Making Application Packages


This document has been reviewed for maemo 4.0.

This guide explains how to make software packages that the end-user can install to the Internet Tablet using the Application Manager tool in the device.


This document assumes familiarity with the process of creating a .deb package. The basics of Debian packaging can be found in the Creating a Debian package.

There is also the example "hello-world-app" package can be used to get started. It can be installed with apt-get using the following command:

apt-get source hello-world-app

Application Manager

The Application Manager (also known as AM) is an end-user friendly graphical front-end to the standard Debian package management infrastructure. When using the Application Manager, the end-user does not have to use the apt-get tools.

The Application Manager uses the same backend tools as Synaptic, Aptitude, or apt-get (namely libapt-pkg), and it does it in the standard way, without imposing any constraints: packages are installed as root, and can touch the whole system, for example.

The normal way to distribute a package is, therefore, to put it into a repository and make it accessible to apt.

Either Application Manager or the apt-get tool can be used freely. Changes made to the system via apt-get or dpkg are picked up by the Application Manager without confusing it, and vice versa.


Packages made for the Application Manager should follow a few extra rules, if they want to integrate nicely to the device. These rules are related to:

  • general stuff
  • dependencies
  • sections
  • icons
  • the installation/removal policy of the Application Manager
  • limited feedback to the user, no controlling terminal
  • warning about removing running applications
  • utilities to use in the maintainer scripts

These are explained in detail below.


All strings coming from the control information of a package are interpreted in UTF-8 when they are shown in the UI. If a string is not valid UTF-8, all bytes above 127 are replaced with '?' before displaying it.


This field should now contain all the dependencies for package, such as ${shlibs:Depends}.


By default, the Application Manager only shows to the user packages in certain sections. This has been done to hide the existence of the hundreds of system packages making up the IT OS itself. The AM is, at this point, not intended to let the user manage the whole system, only a smaller set of third-party applications.

The AM only shows packages in the "user" section. Thus, the "Section:" field in the control file should be of the form

Section: user/<SUBSECTION>

where SUBSECTION is one of:

  • user/accessories Accessories
  • user/communication Communication
  • user/games Games
  • user/multimedia Multimedia
  • user/office Office
  • user/other Other
  • user/programming Programming
  • user/support Support
  • user/themes Themes
  • user/tools Tools

Thus, if the package is wanted in the Office subsection, the field Section: user/office should be included in the control information.


A package can have an icon displayed next to its name by the AM. Icons are included in the control information of a package as a base64 encoded field named "Maemo-Icon-26".

The image format of the icon can be anything understood by GdkPixbufLoader, but most commonly the PNG format is used.

The image should be 26x26 pixels with a transparent background.

The hello-world package shows an example of this.

The way to get these fields into the .deb files is to include them with a "XB-" prefix in the debian/control file. For more information, see the Debian Policy Manual, section 5.7.

Installation and Removal Policy

The Application Manager has its own rules for automatically installing and removing packages, in addition to the ones specified by the user. These rules are tuned to eliminate most surprises for simple package management operations, but this makes them less useable for complicated things like "apt-get dist-upgrade". When designing the conflicts of packages, these rules should be accounted for.

Specifically, the AM will never automatically remove a user package.

If a conflict caused by installing a package could be resolved by removing a package, the AM will not do the removal, but will refuse the installation request instead.

When removing a package, all packages that are a direct or indirect dependency of the removed package will be considered for removal. They will, in fact, be removed when they are a non-user package, have been automatically installed by the AM to satisfy a dependency, and are no longer needed.

Unfortunately, the AM is not very good in reporting conflicts: when the package conflicts with a non-user package, the problem reported by the AM will blame the conflict on that non-user package, instead of on the user packages that depend on it.

Feedback from Maintainer Scripts

When the Application Manager runs the maintainer scripts, they have no controlling terminal; their standard input is connected to /dev/null. The DISPLAY variable is set correctly.

The Application Manager collects a transcript of the installation/uninstallation process, including the output of maintainer scripts. However, this output is hidden away in the "Log", and users should not be expected to look there and understand its contents.

Thus, it is the responsibility of the package creator to make sure that the maintainer scripts will not fail. This naturally does not mean that errors should be ignored, but that only things that have a very high chance of succeeding should be done. The simpler, the better.

