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Obtaining Debian support

Posted by Steve on Tue 26 Jul 2005 at 22:47

There are times when you need to fix something, or get something done, and don't know where to start. Thankfully there are several forms of support available to the Debian user, here we'll give a brief list of some of the options.

The Debian project itself is a great source of help for many many problems, both those things which might well be package bugs, and general issues.

There are several immediately available places to look for assistance if you do need it:

  • The Debian Documentation.
  • IRC for realtime queries.
  • The Debian Bug Tracking System.
  • The Debian mailing lists.
  • Debian consultants.
  • Community Resources.
Debian Documentation

Many common questions on specific packages will be documented in the packages documentation - usually located via /usr/share/doc/packagename.

For example if you're interested in making mailman work with exim4 you can find instructions in the file /usr/share/doc/mailman/README.EXIM.

Other Debian documentation can be found online, including several complete manuals and guides. The Securing Debian Manual, for example, should be compulsory reading for newcomers to server administration.


There are several channels devoted to discussing Debian GNU/Linux on freenode - whilst you might find them noisy they can be an immediate source of assistance if your problem is easily described.

Whilst it's hard to justify relying upon IRC in a business context that doesn't mean that it's not useful.

The main channel to try initially would be the #debian channel, although there are other more general Linux channeles which might also prove useful to explore.


The Debian Bugtracking System (BTS) is a very useful resource, both for reporting bugs and for querying currently known bugs.

If you have a problem with accomplishing a given task which you believe should work then the first thing I'd recommend you do is query the BTS to see if this is an issue which has been reported previously.

The BTS allows developers and users to comment on open issues, and to provide followup details. It's an underutilised resource for detecting problems. (Although perhaps understandably, sometimes there is a big timelag between reporting and having something fixed).

Mailing Lists

Debian has a huge array of mailing lists, and with readers active around the globe timezones are pretty much irrelevent. It's very common for a reported problem to be solved by a helpful reader in a few hours or less.

The real key to using the Debian mailing lists is to give as much information as possible, and to make sure you have a well chosen subject line. ESR's How to ask questions the smart way is a worthy primer in that regard.

The Debian mailing lists are listed upon the site, along with a brief description of what appropriate questions may be posted there.

Whilst there isn't an official searching facility you can search them:

Most people should probably start by consulting the debian-user mailing list, although avoid subscribing if you can't deal with a lot of mail.

Debian Consultants

There are also times when you might consider paying for support. This can often be negotiated on a per-incident basis, although there is nothing stopping you from paying a monthly/yearly retainer if that is how you prefer to operate.

The Debian Consultants list details hirable consultants from around the world - and if you don't like any of those you can pay me ;)

Community Resources

In addition to the options listed above there are also several community resources which have been created by volunteers.

These include the website you're currently viewing and other more established sites such as:

These sites are all Debian-related, but other sites such as The Linux Gazette, or Linux Questions will also accept questions and offer assistance in more distribution-agnostic cases.

Together these resources allow a wide range of Debian support issues to be solved in a timely and trouble-free manner.



Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by ugob (216.113.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 13:56
Excellent Article!

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Steve (82.41.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 13:58
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A lot of this information is already available on the Debian Support page, but it seemed like a nice idea to wrap it up here.


[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (193.237.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 19:40
When is it "okay" to email package maintainers?

I've found them an invaluable resource, and usually happy to help, IF you've taken the time to follow up all the obvious resources, have really understood things, but still have "issues". Often problems don't fall neatly into the category "bug".

Although most often I've ended up talking with them via the support mailing lists for the product in question, or because of filing bug reports.

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by todsah (80.113.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 15:03
Don't forget to look in /usr/share/doc/HOWTO/. This directory contains a lot of the HOWTO's that can be found on, but it's nice to have them on the local filesystem just in case you don't have a network connection handy. he HOWTO's are very useful when setting up something you've set up before (networking, quake, tablets, etc)

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (195.212.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 17:00
Talking about HOWTOs, it's such a shame that they fell in disuse. Pretty much all the howtos on are updated to 2003 or 2004 at the very best. They used to be good, maybe too much explicative at times but still very useful. Nowadays, everything changes so much and so quickly in the linux world, that they don't make much sense anymore...

