py2deb: Python to Debian package converter

The Python package py2deb converts Python source distributions to Debian binary packages (the ones used for installation). It uses pip-accel to download, unpack and compile Python packages. Because of this py2deb is compatible with the command line interface of the pip install command. For example you can specify packages to convert as command line arguments but you can also use requirement files if you want.

During the conversion process dependencies are automatically taken into account and converted as well so you don’t actually have to use requirement files including transitive dependencies. In fact you might prefer not explicitly listing your transitive dependencies in requirement files because py2deb will translate the version constraints of Python packages into Debian package relationships.

The py2deb package is currently tested on Python 2.6, 2.7, 3.4 and 3.5 (although Python 3.x support isn’t being used extensively yet, so you may run into some sharp edges). For usage instructions please refer to the documentation hosted on Read The Docs.


The py2deb package is available on PyPI, so installation is very simple:

$ pip install py2deb

There are some system dependencies which you have to install as well:

$ sudo apt-get install dpkg-dev fakeroot

Optionally you can also install Lintian (which is not a hard dependency but more of a “nice to have”):

$ sudo apt-get install lintian

When Lintian is installed it will be run automatically to sanity check converted packages. This slows down the conversion process somewhat but can be very useful, especially when working on py2deb itself. Currently py2deb doesn’t fail when Lintian reports errors, this is due to the unorthodox ways in which py2deb can be used. This may change in the future as py2deb becomes more mature.


There are two ways to use the py2deb package: As the command line program py2deb and as a Python API. For details about the Python API please refer to the API documentation hosted on Read the Docs. The command line interface is described below.

Command line

Usage: py2deb [OPTIONS] ...

Convert Python packages to Debian packages according to the given command line options (see below). The command line arguments are the same as accepted by the “pip install” command because py2deb invokes pip during the conversion process. This means you can name the package(s) to convert on the command line but you can also use “requirement files” if you prefer.

If you want to pass command line options to pip (e.g. because you want to use a custom index URL or a requirements file) then you will need to tell py2deb where the options for py2deb stop and the options for pip begin. In such cases you can use the following syntax:

$ py2deb -r /tmp -- -r requirements.txt

So the “–” marker separates the py2deb options from the pip options.

Supported options:

Option Description
-c, --config=FILENAME

Load a configuration file. Because the command line arguments are processed in the given order, you have the choice and responsibility to decide if command line options override configuration file options or vice versa. Refer to the documentation for details on the configuration file format.

The default configuration files /etc/py2deb.ini and ~/.py2deb.ini are automatically loaded if they exist. This happens before environment variables and command line options are processed.

Can also be set using the environment variable $PY2DEB_CONFIG.

-r, --repository=DIRECTORY

Change the directory where *.deb archives are stored. Defaults to the system wide temporary directory (which is usually /tmp). If this directory doesn’t exist py2deb refuses to run.

Can also be set using the environment variable $PY2DEB_REPOSITORY.


Set the name prefix used during the name conversion from Python to Debian packages. Defaults to “python”. The name prefix and package names are always delimited by a dash.

Can also be set using the environment variable $PY2DEB_NAME_PREFIX.

--no-name-prefix=PYTHON_PACKAGE_NAME Exclude a Python package from having the name prefix applied during the package name conversion. This is useful to avoid awkward repetitions.
--rename=PYTHON_PACKAGE_NAME,DEBIAN_PACKAGE_NAME Override the package name conversion algorithm for the given pair of package names. Useful if you don’t agree with the algorithm :-)

Override the default system wide installation prefix. By setting this to anything other than “/usr” or “/usr/local” you change the way py2deb works. It will build packages with a file system layout similar to a Python virtual environment, except there will not be a Python executable: The packages are meant to be loaded by modifying Python’s module search path. Refer to the documentation for details.

Can also be set using the environment variable $PY2DEB_INSTALL_PREFIX.

--install-alternative=LINK,PATH Use Debian’s “update-alternatives” system to add an executable that’s installed in a custom installation prefix (see above) to the system wide executable search path. Refer to the documentation for details.

Set a Python callback to be called during the conversion process. Refer to the documentation for details about the use of this feature and the syntax of EXPRESSION.

Can also be set using the environment variable $PY2DEB_CALLBACK.

--report-dependencies=FILENAME Add the Debian relationships needed to depend on the converted package(s) to the given control file. If the control file already contains relationships the additional relationships will be added to the control file; they won’t overwrite existing relationships.
-y, --yes

Instruct pip-accel to automatically install build time dependencies where possible. Refer to the pip-accel documentation for details.

Can also be set using the environment variable $PY2DEB_AUTO_INSTALL.

-v, --verbose Make more noise :-).
-h, --help Show this message and exit.

Future improvements

Some random ideas for possible improvements to py2deb (in no specific order):

  • Find a way to facilitate (explicit / opt-in) installation of system wide files (not related to Python per se) based on a Python distribution? This could significantly reduce the need for “wrapper packages” that basically just pull in packages converted by py2deb and drop a few configuration files into place.
  • Investigate the feasability of supporting conversion of binary wheels. Slowly but surely the Python community seems to be gravitating towards (binary) wheels and once gravity has shifted we don’t want to be left in the dust! ;-)
  • Make it possible to “replace” Python requirements in a requirement set with a Debian package that’s included in the official repositories (e.g. Pillow becomes python-imaging or python-pil). There are some hairy details involved here.
  • Dive into PEP-440 and see if there is a way to fully support it? Then this question on Reddit can finally get a satisfying answer :-).

Similar projects

There are several projects out there that share similarities with py2deb, for example I know of stdeb, dh-virtualenv and fpm. The documentation includes a fairly detailed comparison with each of these projects.


If you have questions, bug reports, suggestions, etc. please create an issue on the GitHub project page. The latest version of py2deb will always be available on GitHub. The internal API documentation is hosted on Read The Docs.


This software is licensed under the MIT license.

© 2017 Peter Odding, Arjan Verwer and Paylogic International.