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Common courtesy

It should go without saying but, above all and in all cases, just be nice. If
someone has an idea and cares about it enough to write some code and submit a
patch, they care, they are motivated, and they are already involved. Your
goal as the maintainer is make sure they submit again. They may have thrown
you a dud this time but next time may be the idea or feature that
revolutionizes your project.

It is your responsibility to first justify your choice to not incorporate
their change clearly and concisely. Then thank them. Let them know that you a
appreciate their help and feel horrible that you can't incorporate their
change. Let them know that you look forward to their staying involved and you
hope that the next patch or idea meshes better with your project because you
appreciate their work and want to see it in your application. If you have
ever had a patch rejected after putting a large deal of time, thought, and
energy into it, you remember how it feels and it feels bad. Keep this in mind
when you have to let someone down. It's never easy but you need to do
everything you can to make it as not-unpleasant as possible.

3.3. Stable and Development Branches

The idea of stable and development branches has already been described
briefly in Section 2.4 and in Section These allusions attest to some
of the ways that multiple branches can affect your software. Branches can let
you avoid (to some extent) some of the problems around rejecting patches (as
described in Section 3.2) by allowing you to temporarily compromise the
stability of your project without affecting those users who need that

The most common way of branching your project is to have one branch that is
stable and one that is for development. This is the model followed by the
Linux kernel that is described in Section 2.4. In this model, there is always
one branch that is stable and always one that is in development. Before any
new release, the development branch goes into a "feature freeze" as described
in Section 3.4.1 where major changes and added features are rejected or put
on hold under the development kernel is released as the new stable branch and
major development resumes on the development branch. Bug fixes and small
changes that are unlikely to have any large negative repercussions are
incorporated into the stable branch as well as the development branch.

Linux's model provides an extreme example. On many projects, there is no need
to have two versions constantly available. It may make sense to have two
versions only near a release. The Debian project has historically made both a
stable and an unstable distribution available but has expanded to this to
include: stable, unstable, testing, experimental, and (around release time) a
frozen distribution that only incorporates bug fixes during the transition
from unstable to stable. There are few projects whose size would necessitate
a system like Debian's but this use of branches helps demonstrate how they
can be used to balance consistent and effective development with the need to
make regular and usable releases.

In trying to set up a development tree for yourself, there are several things
that might be useful to keep in mind:

Minimize the number of branches
    Debian may be able to make good use of four or five branches but it
    contains gigabytes of software in over 5000 packages compiled for 5-6
    different architectures. For you, two is probably a good ceiling. Too
    many branches will confuse your users (I can't count how many times I had
    to describe Debian's system when it only had 2 and sometimes 3
    branches!), potential developers and even yourself. Branches can help but
    they come at a cost so use them very sparingly.
Make sure that all your different branches are explained
    As I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, different branches will
    confuse your users. Do everything you can to avoid this by clearly
    explaining the different branches in a prominent page on your website and
    in a README file in the FTP or web directory.
    I might also recommend against a mistake that I think Debian has made.
    The terms "unstable," "testing," and "experimental" are vague and
    difficult to rank in order of stability (or instability as the case may
    be). Try explaining to someone that "stable" actually means "ultra
    stable" and that "unstable" doesn't actually include any unstable
    software but is really stable software that is untested as a
    If you are going to use branches, especially early on, keep in mind that
    people are conditioned to understand the terms "stable" and "development"
    and you probably can't go wrong with this simple and common division of
Make sure all your branches are always available
    Like a lot of this document, this should probably should go without
    saying but experience has taught me that it's not always obvious to
    people. It's a good idea to physically split up different branches into
    different directories or directory trees on your FTP or web site. Linux
    accomplishes this by having kernels in a v2.2 and a v2.3 subdirectory
    where it is immediately obvious (after you know their version numbering
    scheme) which directory is for the most recent stable and the current
    development releases. Debian accomplishes this by naming all their
    distribution with names (i.e. woody, potato, etc.) and then changing
    symlinks named "stable," "unstable" and "frozen" to point to which ever
    distribution (by name) is in whatever stage. Both methods work and there
    are others. In any case, it is important that different branches are
    always available, are accessible from consistent locations, and that
    different branches are clearly distinguished from each other so your
    users know exactly what they want and where to get it.

