Build a development environment for Debian

Here is a memo about how some development activities can be done in Debian.

Compile a Debian package in debug mode

Sometimes a program crashes and you need to reinstall it to be able to debug it. With debug symbols, you may attach a process with gdb and then follow the execution with commands such as layout src and layout split instead of layout regs and layout asm. There are several ways to get a program built with debug symbols in Debian. For the rest of this section, let’s state that the program you want to debug is in a package which name is foo.

First, there is occasionally a debug package for foo, named foo-dbg or something like that. In such case, you have a clean solution and nothing to do more than to replace a package.

For most of the cases, such package doesn’t exist and you need to recompile package foo by adding some options to debuild. This can be done in a clean temporary directory by issuing the following commands:

sudo apt-get build foo
apt-get source foo
cd foo-*/
export DEB_BUILD_OPTIONS="nostrip noopt"
debuild -uc -us
sudo dpkg -i ../foo_*.deb

These commands first install all the necessary build dependency and extract the Debian-patched version of foo in a foo-version directory. Running debuild into this directory is enough to build a foo_version_arch.deb file in the main folder, the options are here to tweak the compiling process (disable stripping symbols from executable files and disable optimization) and the build process (don’t sign any produced files). Instead of calling debuild, calling dpkg-buildpackage -rfakeroot may work, as some documents suggest.

Set up your own Debian repository

You may want to install some package you compiled in several systems or to make this package publicly available. This can be achieved thanks to reprepro, which is a simple tool to maintain a repository tree. To do that, let’s assume you want a package tree in /var/packages/debian.

First, create /var/packages/debian/conf/distributions with something like:

Origin: My Repository
Label: My Repository
Suite: unstable
Codename: sid
Architectures: i386 amd64 source
Components: main
Description: My APT repositories
DebOverride: override.sid
DscOverride: override.sid
SignWith: 12345678

(SignWith is an optional line which identifies a PGP key which is used to sign the package tree)

Then create /var/packages/debian/conf/options:

basedir /var/packages/debian

And create /var/packages/debian/conf/override.sid, which can be empty but may also contains lines which override package descriptions such as:

my-package Priority optional
my-package Section net

Then you can add .deb files with:

reprepro includedeb sid /path/to/mypackage.deb

and source, changes and deb files all at once with:

reprepro include sid /path/to/mypackage.dsc

To serve this repo with a web server, you may want to exclude conf/ and db/ directories from direct browsing to protect your specific configuration.

Finally, you need to add at least the first line in the /etc/apt/sources.list of each host which uses this new APT repository:

deb http://my-host.tld/debian sid main
deb-src http://my-host.tld/debian sid main

And also use apt-key add to add the GPG public key of the repository to your GPG keychain.

More detail in the Debian official wiki:

Package a Python library for Debian

Relevant Debian wiki articles:

In this section, let’s suppose you have a Python library which is packaged with distutils, setuptools, distribute or whatever. This library provides a file which can be used to install it on the system.

Debian wiki documents command line tools such as py2dsc. This tool is a shortcut for some of the initial steps but this section will focus on lower level tools which help understanding how Debian packaging work.

For the sake of clarity, let’s say you’re working on library mylibrary version 0.0.1.

The starting point of every Debian package is the original files archive. This archive is the one that may be downloaded from the websites which provide a download link. For example, if your library is on PyPI, you would download This file should be put in the parent directory of the folder where mylibrary lies, and named mylibrary_0.0.1.orig.tar.gz (name, underscore, version). can be used to create this file:

python sdist
cp dist/mylibrary-0.0.1.tar.gz ../mylibrary_0.0.1.orig.tar.gz

Side note: if you’re the author of the library, the command to upload it to PyPI is:

python sdist register upload

Once you have a proper original files archive the next step is to create a debian directory in the current directory. There are two ways to achieve this:

  • Invoke magic from python-stdeb package:

    python --command-packages=stdeb.command debianize
  • Read Debian’s packaging documentation and create files by hand. To create/update debian/changelog file, you may use for example:

    dch --create -v 0.0.1-1 --package mylibrary

When you feel the package is almost ready, you need to test building the package without running tests nor signing anything:

DEB_BUILD_OPTIONS=nocheck debuild -uc -us

Usually lintian will get angry and print error messages at this step because it’s really hard to follow all of the Debian packaging rules the first time. This is where the packaging process takes time, as you need to edit files in debian folder to fix the issues reported by lintian.

Often the clean function of the package doesn’t remove the .egg-info folder which is created by build. This is an issue because debuild finds out that mylibrary.egg-info doesn’t exist in the original files and thus treats it as a Debian-specific patch. To prevent this behavior, you need to add this line to debian/clean:


Once lintian has no more things to say, you can build the final package and sign it with your GPG key:


The parent directory now contains the following files (here on a 64-bit system):

  • mylibrary_0.0.1-1_all.deb


  • mylibrary_0.0.1-1_amd64.changes

  • mylibrary_0.0.1-1.debian.tar.gz

  • mylibrary_0.0.1-1.dsc

  • mylibrary_0.0.1.orig.tar.gz

Now you would directly install the package using dpkg -i or upload it to a Debian package repository or wherever you like.

Test patches in git code with a clean package

Let’s say you’re working on mysoftware (add features, fix bugs…) and you need to test it “for real” on your Debian system. To make the installation process really looks like a common installation, the best way is to build a package out of the current development version. Let’s suppose mysoftware uses git to manage its code. Here is how to build and install such test package:

  • First, update debian/ directory (new entry in debian/Changelog, no patches…). For the sake of the example, let’s say your testing version is 0.99-1.

  • Create the original files archive:

    git archive --prefix=mysoftware_0.99/ -o ../mysoftware_0.99.orig.tar.gz master
  • Build the package (without signing anything):

    debuild -uc -us
  • Install it:

    sudo dpkg -i ../mysoftware_0.99-1_*.deb