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Life as a F/OSS Zealot, Debianite, Pythonista and Lisper

Go Debian!


Paul Tagliamonte

As some of the world knows full well by now, I've been noodling with Go for a few years, working through its pros, its cons, and thinking a lot about how humans use code to express thoughts and ideas. Go's got a lot of neat use cases, suited to particular problems, and used in the right place, you can see some clear massive wins.

I've started writing Debian tooling in Go, because it's a pretty natural fit. Go's fairly tight, and overhead shouldn't be taken up by your operating system. After a while, I wound up hitting the usual blockers, and started to build up abstractions. They became pretty darn useful, so, this blog post is announcing (a still incomplete, year old and perhaps API changing) Debian package for Go. The Go importable name is pault.ag/go/debian. This contains a lot of utilities for dealing with Debian packages, and will become an edited down "toolbelt" for working with or on Debian packages.

Module Overview

Currently, the package contains 4 major sub packages. They're a changelog parser, a control file parser, deb file format parser, dependency parser and a version parser. Together, these are a set of powerful building blocks which can be used together to create higher order systems with reliable understandings of the world.


The first (and perhaps most incomplete and least tested) is a changelog file parser.. This provides the programmer with the ability to pull out the suite being targeted in the changelog, when each upload was, and the version for each. For example, let's look at how we can pull when all the uploads of Docker to sid took place:

func main() {
    resp, err := http.Get("http://metadata.ftp-master.debian.org/changelogs/main/d/docker.io/unstable_changelog")
    if err != nil {
    allEntries, err := changelog.Parse(resp.Body)
    if err != nil {
    for _, entry := range allEntries {
        fmt.Printf("Version %s was uploaded on %s\n", entry.Version, entry.When)

The output of which looks like:

Version 1.8.3~ds1-2 was uploaded on 2015-11-04 00:09:02 -0800 -0800
Version 1.8.3~ds1-1 was uploaded on 2015-10-29 19:40:51 -0700 -0700
Version 1.8.2~ds1-2 was uploaded on 2015-10-29 07:23:10 -0700 -0700
Version 1.8.2~ds1-1 was uploaded on 2015-10-28 14:21:00 -0700 -0700
Version 1.7.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-08-26 10:13:48 -0700 -0700
Version 1.6.2~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2015-07-01 07:45:19 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.2~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-05-21 00:47:43 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.1+dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2015-05-10 13:02:54 -0400 EDT
Version 1.6.1+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-05-08 17:57:10 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-05-05 15:10:49 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0+dfsg1-1~exp1 was uploaded on 2015-04-16 18:00:21 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0~rc7~dfsg1-1~exp1 was uploaded on 2015-04-15 19:35:46 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0~rc4~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-04-06 17:11:33 -0600 -0600
Version 1.5.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-03-10 22:58:49 -0600 -0600
Version 1.3.3~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2015-01-03 00:11:47 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.3~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-12-18 21:54:12 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.2~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-11-24 19:14:28 -0500 EST
Version 1.3.1~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-11-07 13:11:34 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-11-03 08:26:29 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-10-17 00:56:07 -0600 -0600
Version 1.2.0~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-10-09 00:08:11 +0000 +0000
Version 1.2.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-09-13 11:43:17 -0600 -0600
Version 1.0.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-06-13 21:04:53 -0400 EDT
Version 0.11.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-05-09 17:30:45 -0400 EDT
Version 0.9.1~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-04-08 23:19:08 -0400 EDT
Version 0.9.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-04-03 21:38:30 -0400 EDT
Version 0.9.0+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-03-11 22:24:31 -0400 EDT
Version 0.8.1+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-02-25 20:56:31 -0500 EST
Version 0.8.0+dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-02-15 17:51:58 -0500 EST
Version 0.8.0+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-02-10 20:41:10 -0500 EST
Version 0.7.6+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-01-22 22:50:47 -0500 EST
Version 0.7.1+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-01-15 20:22:34 -0500 EST
Version 0.6.7+dfsg1-3 was uploaded on 2014-01-09 20:10:20 -0500 EST
Version 0.6.7+dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-01-08 19:14:02 -0500 EST
Version 0.6.7+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-01-07 21:06:10 -0500 EST


Next is one of the most complex, and one of the oldest parts of go-debian, which is the control file parser (otherwise sometimes known as deb822). This module was inspired by the way that the json module works in Go, allowing for files to be defined in code with a struct. This tends to be a bit more declarative, but also winds up putting logic into struct tags, which can be a nasty anti-pattern if used too much.

The first primitive in this module is the concept of a Paragraph, a struct containing two values, the order of keys seen, and a map of string to string. All higher order functions dealing with control files will go through this type, which is a helpful interchange format to be aware of. All parsing of meaning from the Control file happens when the Paragraph is unpacked into a struct using reflection.

The idea behind this strategy that you define your struct, and let the Control parser handle unpacking the data from the IO into your container, letting you maintain type safety, since you never have to read and cast, the conversion will handle this, and return an Unmarshaling error in the event of failure.

Additionally, Structs that define an anonymous member of control.Paragraph will have the raw Paragraph struct of the underlying file, allowing the programmer to handle dynamic tags (such as X-Foo), or at least, letting them survive the round-trip through go.

The default decoder contains an argument, the ability to verify the input control file using an OpenPGP keyring, which is exposed to the programmer through the (*Decoder).Signer() function. If the passed argument is nil, it will not check the input file signature (at all!), and if it has been passed, any signed data must be found or an error will fall out of the NewDecoder call. On the way out, the opposite happens, where the struct is introspected, turned into a control.Paragraph, and then written out to the io.Writer.