3.4. Other Project Management issues

There are more issues surrounding interaction with developers in a free
software project that I can not touch on in great detail in a HOWTO of this
size and scope. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you see any major

Other smaller issues that are worth mentioning are:

3.4.1. Freezing

For those projects that choose to adopt a split development model (Section
3.3), freezing is a concept that is worth becoming familiar with.

Freezes come in two major forms. A "feature freeze" is a period when no
significant functionality is added to a program. It is a period where
established functionality (even skeletons of barely working functionality)
can be improved and perfected. It is a period where bugs are fixed. This type
of freeze is usually applied some period (a month or two) before a release.
It is easy to push a release back as you wait for "one more feature" and a
freeze helps to avoid this situation by drawing the much needed line in the
sand. It gives developers room they need to get a program ready for release.

The second type of freeze is a "code freeze" which is much more like a
released piece of software. Once a piece of software has entered a "code
freeze," all changes to the code are discouraged and only changes that fix
known bugs are permitted. This type of freeze usually follows a "feature
freeze" and directly precedes a release. Most released software is in what
could be interpreted as a sort of high level "code freeze."

Even if you never choose to appoint a release manager (Section, you
will have an easier time justifying the rejection or postponement of patches
(Section 3.2) before a release with a publicly stated freeze in effect.

3.5. Forks

I wasn't sure about how I would deal with forking in this document (or if I
would deal with forking at all). A fork is when a group of developers takes
code from a free software project and actually starts a brand new free
software project with it. The most famous example of a fork was between Emacs
and XEmacs. Both emacsen are based on an identical code-base but for
technical, political, and philosophical reasons, development was split into
two projects which now compete with each other.

The short version of the fork section is, don't do them. Forks force
developers to choose one project to work with, cause nasty political
divisions, and redundancy of work. Luckily, usually the threat of the fork is
enough to scare the maintainer or maintainers of a project into changing the
way they run their project.

In his chapter on "The Open Source Process," Karl Fogel describes how to do a
fork if you absolutely must. If you have determined that is absolutely
necessary and that the differences between you and the people threatening to
fork are absolutely unresolvable, I recommend Fogel's book as a good place to

4. Maintaining a Project: Interacting with Users

If you've worked your way up to here, congratulations, you are nearing the
end of this document. This final section describes some of the situations in
which you, in your capacity as project maintainer, will be interacting with
users. It gives some suggestions on how these situations might be handled

Interacting with users is difficult. In our discussion of interaction with
developers, the underlying assumption is that in a free software project, a
project maintainer must constantly strive to attract and keep developers who
can easily leave at any time.

Users in the free software community are different than developers and are
also different than users in the world of proprietary software and they
should be treated differently than either group. Some ways in which the
groups differ significantly follow:

��*�The lines between users and developers are blurred in ways that is
    totally foreign to any proprietary development model. Your users are
    often your developers and vice versa.
��*�In the free software world, you are often your users' only choice.
    Because there is such an emphasis on not replicating the work of others
    in the free software community and because the element of competition
    present in the propriety software model is absent (or at least in an
    extremely different form) in the free software development model, you
    will probably be the only project that does what you do (or at least the
    only one that does what you do in the way that you do it). This means
    your responsiveness to your users is even more important than in the
    proprietary software world.
��*�In an almost paradoxical situation, free software projects have less
    immediate or dire consequences for ignoring their users altogether. It is
    also often easier to do. Because you don't usually need to compete with
    another product, chances are good that you will not be scrambling to gain
    the features of your competitor's newest program. This means that your
    development process will have to be directed either internally, by a
    commitment to your users, or through both.

Trying to tackle this unique situation can only be done indirectly.
Developers and maintainers need to listen to users and to try and be as
responsive as possible. A solid knowledge of the situation recounted above is
any free software developer's best tool for shifting his development or
leadership style to fit the unique process of free software project
management. This chapters will try and introduce some of the more difficult
or important points in any projects interactions with users and give some
hints on how to tackle these.

