pkgme backends

pkgme backends provide the project specific information that is needed to generate the packaging. They examine the project in question and provide the information to the best of their ability.

Each backend deals with a particular language, or project type, for instance their could be backends for Vala, Ruby on Rails, Python Django, C with autotools, GNOME, KDE, CMake, etc.

How they work

pkgme itself is agnostic about the type of project that it is working on, but knows how to put information about a project in to the packaging files such that result should work, assuming that the information provided is good enough.

Every time it needs a bit of information about the project, such as its name, or the dependencies it requires, it asks the backend that is the best match for the project.

In this manner, the backends, and so you as a backend author, don’t need to know much about packaging, and pkgme doesn’t need to know about every different sort of project that there is.

Selecting a backend

When pkgme is asked to create the packaging for a project, it firsts selects the backend that is most suited to the task. To do this it asks each backend to report a score of how well it thinks that it can handle that project.

A Ruby on Rails backend would presumably not be able to handle a Python project very well, so if asked to report a score for a Python project it should return “0”.

However, if it is asked about a Ruby on Rails project then it should report a higher number, the question is just how high. Consider the fact that there may be a generic Ruby backend, which would presumably be able to give some useful information about this project. However, the Ruby backend shouldn’t have to detect that this is a Rails project, and know that there is a Rails backend, and so answer “0”, as that would be very brittle. In addition, there may be a backend that is specifically for Ruby on Rails, using particular conventions and addons, which would want to out-score the generic Rails backend when appropriate.

Assigning all the scores up-front isn’t a good idea though, so we use the following guildelines:

  • 0 - no information can be provided about the project (e.g. a Ruby backend with a Python project).
  • 10 - some information can be provided, but the backend is generic (e.g. Ruby backend).
  • 20 - some information can be provided, and the backend is more generic than just language (e.g. Ruby on Rails backend).
  • 30 - some information can be provided, and the backend is highly specialised.

When there are many backends that are closely related we can assign scores more carefully to those backend, but this scheme will suffice for now.

Getting the info

When pkgme needs to get a bit of information about the project, such as its name, or the dependencies required to build, it asks the backend that it selected. The backend is expected to do its best to provide that information, but not to provide it if it can’t do so, otherwise the generated packaging wouldn’t work.

The backend can use any means it likes to get the information, parsing files in conventional locations, scanning the tree.

Interface with packaging

There are a couple of places where the backend needs to know something related to packaging.

The first of these is in the specification of the build dependencies, where the backend has to provide the list of packages that are needed. While the backend probably has available the list of modules used or similar, it wouldn’t be possible for pkgme to translate these to a list of packages while remaining generic.

Therefore one of the things the backend must be able to do is to go from the list of modules to the list of packages that provide them, using whatever means is appropriate.

The second area where the backend needs to know something related to packaging is specifying what build system to use. pkgme leaves all the steps of actually building the package, knowing what commands to run to build, what files to put where, up to debhelper. debhelper in turn delegates some of this work to its buildsystems, which are analogous to pkgme‘s backends.

Therefore pkgme needs to know which buildsystem to instruct debhelper to use, and for this it will query the backend. This means that the backend should know which debhelper buildsystem is appropriate for the project. If you are implementing a backend for which there isn’t yet a debhelper buildsystem, you will also have to implement that in order to enjoy completely automated packaging.

Implementing a backend

A backend is a directory of scripts that are called by pkgme as needed.

The name of the directory is the name of the backend, and should be unique.

The first script that you need to provide is called want, and is called to decide if your backend should be used for the project in question. It is executed with the current directory the root of the project, and should return a number on stdout that is how well the backend will work for the project (see Selecting a backend).

After implementing that script you have a choice of how to provide the rest of the information.


If pkgme doesn’t provide what you need in order to produce working packaging for your project type, then please let us know.

Many scripts

You can provide one script per piece of information that pkgme may request. The script is given the name of the piece of information that it will provide, and is expected to print the information on stdout when invoked. See Information that ``pkgme` may request`_.

Each script may exit with an error if the information cannot be provided.

The scripts are called with a current working directory of the root of the project, and so should examine the files in the working directory to obtain the information.

One script

It is also possible to write a single script that can provide multiple bits of information at once. This script reads in JSON formatted description of the pieces of information that are needed, and then writes a JSON formatted response on stdout that contains the pieces of information.

The script can exit with an error if no information can be provided, or may choose to respond omitting the information that cannot be provided.

The script is called with a current working directory of the root of the project, and so should examine the files in the working directory to obtain the information.

The script may be called multiple times for the same project.

The script should be called all_info.

pkgme will write a JSON formatted list on the stdin of the all_info script containing the names of the pieces of information that are desired. It is expected to write a JSON formatted dict to its stdout and then exit. The dict should have keys that are the names passed in to the script, and the values should be the required information.

For instance, if the script is passed:

["package_name", "version"]

then it should respond with something like:

 "package_name": "foo",
 "version": 1.0

Keys may be omitted from the output if the information cannot be provided.

Making your backend available to pkgme

Once you’ve written a backend, you will need to tell pkgme about it. There are a few different ways of doing this.

Set the PKGME_BACKEND_PATHS environment variable

The PKGME_BACKEND_PATHS environment variable overrides any place where pkgme might otherwise look for backends. It’s a PATH-style variable where each path represents a directory that might contain backends.

Install your backends on the system

If PKGME_BACKEND_PATHS is unset, then pkgme will look for backends in the system installation directory. This can normally be found in /usr/share/pkgme/backends. If pkgme is being run by a Python installed in a non-default location, you’ll find it in the share/pkgme/backends directory under that location. (e.g. for /usr/local/bin/python, system backends live in /usr/local/share/pkgme/backends).

Publish an entry point

If your pkgme backend is implemented as a Python package, then you may want to publish an entry point. This requires the use of setuptools

Simply put a line in your like this:

    entry_points = {
       'pkgme.get_backends_path': ['your_backend_name=package.module:function_name'],

Where function_name is a nullary callable that returns a path that will be inserted in the pkgme backends search path. If you are using setuptools, then you probably want to use pkg_resources.resource_filename to generate this path.

Information that pkgme may request

The following are the bits of information that your backend may be requested to provide.

The following elements are required, and must be provided if asked for to produce any packaging.

The name of the package.
The following elements are optional, and do not have to be provided to produce packaging.

The architecture(s) to build the binary package for.

This can be one of the following.

to build on every architecture (arch-dependent).
to build once and use the result on all architecture (arch-independent).
a list of architectures (arch-dependent)
to build on specific architectures only.

The default value is any

The build dependencies of the package.
The debhelper buildsystem to use to build the package.
The debhelper addons to use.
The dependencies of the binary package.

The description of the package.

The default value is a package


The distribution to upload to.

e.g. ‘unstable’, ‘natty’, ‘oneiric’.


The homepage for the project.

The URL of the website for the project.


The maintainer of the package.

Should be in the form:

Name <email>

The default value is A Person <>


The section the source package should go in.

The default value is misc


The version of the project.

The default value is 0