Here's a quick (and VERY dirty) example showing the basics of reading and writing Debian Control files with go-debian.

package main

import (


type AllowedPackage struct {
    Package     string
    Fingerprint string

func (a *AllowedPackage) UnmarshalControl(in string) error {
    in = strings.TrimSpace(in)
    chunks := strings.SplitN(in, " ", 2)
    if len(chunks) != 2 {
        return fmt.Errorf("Syntax sucks: '%s'", in)
    a.Package = chunks[0]
    a.Fingerprint = chunks[1][1 : len(chunks[1])-1]

    return nil

type DMUA struct {
    Fingerprint     string
    Uid             string
    AllowedPackages []AllowedPackage `control:"Allow" delim:","`

func main() {
    resp, err := http.Get("http://metadata.ftp-master.debian.org/dm.txt")
    if err != nil {

    decoder, err := control.NewDecoder(resp.Body, nil)
    if err != nil {

    for {
        dmua := DMUA{}
        if err := decoder.Decode(&dmua); err != nil {
            if err == io.EOF {
        fmt.Printf("The DM %s is allowed to upload:\n", dmua.Uid)
        for _, allowedPackage := range dmua.AllowedPackages {
            fmt.Printf("   %s [granted by %s]\n", allowedPackage.Package, allowedPackage.Fingerprint)

Output (truncated!) looks a bit like:

The DM Allison Randal <allison@lohutok.net> is allowed to upload:
   parrot [granted by A4F455C3414B10563FCC9244AFA51BD6CDE573CB]
The DM Benjamin Barenblat <bbaren@mit.edu> is allowed to upload:
   boogie [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
   dafny [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
   transmission-remote-gtk [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
   urweb [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
The DM أحمد المحمودي <aelmahmoudy@sabily.org> is allowed to upload:
   covered [granted by 41352A3B4726ACC590940097F0A98A4C4CD6E3D2]
   dico [granted by 6ADD5093AC6D1072C9129000B1CCD97290267086]
   drawtiming [granted by 41352A3B4726ACC590940097F0A98A4C4CD6E3D2]
   fonts-hosny-amiri [granted by BD838A2BAAF9E3408BD9646833BE1A0A8C2ED8FF]


Next up, we've got the deb module. This contains code to handle reading Debian 2.0 .deb files. It contains a wrapper that will parse the control member, and provide the data member through the archive/tar interface.

Here's an example of how to read a .deb file, access some metadata, and iterate over the tar archive, and print the filenames of each of the entries.

func main() {
    path := "/tmp/fluxbox_1.3.5-2+b1_amd64.deb"
    fd, err := os.Open(path)
    if err != nil {
    defer fd.Close()

    debFile, err := deb.Load(fd, path)
    if err != nil {

    version := debFile.Control.Version
        "Epoch: %d, Version: %s, Revision: %s\n",
        version.Epoch, version.Version, version.Revision,

    for {
        hdr, err := debFile.Data.Next()
        if err == io.EOF {
        if err != nil {
        fmt.Printf("  -> %s\n", hdr.Name)

Boringly, the output looks like:

Epoch: 0, Version: 1.3.5, Revision: 2+b1
  -> ./
  -> ./etc/
  -> ./etc/menu-methods/
  -> ./etc/menu-methods/fluxbox
  -> ./etc/X11/
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/window.menu
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/fluxbox.menu-user
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/keys
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/init
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/system.fluxbox-menu
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/overlay
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/apps
  -> ./usr/
  -> ./usr/share/
  -> ./usr/share/man/
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-style.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-menu.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-apps.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-keys.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man1/
  -> ./usr/share/man/man1/startfluxbox.1.gz


The dependency package provides an interface to parse and compute dependencies. This package is a bit odd in that, well, there's no other library that does this. The issue is that there are actually two different parsers that compute our Dependency lines, one in Perl (as part of dpkg-dev) and another in C (in dpkg).

To date, this has resulted in me filing three different bugs. I also found a broken package in the archive, which actually resulted in another bug being (totally accidentally) already fixed. I hope to continue to run the archive through my parser in hopes of finding more bugs! This package is a bit complex, but it basically just returns what amounts to be an AST for our Dependency lines. I'm positive there are bugs, so file them!

func main() {
    dep, err := dependency.Parse("foo | bar, baz, foobar [amd64] | bazfoo [!sparc], fnord:armhf [gnu-linux-sparc]")
    if err != nil {

    anySparc, err := dependency.ParseArch("sparc")
    if err != nil {

    for _, possi := range dep.GetPossibilities(*anySparc) {
        fmt.Printf("%s (%s)\n", possi.Name, possi.Arch)

Gives the output:

foo (<nil>)
baz (<nil>)
fnord (armhf)


Right off the bat, I'd like to thank Michael Stapelberg for letting me graft this out of dcs and into the go-debian package. This was nearly entirely his work (with a one or two line function I added later), and was amazingly helpful to have. Thank you!

This module implements Debian version comparisons and parsing, allowing for sorting in lists, checking to see if it's native or not, and letting the programmer to implement smart(er!) logic based on upstream (or Debian) version numbers.

This module is extremely easy to use and very straightforward, and not worth writing an example for.

Final thoughts

This is more of a "Yeah, OK, this has been useful enough to me at this point that I'm going to support this" rather than a "It's stable!" or even "It's alive!" post. Hopefully folks can report bugs and help iterate on this module until we have some really clean building blocks to build solid higher level systems on top of. Being able to have multiple libraries interoperate by relying on go-debian will be a massive ease. I'm in need of more documentation, and to finalize some parts of the older sub package APIs, but I'm hoping to be at a "1.0" real soon now.