Who helps your Linux distribution run smoothly? Thank a packager today

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A network of people


The people behind the scenes who work tirelessly to make your Linux distribution run smoothly are the packagers. The vast majority of Linux packagers are volunteers who dedicate their evenings and weekends to create and maintain the gears of the Linux distributions they love.

The Linux ecosystem is thriving with many different distributions. They satisfy different audiences, needs, and styles. They range from types that are:

  • secure and suitable for military and financial applications (RHEL)
  • bleeding edge and dynamic (Fedora)
  • universal (Debian)
  • educational (Edubuntu)
  • for the hobbyist (Raspbian)
  • for the media artist (Ubuntu Studio)
  • for the easy-going user (Mint)
  • for the desktop application and cloud (Ubuntu)
  • simple and lightweighted (Arch)
  • faithfully built from source code (Gentoo)

and keeps going for tens of other distributions that are continuously evolving.

In all the cases, the Linux distributions are aggregating free and open source packages, configuring them and combining them in a manner that ensure their proper collective behavior. Thanks to all that configuration and testing, adopters of Linux distributions have the peace of mind of simply installing a package (a given application) and having the confidence that it will work nicely with the other packages currently installed in the system.

The "magic elves" behind the scenes who work tirelessly to make this work smoothly are the packagers. The vast majority of Linux packagers are volunteers who dedicate their evenings and weekends to create and maintain the gears of the Linux distributions they love.

Back in February 2012, I had the luck of being the first trainee of the Debian Maintainer of the Month (MoM) program, started by Andreas Tille. The goal of the MoM program is to educate and train new packagers for the Debian distribution by pairing trainees with mentors and doing the training while packaging a new real application. The program has all the ingredients for balancing an interesting, challenging, and rewarding task.

During my training, we learned how to package fis-gtm, the open source implementation of M/MUMPS that is of great importance for the ecosystem of open source Electronic Health Records systems. The fis-gtm package has just been accepted in the Debian unstable distribution.

Going through the training was eye opening. I learned a great deal of very useful tools and practices, that since then I continue to use daily. From the proper use of GPG keys, to chroot containment and remote screen sharing with tmux. The collaboration environment was well described by Andreas Tille as: "Waking up in the morning to realize that someone in another continent has already solved for you the problem that had you stuck last night."

In ideal circumstances, a Linux packager works closely with the developers of the upstream package in such a way that new releases of the package can be adapted quickly to be included in the next release of that Linux distribution. In many cases, the process of packaging uncovers issues with the package that require the upstream developers to make changes and adjustments. A packager also works in close coordination with other packagers in the same Linux distribution because many packages have dependencies on other packages or provide services for other packages, making it vital that the community of packagers coordinate their updates to ensure the consistency of the final Linux distribution.

As Linux users, it is often easy to forget (disregard?) how much work goes into the creation and maintenance of a Linux distribution.
Becoming a Linux packager is an excellent way to learn about software development, quality control, project management, and software maintenance in an environment of passionate individuals who deeply care about the output of their work. This is an experience all young developers should have.

After having learned the ropes of Linux packaging, and having seen first hand the dedication of this community, I developed a great deal of respect and appreciation for their work. Now, every time I install a package, whether it is from the command line with

sudo apt-get install package


yum install package

or any of the equivalent graphical interfaces, I pause and think:

"Thank you to the person who spent many hours configuring and building this application so that I didn’t have to."

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Luis Ibáñez works as Senior Software Engineer at Google Inc in Chicago.


Good article!
I also thank all the packagers worldwide for their work in all

I think there should be a "Packagers Appreciation Day"!....Secretaries have one......Teachers.....and other professions....and even if this isn't their chosen profession, a lot of these people have lives to live and yet they take time out of their lives to ensure that packages for the various distros all work and can be installed with very little problems!....I guess the only decision to be made would have to be WHICH DAY will they pick?...


This is a great idea.

I'm wondering if we could dig into the history of Linux Distributions and pick a significant date.

For example, in Debian, it seems that the first appearance of the packaging system was back on January 1994:
(would have to find the actual date though...)

For Slackware we could check here:

Another option could be to have an open voting event, and invite packagers from various Linux Distributions to vote for a date that they can call their own.

This is an awesome article Luis. Thanks!!!

Great article. Yes, thanks to all the packagers, and "Packagers Appreciation Day" is a great idea.