4.1. Testing and Testers

In addition to your users being your developers, they are also (and perhaps
more commonly) your testers. Before I get flamed, I should rephrase my
sentence: some of your users (those who explicitly volunteer) are your

It is important that this distinction be made early on because not all of
your users want to be testers. Many users want to use stable software and
don't care if they don't have the newest, greatest software with the latest,
greatest features. These users except a stable, tested piece of software
without major or obvious bugs and will be angry if they find themselves
testing. This is yet another way in which a split development model (as
mentioned in Section 3.3) might come in handy.

"Managing Projects the Open Source Way" describes what a good test should
look for:

Boundary conditions
    Maximum buffer lengths, data conversions, upper/lower boundary limits,
    and so on.
Inappropriate behavior
    Its a good idea to find out what a program will do if a user hands it a
    value it isn't expecting, hits the wrong button, etc. Ask yourself a
    bunch of "what if" questions and think of anything that might fail or 
    might go wrong and find out what your program would do in those cases.
Graceful failure
    The answer to a number of the "what if" questions above is probably 
    "failure" which is often the only answer. Now make sure that it happens
    nicely. Make sure that when it crashes, there is some indication of why
    it crashed or failed so that the user or developer understands whats
    going on.
Standards conformance
    If possible, make sure your programs conforms to standards. If it's
    interactive, don't be too creative with interfaces. If it is
    non-interactive, make sure it communicates over appropriate and
    established channels with other programs and with the rest of the system.

4.1.1. Automated testing

For many programs, many common mistakes can be caught by automated means.
Automated tests tend to be pretty good at catching errors that you've run
into several times before or the things you just forget. They are not very
good at finding errors, even major ones, that are totally unforeseen.

CVS comes with a Bourne shell script called that is worth looking
at. Debian uses a program called lintian that checks Debian packages for all
of the most common errors. While use of these scripts may not be helpful,
there is a host of other sanity checking software on the net that may be
applicable (feel free to email me any recommendations). None of these will
create a bug-free release but they will avoid at least some major oversights.
Finally, if your programs become a long term endeavor, you will find that
there are certain errors that you tend to make over and over. Start a
collection of scripts that check for these errors to help keep them out of
future releases.

4.1.2. Testing by testers

For any program that depends on user interactivity, many bugs will only be
uncovered through testing by users actually clicking the keys and pressing
the mouse buttons. For this you need testers and as many as possible.

The most difficult part of testing is finding testers. It's usually a good
tactic to post a message to a relevant mailing list or news group announcing
a specific proposed release date and outlining the functionality of your
program. If you put some time into the announcement, you are sure to get a
few responses.

The second most difficult part of testing is keeping your testers and keeping
them actively involved in the testing process. Fortunately, there are some
tried and true tactics that can applied toward this end:

Make things simple for your testers
    Your testers are doing you a favor so make it as easy as possible for
    them. This means that you should be careful to package your software in a
    way that is easy to find, unpack, install, and uninstall. This also means
    you should explain what you are looking for to each tester and make the
    means for reporting bugs simple and well established. The key is to
    provide as much structure as possible to make your testers' jobs easy and
    to maintain as much flexibility as possible for those that want to do
    things a little differently.
Be responsive to your testers
    When your testers submit bugs, respond to them and respond quickly. Even
    if you are only responding to tell them that the bug has already been
    fixed, quick and consistent responses make them feel like their work is
    heard, important, and appreciated.
Thank your testers
    Thank them personally each time they send you patch. Thank them publicly
    in the documentation and the about section of your program. You
    appreciate your testers and your program would not be possible without
    their help. Make sure they know it. Publicly, pat them on the back to
    make sure the rest of the world knows it too. It will be appreciated more
    than you expected.

4.2. Setting up Support Infrastructure

While testing is important, the large part of your interactions and
responsibility to your users falls under the category of support. The best
way to make sure your users are adequately supported in using your program is
to set up a good infrastructure for this purpose so that your developers and
users help each other and less of the burden falls on you. This way, people
will also get quicker and better responses to their questions. This
infrastructure comes in several major forms:

4.2.1. Documentation

It should not come as any surprise that the key element to any support
infrastructure is good documentation. This topic was largely covered in 
Section 2.5 and will not be repeated here.

