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Intro to Package Maintenance: Basics

Introductory Guide to AOSC OS Packaging

NOTICE: This guide assumes you have moderate knowledge about Linux and its CLI (command line interface). Also, you need to have access to a Linux computer with root access.

Meet the tools

We will need these tools in order to build packages. Don't worry about them for now, we will investigate them later.

Release model

AOSC OS is maintained with a rolling release model. This means that there's no version number attached to a full AOSC OS release (similar to other rolling release Linux distros, like openSUSE Tumbleweed and Arch Linux). However, within the aosc-os-abbs tree, there is a set of packages that constructs the AOSC OS Core, which consists of core runtime (the GNU C Library, etc.) and toolchains (GCC, etc.). This set of packages are updated in a versioned fashion (Core 7.0.1, 7.0.2, 7.1.1, etc.).

Thanks to the rolling model, there's only one update channel for the users - stable. When updating or introducing new packages, developers work on a separate branch in the tree (the aforementioned aosc-os-abbs), create a Pull Request about the modification, then upload the package built to a separate repository (parallel to the stable repository). Thus, the users may test the updated packages by using the AOSC OS APT Topic Manager (or ATM). Then, if the package is proven to be working, the pull request is merged and then the package is rebuilt against a clean stable environment, and pushed to the main repository.

This process is called topic-based iteration model. This model is employed in order to reduce stress for the developers and ensure the quality of the packages. If you want to learn more about this model, you may want to check Topic-Based Maintenance Guidelines.

Setting up the environment

The first thing is to install ciel on the computer. On AOSC OS, just install ciel from the official repository.

Since Ciel manages standardised AOSC OS build environment (or the BuildKit), the build process does not have to happen on an AOSC OS machine. If you are using Arch Linux, you can install Ciel from AUR.

Next, we will initialise and configure a Ciel workspace. ~/ciel is used as a sample path for demonstration. Notice that Ciel will need to be run as root and Ciel cannot be used in a Docker instance. Execute the following commands and follow the on-screen instructions, when asked if you would like to create an instance, please create one - we will call it main here.

mkdir ~/ciel
cd ~/ciel
ciel new

It is always a good idea to keep the BuildKit environment up-to-date (and this serves as a requirement for AOSC OS packagers).

# If this step takes too long, you can edit sources.list via "ciel config" to choose a faster mirror.
ciel update-os

Building our very first package!

Now that we have a build environment set-up, we can try to build a package that is already in the tree. Let's start with a relatively trivial one, extra-multimedia/flac.

Simply execute the following command to build flac.

# -i is used to select the instance used to build.
ciel build -i main flac

If the build completes without error, and a Build Summary is present, congratulations on your first successful build! You should be able to find the generated deb inside OUTPUT-stable/debs.

Adding a new package

But surely you won't be satisfied by simply building existing packages, right? Here we will discover how to construct a new package from scratch.

Dive into the TREE folder, you will find a lot of categories of folders, including some beginning with base- and core- prefixes, as well as some with extra-. These folders are for organizing purposes, and inside them you will find the various packages (and their build specifications) organised in each of their own directory.

We will use i3 as an example. This package can be found at TREE/extra-wm/i3. Upon entering the directory, you should see a file structure as follows:

    ├── autobuild
       ├── beyond
       ├── conffiles
       ├── defines
       ├── overrides
       │   └── usr
       │       ├── bin
       │       │   └── i3exit
       │       └── share
       │           └── pixmaps
       │               └── i3-logo.svg
       ├── patches
       │   └── 0001-Use-OVER-operator-for-drawing-text.patch
       └── prepare
    └── spec

We will go through which each file is for.


This file is responsible for telling ACBS where to download the source file, and the package's version and revision. A basic spec file should look like this:

VER=4.17.1  # Version of the software.
# REL=0 The package revision. If not specified, the variable is given a value of 0.

# If using a source tarball.
SRCS="tbl::$VER.tar.bz2" # Download address for the source code.
CHKSUMS="sha256::1e8fe133a195c29a8e2aa3b1c56e5bc77e7f5534f2dd92e09faabe2ca2d85f45" # Checksum of the source tarball.

# If using Git.

# If using multiple sources.
SRCS="git::commit=$COMMIT_ID:: \
      tbl::https://some.domain/source_tarball.tar.gz \
CHKSUMS="SKIP sha256::some_checksum sha256::sume_checksum"

One thing worth noting is the revision number. You can ignore this line if you are creating a new package or updating an existing package, but sometimes (like applying an emergency security patch), the version number is not changed, but we still need to inform the package manager on users computer that there is an update available. In these circumstances, just increase the REL= variable by 1.


