Contributing to Ubuntu shouldn’t be just packaging

We have had a lot of discussion on #ubuntu-us-mi in regards to how I can contribute to Ubuntu.  It seems the answer is always “packaging.”  But there are people who can code or develop some missing ingredient to Ubuntu that a person might want to develop.

Let me try to explain, saw this from @dhoolbach on

want to learn !ubuntu development and packaging – I need your input: 🙂

And it goes back to the discussion we had on the channel.  A new user says “I want to contribute”  And someone responds “Package this app”  But what if they don’t want to package?  They want to contribute code.  The answer then is “Work Upstream” but how does someone go about just that?  Do we explain enough how to work upstream on code/patches/etc?  Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we need some howto’s or guidance on how to help solve itches best resolved upstream.

Discuss or correct me if I’m wrong


10 thoughts on “Contributing to Ubuntu shouldn’t be just packaging

  1. Each upstream is different. I don’t see how we can or even should show people how to work upstream. However, that is not to say that there aren’t non-packaging contributions that need to be done in Ubuntu. I just think it’s a bit of a waste of time to specifically teach people how to do upstream development.

    • Jordan,

      I think we need to teach people how to contribute upstream. The Kubuntu team should be teaching people how to work within KDE, the GNOME crew should be helping people give back to upstream GNOME, etc.
      I think we (Ubuntu) would be seen as a much better citizen if we did that.

      Maybe we are and I just don’t know/can’t figure it out.

      • There is the possibility of being seen as a better citizen. My experience has been that it’s seen as Ubuntu trying to take over the FLOSS Universe. Do you really think we can teach people how to work upstream better than upstream? The Kubuntu team is probably the best of any team to help people get hooked into upstream. For the vast majority, it’s just not very feasible to teach the particular culture or tools of many upstreams.

        Ubuntu has a great many problems right now, technically and socially, I just see putting lots of resources into teaching people how to do upstream development as a waste of precious effort that could be spent fixing nasty regressions or making sure our next release is somewhat better than the last.

  2. I mentioned Ubuntu development in those 140 chars. 🙂

    I’d be happy to host tutorials and videos about more general Ubuntu development, if you’re keen to work on them. I think it’d be great to teach people how to use the “toolbox” (like how do Makefiles work, how does svn work, etc etc etc.)

    Ubuntu Development is not just “package something new” and the smallest amount of work that happens in Ubuntu is “packaging something new”, but as soon as you start adding a piece of code somewhere or fix a bug, you have to know at least a few bits about packaging if you want to get it into Ubuntu. As Packaging is something I know a bit about, I did a few videos and worked on some tutorials.

    There’s a lot of bugs that need fixing, there’s lots of features that were asked for in brainstorm, there’s a lot of specs that need some work.

    And that’s “just development”. Translations, events, advocacy, documentation, there’s a lot of stuff to do, so you’ll never hear me say “there’s just packaging you can do”. 🙂

    I hope my intention and what I’d like to improve (and actively work on!) is a bit clearer now.

  3. Daniel,

    Don’t take it as criticism of what you and the team has done. We just had a lot of converstation on #ubuntu-us-mi about some people that would like to develop something (scratch an itch) in a way that would help Ubuntu, but they always felt the answer to “How to contribute” was “Packaging.”
    I agree with your thoughts and think it is a great idea and can help as much as I can.

    Does that make sense?


  4. But what’s the point in developing new software for Ubuntu if there’s no one there to maintain it in Ubuntu? There’s not currently enough people maintaining packages in Ubuntu. Syncing with Debian at the beginning of a release is a huge amount of work, so is sending patches to Debian and upstream.

    I don’t think anyone discouraged someone from developing software, but if you want to contribute to any distribution then maintaining packages is probably the biggest way you can contribute.

    • Wow quite the reaction…. I understand there are not enough packagers and not enough people looking at the packages.

      I just wonder if always going back to packaging as the #1 way to contribute development wise is the best way to tackle things.

      I am not a coder, I don’t even play one on TV and you all understand the process better then I do.

      Just thought it might be nice to encourage more people upstream through bugs/patches/working on projects there that might help us be better people?

      • @Jonathan:

        Sometimes you have to prioritize recruitment efforts based on organizational need. While you never really want to turn someone away that has a particular skillset and is interested in helping, if people are asking “how can I help” its perfectly appropriate to answer that question consistently with “packaging” if packaging really short staffed and a release critical issue. Its a matter of prioritizes. You are never going to have more than enough manpower in any area, but its completely appropriate to try to get a handle on where best benefit can be had with incremental additions to manpower and to consistently communicate that when asked.


  5. If the answer is always packaging, that’s only because I don’t spend enough time in the channel…

    We (ubuntu-us-mi) have held more bug jams than packaging jams, so I’m kind of surprised to hear you say this. Our LoCo is big on bug triage as a form of contributing!

    If you want to stretch your dev muscle, I’d suggest patching existing bugs is far superior contribution-wise to writing some new app.

    • Wolfger,

      Where were you in #ubuntu-us-mi when we were discussing this? I seem to have struck a nerve with this post. I know the amount of bug jams we have exceeds our packaging jams. It jus seems from the greater Ubuntu community all I hear about contributing is pakcage

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