Wed, 13 Jan 2016

Automating Deployments: Distributing Debian Packages with Aptly

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Once a Debian package is built, it must be distributed to the servers it is to be installed on.

Debian, as well as all other operating systems I know of, use a pull model for that. That is, the package and its meta data are stored on a server that the client can contact, and request the meta data and the package.

The sum of meta data and packages is called a repository. In order to distribution packages to the servers that need them, we must set up and maintain such a repository.


In Debian land, packages are also signed cryptographically, to ensure packages aren't tampered with on the server or during transmission.

So the first step is to create a key pair that is used to sign this particular repository. (If you already have a PGP key for signing packages, you can skip this step).

The following assumes that you are working with a pristine system user that does not have a gnupg keyring yet, and which will be used to maintain the debian repository. It also assumes you have the gnupg package installed.

$ gpg --gen-key

This asks a bunch of questions, like your name and email address, key type and bit width, and finally a pass phrase. I left the pass phrase empty to make it easier to automate updating the repository, but that's not a requirement.

$ gpg --gen-key
gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.18; Copyright (C) 2014 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.

gpg: directory `/home/aptly/.gnupg' created
gpg: new configuration file `/home/aptly/.gnupg/gpg.conf' created
gpg: WARNING: options in `/home/aptly/.gnupg/gpg.conf' are not yet active during this run
gpg: keyring `/home/aptly/.gnupg/secring.gpg' created
gpg: keyring `/home/aptly/.gnupg/pubring.gpg' created
Please select what kind of key you want:
   (1) RSA and RSA (default)
   (2) DSA and Elgamal
   (3) DSA (sign only)
   (4) RSA (sign only)
Your selection? 1
RSA keys may be between 1024 and 4096 bits long.
What keysize do you want? (2048) 
Requested keysize is 2048 bits
Please specify how long the key should be valid.
         0 = key does not expire
      <n>  = key expires in n days
      <n>w = key expires in n weeks
      <n>m = key expires in n months
      <n>y = key expires in n years
Key is valid for? (0) 
Key does not expire at all
Is this correct? (y/N) y
You need a user ID to identify your key; the software constructs the user ID
from the Real Name, Comment and Email Address in this form:
    "Heinrich Heine (Der Dichter) <>"

Real name: Aptly Signing Key
Email address:
You selected this USER-ID:
    "Moritz Lenz <>"

Change (N)ame, (C)omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? O
You need a Passphrase to protect your secret key.

You don't want a passphrase - this is probably a *bad* idea!
I will do it anyway.  You can change your passphrase at any time,
using this program with the option "--edit-key".

We need to generate a lot of random bytes. It is a good idea to perform
some other action (type on the keyboard, move the mouse, utilize the
disks) during the prime generation; this gives the random number
generator a better chance to gain enough entropy.

Not enough random bytes available.  Please do some other work to give
the OS a chance to collect more entropy! (Need 99 more bytes)
gpg: /home/aptly/.gnupg/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created
gpg: key 071B4856 marked as ultimately trusted
public and secret key created and signed.

gpg: checking the trustdb
gpg: 3 marginal(s) needed, 1 complete(s) needed, PGP trust model
gpg: depth: 0  valid:   1  signed:   0  trust: 0-, 0q, 0n, 0m, 0f, 1u
pub   2048R/071B4856 2016-01-10
      Key fingerprint = E80A D275 BAE1 DEDE C191  196D 078E 8ED8 071B 4856
uid                  Moritz Lenz <>
sub   2048R/FFF787F6 2016-01-10

Near the bottom the line starting with pub contains the key ID:

pub   2048R/071B4856 2016-01-10

We'll need the public key later, so it's best to export it:

$ gpg --export --armor 071B4856 > pubkey.asc

Preparing the Repository

There are several options for managing Debian repositories. My experience with debarchiver is mixed: Once set up, it works, but it does not give immediate feedback on upload; rather it communicates the success or failure by email, which isn't very well-suited for automation.

Instead I use aptly, which works fine from the command line, and additionally supports several versions of the package in one repository.

To initialize a repo, we first have to come up with a name. Here I call it internal.

$ aptly repo create -distribution=jessie -architectures=amd64,i386,all -component=main internal

Local repo [internal] successfully added.
You can run 'aptly repo add internal ...' to add packages to repository.

$ aptly publish repo -architectures=amd64,i386,all internal
Warning: publishing from empty source, architectures list should be complete, it can't be changed after publishing (use -architectures flag)
Loading packages...
Generating metadata files and linking package files...
Finalizing metadata files...
Signing file 'Release' with gpg, please enter your passphrase when prompted:
Clearsigning file 'Release' with gpg, please enter your passphrase when prompted:

Local repo internal has been successfully published.
Please setup your webserver to serve directory '/home/aptly/.aptly/public' with autoindexing.
Now you can add following line to apt sources:
  deb http://your-server/ jessie main
Don't forget to add your GPG key to apt with apt-key.

You can also use `aptly serve` to publish your repositories over HTTP quickly.

As the message says, there needs to be a HTTP server that makes these files available. For example an Apache virtual host config for serving these files could look like this:

<VirtualHost *:80>

        DocumentRoot /home/aptly/.aptly/public/
        <Directory /home/aptly/.aptly/public/>
                Options +Indexes +FollowSymLinks

                Require all granted

        # Possible values include: debug, info, notice, warn, error, crit,
        # alert, emerg.
        LogLevel notice
        CustomLog /var/log/apache2/apt/access.log combined
        ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/apt/error.log
        ServerSignature On

After creating the logging directory (mkdir -p /var/log/apache2/apt/), enabling the the virtual host (a2ensite apt.conf) and restarting Apache, the Debian repository is ready.

Adding Packages to the Repository

Now that the repository is set up, you can add a package by running

$ aptly repo add internal package-info_0.1-1_all.deb
$ aptly publish update internal

Configuring a Host to use the Repository

Copy the PGP public key with which the repository is signed (pubkey.asc) to the host which shall use the repository, and import it:

$ apt-key add pubkey.asc

Then add the actual package source:

$ echo "deb jessie main" > /etc/apt/source.list.d/internal

After an apt-get update, the contents of the repository are available, and an apt-cache policy package-info shows the repository as a possible source for this package:

$ apt-cache policy package-info
  Installed: (none)
  Candidate: 0.1-1
  Version table:
 *** 0.1-1 0
        990 jessie/main amd64 Packages
        100 /var/lib/dpkg/status

This concludes the whirlwind tour through debian repository management and thus package distribution. Next up will be the actual package installation.

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