4.2.2. Mailing lists

Aside from documentation, effective mailing lists will be your greatest tool
in providing user support. Running a mailing list well is more complicated
than installing mailing list software onto a machine.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Separate lists

A good idea is too separate your user and development mailing lists (perhaps
into project-user@host and project-devel@host) and enforce the division. If
people post a development question onto -user, politely ask them to repost it
onto -devel and vise versa. Subscribe yourself to both groups and encourage
all primarily developers to do the same.

This system provides so that no one person is stuck doing all of the support
work and works so that users learn more about the program, they can help
newer users with their questions.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Choose mailing list software well

Please don't make the selection of mailing list software impulsively. Please
consider easy accessibility by users without a lot of technical experience so
you want to be as easy as possible. Web accessibility to an archive of the
list is also important.

The two biggest free software mailing list programs are [http://] majordomo and [] GNU
Mailman. A long time advocate of majordomo, I would now recommend any project
choose GNU Mailman. It fulfills the criteria listed above and makes it
easier. It provides a good mailing list program for a free software project
maintainer as opposed to a good mailing list application for a mailing list

There are other things you want to take into consideration in setting up your
list. If it is possible to gate your mailing lists to Usenet and provide it
in digest form as well as making them accessible on the web, you will please
some users and work to make the support infrastructure slightly more

4.2.3. Other support ideas

A mailing list and accessible documentation are far from all you can do to
set up good user support infrastructure. Be creative. If you stumble across
something that works well, email me and I'll include it here.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Make your self accessible

You can not list too few methods to reach you. If you hang out in an IRC
channel, don't hesitate to list it in your projects documentation. List email
and snailmail addresses, and ways to reach you via ICQ, AIM, or Jabber if
they apply.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bug management software

For many large software projects, use of bug management software is essential
to keep track of which bugs have been fixed, which bugs have not been fixed,
and which bugs are being fixed by which people. Debian uses the [http://] Debian Bug Tracking System (BTS) although it may not be best
choice for every project (it seems to currently be buckling under its own
weight) As well as a damn good web browser, the Mozilla project has spawned a
sub-project resulting in a bug tracking system called [
/projects/bugzilla/] bugzilla which has become extremely possible and which I
like a lot.

These systems (and others like them) can be unwieldy so developers should be
careful to not spend more time on the bug tracking system than on the bugs or
the projects themselves. If a project continues to grow, use of a bug
tracking system can provide an easy standard avenue for users and testers to
report bugs and for developers and maintainers to fix them and track them in
an orderly fashion.

4.3. Releasing Your Program

As mentioned earlier in the HOWTO, the first rule of releasing is, release
something useful. Non-working or not-useful software will not attract anyone
to your project. People will be turned off of your project and will be likely
to simply gloss over it next time they see a new version announced.
Half-working software, if useful, will intrigue people, whet their appetites
for versions to come, and encourage them to join the development process.

4.3.1. When to release

Making the decision to release your software for the first time is an
incredibly important and incredibly stressful decision. But it needs to done.
My advice is to try and make something that is complete enough to be usable
and incomplete enough to allow for flexibility and room for imagination by
your future developers. It's not an easy decision. Ask for help on a local
Linux User Group mailing list or from a group of developer friends.

One tactic is to first do an "alpha" or "beta" release as described below in 
Section 4.3.3. However, most of the guidelines described above still apply.

When you feel in your gut that it is time and you feel you've weighed the
situation well several times, cross your fingers and take the plunge.

After you've released for the first time, knowing when to release becomes
less stressful, but just as difficult to gauge. I like the criteria offered
by Robert Krawitz in his article, "Free Software Project Management" for
maintaining a good release cycle. He recommends that you ask yourself, "does
this release..."

��*�Contain sufficient new functionality or bug fixes to be worth the effort.
��*�Be spaced sufficiently far apart to allow the user time to work with the
    latest release.
��*�Be sufficiently functional so that the user can get work done (quality).

If the answer is yes to all of these questions, its probably time for a
release. If in doubt, remember that asking for advice can't hurt.