Removing or Upgrading Running Applications

The Application Manager can run a script provided by the package, before removing or upgrading it. That script can tell the Application Manager to cancel the operation.

The canonical use for this feature is to warn the user when they try to remove or upgrade an application that is currently running. The utility 'maemo-application-running' can be used to perform this test. (See below for details.)

When uninstalling or upgrading a package named PACKAGE, the Application Manager will run the program named /var/lib/hildon-application-manager/info/PACKAGE.checkrm, if it exists.
When this program exists with code 111, the operation will be cancelled. In all other cases, including when the program terminates with a signal, the operation is carried out.

The arguments given to the *.checkrm program are either:

foobarexampleonly.checkrm remove

when the package is going to be removed, or

foobarexampleonly.checkrm upgrade VERSION

when it is going to be upgraded to version VERSION

Utilities to Use in Maintainer Scripts

There are some utilities available that can be used in the maintainer scripts to interact with the user:

 maemo-select-menu-location <app>.desktop [default-folder]

When the package contains a .desktop file, and consequently has an entry in the Desktop menu for this file, it can call maemo-select-menu-location in its postinst script to let the user choose a location for the entry.

The "app.desktop" parameter is the name of the .desktop file, without any directories. The default-folder parameter is optional, and when given, determines the default folder of the menu entry. If omitted, the menu entry will appear in "Extras".

The way to specify a folder that is provided by the system is by giving its logical name as listed in the /etc/xdg/menus/ file, NOT by giving its English name. Examples of logical names are


If using a folder name that does not yet exist, it is created. In that case, a logical name should NOT be used, since there will likely be no translations available for that logical name. When creating a new folder, a plain-text name should be used, in a language that is appropriate. However, it is advisable to use existing folders as much as possible.

Thus, if the package installs the file /usr/share/applications/hildon/foobarexampleonly.desktop, and it is wanted to go to the "Utilities" menu, this invocation should be put into the postinst script:

maemo-select-menu-location foobarexampleonly.desktop tana_fi_utilities

If it is wanted to go into a non-existing folder, the code used should be something like

maemo-select-menu-location foobarexampleonly.desktop "Cute hacks"

In order to use maemo-select-menu-location in postinst, Depends should be included in the "maemo-select-menu-location" package.

It is advisable to skip calling maemo-select-menu-location, when merely upgrading, as opposed to installing from scratch.

  maemo-application-running -x executable-file
  maemo-application-running -d app.desktop

This utility checks whether the application specified on the command line is currently running. If it is running, it exits with code 0. If it is not running, it exits with code 1. If an error occurs, it exits with code 2.

When using the -x option, the utility checks whether any process is currently executing that file, by looking into /proc/PID/exe.

When using the -d option, the utility uses the given .desktop file to find the service name of the application und queries D-BUS whether this service is currently registered. If there is no service name in the .desktop file, the utility uses the executable file as with the -x option.

In order to use maemo-application-running in postinst, Depends should be included in the "maemo-installer-utils" package.

  maemo-confirm-text [title] file

Displays the contents of FILE in a dialog with "Ok" and "Cancel" buttons. The default title of the dialog is "License agreement".

When the user clicks "Ok", this utility exits with code 0; when they click "Cancel", it exits with code 1; and when an error occurs, it exits with code 2.

If a license agreement is not shown in the postinst script, it is probably not a good idea to make the postinst script fail when the user does not agree to the license terms. Instead, the application could be configured in such a way that it will ask the user to agree to the license agreement again when the application is started, and refuse to run when they disagree.

In order to use maemo-confirm-text in postinst, Depends should be included in the "maemo-installer-utils" package.

Controlling Installation

In Application Installer (old name for Application Manager), there was a beta-stage Single Click Install feature. Application Manager is backwards-compatible with it, so the old .install files still work, but there are some new features available. This chapter will give an overview of the .install file usage and functionality.

The Application Manager offers three kinds of functionality with .install files: adding catalogues, installing packages from remote catalogues and installing packages from a memory card. The .install file follows the GKeyFile format, as described by GLib. A GKeyFile consists of a number of groups, and each group contains key/value pairs. Each of the previously mentioned three functionalities is initiated by a specifically named group in the .install file, as described in the next chapters.