I liek the digging into history angle, it would be a landmark day...one that would resonate within the entire community!....

Thank You, to all linux developers and packages. Especially Arch Linux team, for making my life that much easier.

Sincerely, TuxLyn (<a href="http://gotux.net/">GoTux.net</a>)

Thank you all programmers, packagers, testers, etc.!
We just love GNU/Linux and FLOSS in general.

Very good article.
Packages are one of the unadvertised things that make Linux so much easier to use than Windows. It is great to see an article that shows one of the hidden gems that makes things work so much better.

What a pleasant article to read.

As easy as they are to make, simple expressions of gratitude have unfortunately become rare commodities in an entitlement culture that seems all about "me, me, me".

Missing from your list is the oldest surviving distro: Slackware. Since its birth in 1993, Slackware has developed a very loyal following and a reputation for elegant simplicity. A possible one-liner you could add to your bullet list: "reliable and unpretentious (Slackware)"


PS While we're spreading appreciation, let me thank you for all your contributions to image processing tools.

Hi Mancha,

Thanks for your comment.

You bring a good point about the overall lack of appreciation in our communities. This has sometimes been pointed out as one of the sources of burn out of contributors.

When volunteers work for long hours, for many months, or even years, taking care of things behind the scenes, it is important that those of us, on the receiving end of their work, show some signs of appreciation, or at least acknowledgment of how important their contributions are. It doesn't have to be done every day, but once in a while, it is important to let them know that we have noticed, and we appreciate what they do.

This topic fits into the larger conversation on how important "soft skills" are in any team work, and very particularly in open source communities, where "appreciation", "acknowledgement" and "recognition" are one of the key currencies of a networked world.

Thanks for raising the point about Slackware (and suggesting a proper tag line for it). I have now updated the list in the article. How bad of me to skip Slackware. It was indeed the first Linux Distribution I tried, back in 1996. I was then using one of the i386 unmarked clones, and beating SGI workstations on performance. :-)

It is always tricky to make these type of lists, because at some point we cut a finite number, while Distrowatch, for example, lists 290 Linux distributions. So, my apologies to any other Distribution missing for the list.... No subliminal message of exclusion was intended... but if any of you send me a suggested tag line for your favorite distribution (just as Mancha did), I'll be more than happy to update the article to include it.

Thanks !

kudos to Debian developers and especially the crunchbang linux guys.

switching to Debian freed !#.

Thanks for this article and thank you to all the packagers and everybody else who works to make gnu/linux a reality. :)

This is what gives Desktop Linux a competitive age against the well known proprietary OSes where users boasted of lots of apps. I still recall the long lost days where installing an application means compiling and executing the source. Which at least for a Desktop User for me was a greatest turn away. Thanks to the packagers, now more and more Desktop OS users can settle down for Desktop Linux.


Yes, you are quite right.

This is specially noticeable after one has been enjoying the benefits of a Linux packaging system for a while, and venture back into using a proprietary operating system. The first thing that is striking in the proprietary environment, is being back into a space where no one has taken care of ensuring the consistency and compatibility of the many applications that can be installed.

We all can help the packagers, by building more cooperation with upstream projects, by being meticulous when reporting packaging bugs, and of course, by volunteering to becoming a packager as well... :-)

I think there should be even MORE appreciation heaped upon the heads of the people who toil for long hours sometimes days even, making sure the packages they are responsible for work "right out the box". These folks don't even step into the spotlight, they work anonymously sometimes and then when something doesn't work you have that one "gem" out of thousands who complain about the distribution or the package being a "piece'o-crap" When what they SHOULD do is submit a bug-tracker and try to help remedy the situation. SO once again I offer nothing but kudos and much thanks to the guys and gals who allow me to work on my very old Gateway machine without having to worry about "bloat-ware". I run XFCE and its pretty fast on a later

Sorry, my son came along and hit the "Enter" butto nwhile on my lap! But Iwas saying I have a Gateway laptop from 2007 that if I had to run another OS on it would be dreadfully slow. But through the package developers I am able to continue to use it and have no plans on scrapping it anytime soon. Ok...I think I've said enough...you all have a great day!!

and don't forget the FreeBSD folk - Linux are the only packagers out there.

Didn't get it...
Do you mean to say that we should not forget FreeBSD as it too has packagers apart from Linux?

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