4.3.2. How to release

If you've followed the guidelines described in this HOWTO up until this
point, the mechanics of doing a release are going to be the easy part of
releasing. If you have set up consistent distribution locations and the other
infrastructure described in the preceding sections, releasing should be as
simple as building the package, checking it once over, and uploading it into
the appropriate place and then making your website reflect the change.

4.3.3. Alpha, beta, and development releases

When contemplating releases, it worth considering the fact that not every
release needs to be a full numbered release. Software users are accustomed to
pre-releases but you must be careful to label these releases accurately or
they will cause more problems then they are worth.

The observation is often made that many free software developers seem to be
confused about the release cycle. "Managing Projects the Open Source Way"
suggests that you memorize the phrase, "Alpha is not Beta. Beta is not
Release" and I'd agree that tis is a probably a good idea.

alpha releases
    Alpha software is feature-complete but sometimes only partially
    Alpha releases are expected to be unstable, perhaps a little unsafe, but
    definitely usable. They can have known bugs and kinks that have yet to be
    worked out. Before releasing an alpha, be sure to keep in mind that alpha
    releases are still releases and people are not going to be expecting a
    nightly build from the CVS source. An alpha should work and have minimal
    testing and bug fixing already finished.
beta releases
    Beta software is feature-complete and functional, but is in the testing
    cycle and still has a few bugs left to be ironed out.
    Beta releases are general expected to be usable and slightly unstable,
    although definitely not unsafe. Beta releases usually preclude a full
    release by under a month. They can contain small known bugs but no major
    ones. All major functionality should be fully implemented although the
    exact mechanics can still be worked out. Beta releases are great tool to
    whet the appetites of potential users by giving them a very realistic
    view of where your project is going to be in the very near future and can
    help keep interest by giving people something.
development releases
    "Development release" is much a more vague term than "alpha" or "beta". I
    usually choose to reserve the term for discussion of a development branch
    although there are other ways to use the term. So many in fact, that I
    feel the term has been cheapened. The popular window manager [http://] Enlightenment has released nothing but development
    releases. Most often, the term is used to describe releases that are not
    even alpha or beta and if I were to release a pre-alpha version of a
    piece of software in order to keep interest in my project alive, this is
    probably how I would have to label it.

4.4. Announcing Your Project

Well, you've done it. You've (at least for the purposes of this HOWTO)
designed, built, and released your free software project. All that is left is
for you to tell the world so they know to come and try it out and hopefully
jump on board with development. If everything is in order as described above,
this will be a quick and painless process. A quick announcement is all that
it takes to put yourself on the free software community's radar screen.

4.4.1. Mailing lists and Usenet

Announce your software on Usenet's [news:comp.os.linux.announce]
comp.os.linux.announce. If you only announce your software in two places,
have it be c.o.l.a and freshmeat.

However, email is still the way that most people on the Internet get their
information. Its a good idea to send a message announcing your program to any
relevant mailing list you know of and any other relevant Usenet discussion

Karl Fogel recommends that use you simple subject describing the fact that
the message is an announcement, the name of the program, the version, and a
half-line long description of its functionality. This way, any interested
user or developer will be immediately attracted to your announcement. Fogel's
example looks like:
|Subject: ANN: aub 1.0, a program to assemble Usenet binaries               |

The rest of the email should describe the programs functionality quickly and
concisely in no more than two paragraphs and should provide links to the
projects webpage and direct links to downloads for those that want to try it
right away. This form will work for both Usenet and mailing list posts.

You should repeat this announcement process consistently in the same
locations for each subsequent release.


Mentioned earlier in Section, in today's free software community,
announcements of your project on freshmeat are almost more important than
announcements on mailing lists.

Visit the website or their submit project page to post your
project onto their site and into their database. In addition to a large
website, freshmeat provides a daily newsletter that highlights all the days
releases and reaches a huge audience (I personally skim it every night for
any interesting new releases).

4.4.3. Project Mailing List

If you've gone ahead and created mailing lists for your project, you should
always announce new versions on these lists. I've found that for many
projects, users request a very low-volume announce only mailing list to be
notified when new versions are released. now allows users to
subscribe to a particular project so they receive emails every time a new
version is announced through their system. It's free and it can stand in for
an announce-only mailing list. In my opinion, it can't hurt.


