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Derived distributions and the Maintainer: field

On Mon, May 02, 2005 at 11:56:45AM -0500, Adam Majer wrote:

> Matt Zimmerman wrote:
> >The question of whether modified source should have the Maintainer field
> >changed is a reasonable subject for discussion, but in your particular
> >case, both of the source packages listed at
> >https://launchpad.ubuntu.com/people/adamm/+packages are identical to
> >those in Debian.
> >
> True. But Ubuntu is a *different* distribution from Debian. If Ubuntu
> was a Debian subproject, then I see no problem in keeping Maintainer
> fields as is.

There are over 100 distributions listed on DistroWatch as being derived from
Debian.  Knoppix, MEPIS, Morphix, Xandros and other popular distributions
are based on Debian (including Ubuntu, of course).  All of these
distributions ship modified packages to some extent, but there is currently
no consistent policy for changing the Maintainer field, or otherwise
representing the origin of the packages.

If we're to set some guidelines for this, we should involve more parties
than only Debian and Ubuntu.

> I think all other distributions based on Debian do change the Maintainer
> field.

Having looked only briefly, I can say that this is not true in general.  If
you examine only the distributions I mentioned above, you will find source
and binary packages, modified and unmodified, rebuilt binaries or Debian
binaries, with modified and unmodified Maintainer fields.

> If Ubuntu maintainers wish to recognize Debian maintainers for their
> work, I would welcome that (see below). But the maintainer field should
> only reference Ubuntu project. The problems I see is in discussions
> (flamewars?) merits of Ubuntu vs. Debian. I've seen in many places
> ignorant people saying,
> "Most maintainers from Debian are now in Ubuntu", or "Debian is dead.
> Ubuntu is the future". Or the opposites from the other side. I didn't
> know where this was coming from until I found myself on Ubuntu's website
> as a maintainer.

Honestly, I don't think that this has anything to do with the Maintainer
field, or with the mention of your name on the Launchpad website (this kind
of sentiment predates that website by a wide margin).  In general, this kind
of misinformed opinion has no basis in fact whatsoever.  Naysayers have been
predicting the imminent death of Debian for many years, and many
distributions (through no fault of their own) have been named its successor
by virtue of public opinion.

I think that with your explanation, though, we are closer to the heart of
the matter.  The issue at hand seems to have less to do with package
metadata than with the public's interpretation of the relationship between
Debian and Ubuntu.

The Ubuntu website is quite clear on this point, stating that we seek to
cooperate and coexist with Debian, to our mutual benefit.  We do our best to
present this image to the public, but there is little that anyone can do to
directly address the issue of the ill-informed, because by their very
nature, they are not paying attention to the information already at their

> I'm the maintainer of lpr which is from OpenBSD. OpenBSD is acknowledged
> in the sources and README.Debian, but I do not set the maintainer field
> to point to bugs@openbsd.org or similar.

The relationship between Debian and its derivatives, I think you'll agree,
is quite different than that which exists between Debian and the upstream
projects which produce most of its code.

There is quite a lot more to the package Maintainer: field than "report bugs
here".  In fact, reporting bugs directly to the maintainer is generally
discouraged, in favor of bug tracking systems.  It also means "this is the
person who is most directly responsible for the ongoing maintenance of this
package", "this is the person who is most knowledgeable about the present
and future state of this package", and similar things.

> It is bigger than just that one website as "Maintainer: " field in most
> packages that are part of Ubuntu is left same from Debian. I sent the
> email to debian-devel maybe because it affects Debian Developers.

There is much information in the world which affects Debian developers, but
the usual reason for contacting debian-devel is to receive responses from
Debian developers.  If your intent was to propose that Ubuntu should take
some action, wouldn't it have been logical to solicit a response from

> http://people.ubuntulinux.org/~cjwatson/germinate-warty-output/all+extra.sources
> I see many debian mailing lists... Is it right for a different
> distribution to use Debian's support structures?

In some cases, yes, there are support structures which can be shared by
derived distributions and their upstream distributions, to the benefit of
all involved.  However, I do not see the Maintainer field primarily as a
support structure.  Ubuntu already goes to some lengths (significantly
farther than other Debian derivatives) to direct bug reports to Ubuntu,
rather than to Debian.  We do this through reportbug, our website and
documentation, and even by monitoring debbugs to redirect bug reports
by contacting the submitter.

> If Ubuntu recognizes the work of Debian developers, then that is a very
> good thing. For example, if, upon conversion, the debian package is
> amended to include in README.Ubuntu (or whatever Ubuntu has) something like,
> "This package was autogenerated from Debian sources on ${date}. The
> Debian maintainer was/is: ${deb_maintainer}"

If by "conversion", you mean the procedure when a package is modified by
Ubuntu, relative to Debian's version, then this is a reasonable proposal.
However, if you mean the process of copying source packages from Debian to a
derived distribution, I think that it is not practical to require that these
packages be modified, solely by virtue of being re-used in a different
context.  This would place an unnecessary burden on derived distributions,
who typically re-use a majority of Debian packages unchanged, and modify
only a fraction of packages.

> Then change the maintainer field to: "General Ubuntu Help
> <general-help@u.c>" or similar. I see no problem with that. People wanting
> to have the recognition of being Ubuntu maintainers can join Ubuntu. Am I
> correct to assume that Debian Maintainers are able to join Ubuntu using a
> more fast-track method than someone unknown?

Yes, Debian maintainers do, in general, receive special consideration in the
process of applying for Ubuntu maintainership, both because they have
already made a recognizable, indirect contribution to Ubuntu, and because
there is already an implicit trust relationship between Ubuntu and Debian.

> I just think whenever a new distribution bases itself on another, the
> maintainer field must be changed. For example, when a distribution like
> CentOS takes RedHat sources, they cannot keep maintainer fields pointing
> back to people at RedHat (I can see the lawsuits right now!).
> Again, my email is about concerns that Ubuntu seems to keep Debian
> maintainer fields in their packages, thus appropriating Debian maintainers
> as Ubuntu maintainers. It has little to do with anything else.

Whether it was your intention or not, I see two separate issues arising from
your posts.  One has to do with the use of Debian maintainers' names in the
context of the Launchpad application, and the other has to do with the
Maintainer field as used in Debian-derived distributions.  These issues are
related, but they are not one and the same.

I'll split the thread, so that it is easy for you to participate in only the
Maintainer field discussion, if that is your desire.

 - mdz

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