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debian packages: single diff vs multiple patches (as in rpm)

Although philosophically more aligned with Debian, I had been a RedHat
user for almost 8 years largely pragmatic reasons that aren't
relevant.  As such, I have developed a large rpm-based infrastructure
for releasing my company's own software to our production facilities
and have become quite familiar with RedHat's rpm system from the
developer's perspective.

Now I'm strongly considering making the switch to Debian and am
evaluating moving my whole installation system over to dpkg.  dpkg
seems superior to rpm in almost all respects (richer dependencies,
better documentation, more robustness, apt, etc.), but there's one
thing that bothers me.  When building an rpm, multiple source files
and multiple patch files can be specified, and arbitrary commands can
be used to extract sources and apply patches.  This makes it easy to
build an rpm of a standard package with a handful of separately
maintained patches applied.

As far as I can tell, a Debian package consists of a single source
tarball and a single diff.  Is this right, or have I missed something?
Coming from an rpm perspective, it seems to me that this would make it
much more difficult to manage locally modified versions of packages.

I'd appreciate if someone could either explain to me that I've got it
all wrong give me a pointer for what to look like, or confirm that my
understanding is correct but explain why this isn't really a problem.
I'm especially interested in hearing thoughts from other people who
have converted an rpm-based infrastructure to a dpkg-based

Lastly, please feel free to correct my terminology if I'm using it
incorrectly.  For example, is it correct to say dpkg-based rather than


Jay Berkenbilt <ejb@ql.org>

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