Printed Books

Karl Fogel, Open Source Development with CVS, Coriolois Open Press, 1999,

Fogel's "guide to using CVS in the free software world" is much more than its
subtitle. In the publisher's own words: "Open Source Development with CVS is
one of the first books available that teaches you development and
implementation of Open Source software." It also includes the best reference
and tutorial to CVS I have ever seen. It is the book that was so good that it
prompted me to write this HOWTO because I thought the role it tried to serve
was so important and useful. Please check it or buy it if you can and are
seriously interested in running a free software project.

Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Basic Books, 2000,

While it only briefly talks about free software (and does it by tiptoeing
around the free software/open source issue with the spineless use of the term
"open code" that only a lawyer could coin), Lessig's book is brilliant.
Written by a lawyer, it talks about how regulation on the Internet is not
done with law, but with the code itself and how the nature of the code will
determine the nature of future freedoms. In addition to being a quick and
enjoyable read, it gives some cool history and describes how we need free
software in a way more powerfully than anything I've read outside of RMS's 
"Right to Read."

Eric Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source
by an Accidental Revolutionary, O'Reilly, 1999, 1-56592-724-9.

Although I have to honestly say that I am not the ESR fan that I used to be,
this book proved invaluable in getting me where I am today. The essay that
gives the book its title does a good job of sketching the free software
process and does an an amazing job of making an argument for free software/
open source development as a road to better software. The rest of the book
has other of ESR's articles, which for the most part are posted on his
website. Still, it's nice thing to own in hard copy and something that every
free software/open source hacker should read.

Web-Accessible Resources

George N Dafermos, []
Management and Virtual Decentralized Networks: The Linux Project.

Since the paper includes its own abstract, I thought I would include it here

    This paper examines the latest of paradigms - the Virtual Network(ed)
    Organisation - and whether geographically dispersed knowledge workers can
    virtually collaborate for a project under no central planning.
    Co-ordination, management and the role of knowledge arise as the central
    areas of focus. The Linux Project and its development model are selected
    as a case of analysis and the critical success factors of this
    organisational design are identified. The study proceeds to the
    formulation of a framework that can be applied to all kinds of virtual
    decentralised work and concludes that value creation is maximized when
    there is intense interaction and uninhibited sharing of information
    between the organisation and the surrounding community. Therefore, the
    potential success or failure of this organisational paradigm depends on
    the degree of dedication and involvement by the surrounding community.
This paper was referred to me in my capacity as author of this HOWTO and I
was very impressed. It's written by a graduate student in management and I
think it succeeds at evaluating the Linux project as an example of a new
paradigm in management--one that you will be be placing yourself at the
center of in your capacity as maintainer of a free software project.

As a developer trying to control an application and guide it to success in
the free software world, I'm not sure how useful Dafermos's argument is. It
does however, provide a theoretical justification for my HOWTO--free software
project management is a different creature than proprietary software project
management. If you are interested in the conceptual and theoretical ways that
free software project management differs from other types of management, this
is a great paper to read. If this paper answers questions of "how?", Dafermos
answers the (more difficult to defend) questions of "why?" and does a very
good job.

Richard Gabriel, The Rise of "Worse is Better".

A well written article although I think the title may have confused as many
people as the rest of the essay helped. It offers a good description of how
to design programs that will succeed and stay maintainable as they grow.

Montey Manley, Managing Projects the Open Source Way, Linux Programming, Oct
31, 2000.

In one of the better articles on the subject that I've read, Monty sums up
some of the major points I touch on including: starting a project, testing,
documentation, organizing a team and leadership, and several other topics.
While more opinionated that I try to be, I think its an important article
that I found very helpful in writing this HOWTO. I've tried to cite him in
the places where I borrowed from him most.

I have problems much of this piece and I recommend you read [KRAWITZ] at the
same time you read Monty's article for a good critique.

Eric Steven Raymond, [
Software-Release-Practice-HOWTO/index.html] Software Release Practice HOWTO.

At first glance, ESR's release practice HOWTO seems to share a lot of terrain
with this document. Upon closer examination, the differences become apparent
but they are closely related. His document, read in conjunction with mine,
will give a reader a good picture of how to go about managing a project.
ESR's HOWTO goes into a bit more detail on how to write and what languages to
write in. He tends to give more specific instructions and checklists ("name
this file this, not this") while this HOWTO speaks more conceptually. There
are several sections that are extremely similar. It's also much shorter.