Adding Catalogues

Adding catalogues is done with the "catalogues" group. This group has one similarly named mandatory key, "catalogues". The "catalogues" key is a list of strings referring to the catalogue groups that describe the catalogues to be added. Each catalogue is considered in turn and the user is asked whether to add it or not. If it should be added, and a catalogue is already configured in the Application Manager that is equal to the one considered, the configured catalogue is removed first. When the user declines the adding, the next catalogue is considered. After considering every catalogue, the user is asked whether to "Refresh the list of applications". Here is an example:

catalogues = extras; sdk

name = maemo Extras catalogue
uri =
components = free non-free

name = maemo SDK catalogue
uri =
components = free non-free

A Group describing a catalogue can contain the following keys:

  • name: This key gives the display name of the catalogue as shown to the user in the "Tool > Application catalogues" dialog. This key can be localised by following the GKeyFile conventions. If you omit this key, the catalogue will have an empty name.
  • uri: The URI part of the deb line that will be added to sources.list for this catalogue. This key is required for all catalogues except those used with the "card_catalogues" key.
  • file_uri: When using file_uri instead of uri, the URI part of the deb line will use the "file://" method and the file_uri gives the actual pathname, relative to the location of the .install file. This key is required for all catalogues that are used with the "card_catalogues" key.
  • dist: The distribution of the deb line that will be added to sources.list for this catalogue. If you omit it, it will default to the distribution corresponding to the IT OS release on the device. The fact that the distribution should be selected automatically is remembered by the Application Manager. For example, if you make a backup that contains a catalogue with automatic distribution selection and restore it on a different IT OS release, the distribution for the new version will be used automatically.
  • components: The components part of the deb line that will be added to sources.list for this catalogue. If you omit it, the components part will be empty.
  • filter_dist: This catalogue will be ignored when the distribution corresponding to the IT OS release on the device doesn't match.

When catalogues are compared, they are considered equal when their uri, dist and components fields are equal.

Installing a Package

In order to install packages with an .install file, the file must have an "install" group. The group has one mandatory key "package" and one optional key "catalogues". The "catalogues" key is handled as follows: each catalogue is considered in turn. The user is asked for confirmation if a catalogue that is not already configured is encountered. Alternatively, when a catalogue is already present but disabled, the user is informed that it needs to be enabled and is asked for a confirmation. If the user declines, the processing of the .install file stops and the changes to the configured catalogues that have been made for it are reverted. After the list of catalogues has been processed, the list of applications is refreshed automatically and the package is offered to the user for installing. Here is an example:

catalogues = foobar
package = maemofoo

name = Foobar Catalogue
name[en_GB] = Foobar Catalogue
name[de_DE] = Foobar Katalog
uri =
components = main

Installing a Package from a Memory Card

Installing packages from a memory card is governed by the "card_install" group. It has two mandatory keys, "packages" and "card_catalogues", and an optional one, "permanent_catalogues". The "packages" key lists the names of packages that can be installed from the memory card, using the "card_catalogues". Installation of the packages happens in a temporary environment: in this environment, the normally configured catalogues are not available, only the catalogues listed by the "card_catalogues" key are configured. All of these catalogues must use "file_uri" instead of "uri".

The user gets to select the packages from a list, after which the installation proceeds one package after another. In case the installation of a package fails, an error note is displayed and the processing stops. After the installation has completed, the optional group "permanent_catalogues" is processed. It functions similarly as the previously described catalogue adding.

Whenever a memory card is inserted that contains a file called .auto.install, that file is processed by the Application Manager. Usually, the .auto.install file contains a "card_install" group, of course. For example:

$ mkdir .repo
$ cp somewhere/*.deb .repo/
$ (cd .repo && apt-ftparchive packages . >Packages)

A matching .install file could look like this:

card_catalogues = repo
packages = app-1; app-2

file_uri = .repo
dist = ./

The .repo and the .install files typically go to the root of the memory card. To make the memory card auto-installing, make a copy of the .install file and name it .auto.install.

Signing Package

In order to sign packages, use debsign tool inside Scratchbox. Please refer to debsign manual page for instructions on how to use the tool.

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