TLDP should just become a giant Linux wiki, I suppose. Linuxpedia or something.

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by SanctimoniousHypocrite (12.221.xx.xx) on Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 19:17
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TLDP should just become a giant Linux wiki

That's an interesting idea. I wonder how hard it would be to import all the howtos into a wiki? I've never run a wiki, but in my ignorance it seems like it would be pretty straight-forward.

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by todsah (80.113.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 11:10
It shouldn't be too hard to convert most of TLDP's content to a Wiki format. Most of the HOWTO's are available in DocBook (SGML) format. All that's required for converting those to a wiki format is writing a DocBook Stylesheet to render SGML to Wiki format. (There are probably already a couple floating around out there). One would have to manually walk through them to convert everything that couldn't be converted automatically. (Ascii-art schematics come to mind)

Most of the other documents are available in HTML which can probably be converted fairly easily. The rest would have to be done by hand.

Somebody could hack Deplate ( so it becomes possible to convert the Wiki format used by the specific Wiki to other formats such as stand-alone HTML and DocBook. (I know that sounds kind of idiotic, converting DocBook to Wiki markup and then back to DocBook, but Wiki's can be edited by everyone and DocBook can be converted to a lot of different formats, including PDF. Some kind of quality control would have to be in place before converting to PDF though. Maybe work out something with various states Wiki pages can be in. I.e. 'draft', 'final', etc)

If someone would undertake something like the above, it would also be a good idea to apply some structuring to the documents. TLDP is nice and all, but it's structured according to document type (HOWTO, Man page, etc). Personally, I'd much rather see it structured according to the contents. For instance, a 'Networking' topic containing the documentation related to firewalls, IP masquerading, etc.

But all the above isn't the hard part, I believe. The real 'problem' with Wiki's is in the chaos that will ensue once people start editing random things. I know that's the whole idea behind Wiki's, but some kind of fixed set of procedures would have to be written in order to maintain some level of quality.

If you'd want to take it up a level, you could even add the various other documentation project that can be found on the web (i.e.

Maintainance would probably be a full-time job though. ;)

It's a nice idea and if it took off it could could become immensely valuable. An example of how good this can work is the PHP documentation with annotations.

Too bad I don't have the time to set something like this up. :P

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (141.20.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 08:39
on searching the debian mailing lists you wrote

"Whilst there isn't an official searching facility..." is an 'offical' searching facility, isn't it?

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Steve (82.41.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 08:55
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Well spotted.

I've used that in the past and had the idea that this was broken ...

I just tried searching for my name and found no results, which leads me to suspect it's not ... fully working.


[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (84.189.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 22:14
funny - I did the same..

but did you select the correct 'date filter' range on the right? you can only search 3 months at once - which is really a bit annoying..

Wesley Terpstra's Unofficial Debian Mailing archive is better to use, but only reaches back until april - at least for the lists I checked.

but the google hint is nice..will try that next time.


btw: nice artikel, nice site. check it every day.

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (222.76.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 13:28
Are there any good debian wiki?

Personally I think Debian's system is not as good as Gentoo's.

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Steve (82.41.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 13:34
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I guess we have differing opinions then, Debian's community is second to none in my experience. More technical correctness, more responsive, and more friendly.

But yes, to answer the question, there is a wiki:


[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (146.231.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 17:46
To which system are you referring? Support?

[ Parent ]

Re: Obtaining Debian support
Posted by Anonymous (217.207.xx.xx) on Mon 1 Aug 2005 at 12:44
If you then want to parse and process an autoindex in Perl, see WWW:IndexParser on Contrary to the doco, it does parse IIS and Tomcat as well as Apache auto index formats. HTH.

[ Parent ]