My favorite quote from his HOWTO is: ""Managing a project well when all the
participants are volunteers presents some unique challenges. This is too
large a topic to cover in a HOWTO." Oh really? Perhaps I just do a poor job.

Vivek Venugopalan, [
index.html] CVS Best Practices.

Venugopalan provides one of the best essays on effective use of CVS that I've
come across. It is written for people who already have a good knowledge of
CVS. In the chapter on branching, he describes when and how to branch but
gives no information on what CVS commands you should use to do this. This is
fine (technical CVS HOWTO have been written) but CVS newbies will want to
spend some time with Fogel's reference before they will find this one very

Venugopalan creates checklists of things to do before, after, and around
releases. It's definitely worth a read through as most of his ideas will save
tons of developer head aches over any longer period of time.

Advogato Articles

Stephen Hindle, [] 'Best Practices'
for Open Source?, [] Advogato, March 21, 2001.

Touching mostly on programming practice (as most articles on the subject
usually do), the article talks a little about project management ("Use it!")
and a bit about communication within a free software project.

Bram Cohen, [] http:// to Write Maintainable Code, [http://] Advogato, March 15, 2001.

This article touches upon the "writing maintainable code" discussion that I
try hard to avoid in my HOWTO. It's one of the better (and most diplomatic)
articles on the subject that I've found.

Robert Krawitz, Free Source Project Management, []
Advogato, November 4, 2000.

This article made me happy because it challenged many of the problems that I
had with Monty's article on []
LinuxProgramming. The author argues that Monty calls simply for the
application of old (proprietary software) project management techniques in
free software projects instead of working to come up with something new. I
found his article to be extremely well thought out and I think it's an
essential read for any free software project manager.

Lalo Martins, Ask the Advogatos: why do Free Software projects fail?, [http:/
/] Advogato, July 20, 2000.

While the article is little more than a question, reading the answers to this
question offered by Advogato's readers can help. In a lot of ways, this HOWTO
acts as my answer to the questions posed in this article but there are
others, many of which might take issue with whats is in this HOWTO. It's
worth checking out.

David Burley, In-Roads to Free Software Development, [http://] Advogato, June 14, 2000.

This document was written as a response to another Advogato article. Although
not about running a project, this describes some of the ways that you can get
started with free software development without starting a project. I think
this is an important article. If you are interested in becoming involved with
free software, this article showcases some of the ways that you can do this
without actually starting a project (something that I hope this HOWTO has
demonstrated is not to be taken lightly).

Jacob Moorman, Importance of Non-Developer Supporters in Free Software, ,
[] Advogato, April 16, 2000.

Moorman's is a short article but it brings up some good points. The comment
reminding developers to thank their testers and end-users is invaluable and

Leslie Orchard, On Naming an Open Source Project, []
Advogato, April 12, 2000.

I didn't even have a section on project naming in this HOWTO (See Section 2.2
) until Leslie Orchard's article reminded me of it. Thanks to Leslie for
writing this article!

David Allen, [] Version Numbering
Madness, [] Advogato, February 28, 2000.

In this article, David Allen challenges the whole "Major.Minor.Patch" version
numbering scheme. Its good to read this as you read Section 2.4. I liked the
article and it describes some of the projects that I bring up in my
discussion of version numbering.

A. GNU Free Documentation License


The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other written
document "free" in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective
freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either
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considered responsible for modifications made by others.

This License is a kind of "copyleft", which means that derivative works of
the document must themselves be free in the same sense. It complements the
GNU General Public License, which is a copyleft license designed for free

We have designed this License in order to use it for manuals for free
software, because free software needs free documentation: a free program
should come with manuals providing the same freedoms that the software does.
But this License is not limited to software manuals; it can be used for any
textual work, regardless of subject matter or whether it is published as a
printed book. We recommend this License principally for works whose purpose
is instruction or reference.


This License applies to any manual or other work that contains a notice
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The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles are
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The "Title Page" means, for a printed book, the title page itself, plus such
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