This is the directory where all the Autobuild3 scripts and definitions live. Autobuild3 is a sophisticated build system that can automatically determine a series of build-time processes, like which build system to use, which build parameter to use, and so on.


This file contains the core configuration like:

These are only the most common configuration entries. There are much more configurations, but if the software is fairly standard, these configuration should be enough. Other information like which compiler flags to use, which build system to use, can be filled automatically by Autobuild3.

Here is a basic example taken from extra-wm/i3:

PKGDEP="dmenu libev libxkbcommon pango perl-anyevent-i3 perl-json-xs \
        startup-notification xcb-util-cursor xcb-util-keysyms \
        xcb-util-wm yajl xcb-util-xrm"
PKGRECOM="i3lock i3status"
BUILDDEP="graphviz doxygen xmlto"
PKGDES="Improved tiling WM (window manager)"


Notice here that you can actually write Bash logic inside defines. This is useful when adding platform-specific flags or dependencies, but this is NO LONGER recommended, and will be prohibited in the future. For adding platform specific info, use $VAR__$ARCH (for example, AUTOTOOLS_AFTER__AMD64).

For a complete list of available parameters, visit Autobuild3 User and Developer Manual.


This file is the script that will be executed before the build process begins. Usually it is used to prepare files or set environment variables used in the build process.


This is a directory containing all the patches that will be applied to the source codes before the build.

Simple as dropping it in. :)

A complete example: light

That's all the basic knowledge you need to build a simple package! Now, we will try to build a really simple program: light.

This program is used to provide a easy command to control the backlight of laptop. Since it only uses file API to interact with the backlight subsystem, this program is very simple and does not require and dependency other than glibc.

Return to the TREE directory. First, make sure that you are on the right branch. As mentioned above, you should use a separate Git branch for a topic. Here, since we are introducing a new package, according to AOSC OS Topic-Based Maintenance Guidelines, the new branch name should be $PKGNAME-$PKGVER-new. Thus, we create a branch called light-1.2.1-new and switch to it.

Since this program is obviously a utility, we create a directory called light under the directory extra-utils.

cd TREE/extra-utils
mkdir light
cd light

Then, we create the spec file. Look up the project website and find out the download URL for the latest version. After manually checking the sha256 checksum of the latest tarball, we can fill in the file.


Notice here that we replaced the version number inside the tarball URL with an environment variable $VER. This is considered as a good practice (since it reduces the modification required when updating the package), and should be used when possible.

Then, we create the autobuild folder, and create the defines file. The complete defines file looks as follows:

PKGDES="Program to easily change brightness on backlight-controllers."

And we are done! We can now run the following command to build light:

ciel build -i main light

Although we didn't write anything about how to build this program, Autobuild3 automatically figured out that this should be built with autotools (i.e., the classic ./configure && make && make install logic), and should build the program successfully.

Git conventions

If the build completed successfully, now it's time to commit your build scripts! AOSC OS has strict conventions about Git commit messages. We will only mention the most used ones here. For the full list of package styling and development guidelines, please refer to the package styling manual.

For example, we are adding a new package to the tree. Then the commit message should be something like this:

light: new, 1.2.1
$PKG_NAME: new, $VER

If you are updating the version of an exisiting package, it should be like this:

bash: update to 5.2
$PKG_NAME: update to $NEW_VER

And please mention all the specific changes made to the package (i.e., dependency changes, feature enablement, etc.) in the long log, for instance:

bash: update to 5.2

- Make a symbolic link from /bin/bash to /bin/sh for program compatibility.
- Install HTML documentations.
- Build with -O3 optimisation.

Pushing packages to the repository

After a successful build, you can push your local branch (light-1.2.1-new in this example) to your fork or directly to the main repository. Then, you can create a Pull Request and fill in the information. Finally, you should push your finished product to our main repository to be tested by other users.

The second task must be done using pushpkg. If you are using AOCS OS, install the pushpkg package (or otherwise grab the script, add the script to PATH, make sure it is executable). Then, invoke pushpkg inside the OUTPUT directory. You will need to provide your LDAP credentials and the destination repository (for this example, light-1.2.1-new).

Then you can patiently wait until someone reviews your Pull Request and tests your package. If everything looks good, your pull request will be merged and you should rebuild it and push the new package to the stable repository.


That's it! You have learned the basics about creating new packages for AOSC OS from scratch, as well as how to update, build, and uploading them!

However, as you may see, this article only covers the basics of what you need to know as you continue to prime for further involement in AOSC OS maintenance. When dealing with more complicated build systems, or updating a batch of packages, there's still many skills to learn. Please refer to the Way to AOSC OS Maintainence: Advanced Techniques.