I'm attempting to install Intel's OpenCL SDK but the DEB files are buggy conversions from RPM (see here for the curious). I need to edit the postinst script in the DEB they provide.

How can I take an existing DEB, extract the contents (including the control information), then later repackage the contents to make a new DEB? I will only edit files, no files will be added or removed.

up vote 134 down vote accepted

The primary command to manipulate deb packages is dpkg-deb.

To unpack the package, create an empty directory and switch to it, then run dpkg-deb to extract its control information and the package files. Use dpkg-deb -b to rebuild the package.

mkdir tmp
dpkg-deb -R original.deb tmp
# edit DEBIAN/postinst
dpkg-deb -b tmp fixed.deb

Beware that unless your script is running as root, the files' permissions and ownership will be corrupted at the extraction stage. One way to avoid this is to run your script under fakeroot. Note that you need to run the whole sequence under fakeroot, not each dpkg-deb individually, since it's the fakeroot process that keeps the memory of the permissions of the files that can't be created as they are.

fakeroot sh -c '
  mkdir tmp
  dpkg-deb -R original.deb tmp
  # edit DEBIAN/postinst
  dpkg-deb -b tmp fixed.deb

Rather than mess with permissions, you can keep the data archive intact and modify only the control archive. dpkg-deb doesn't provide a way to do that. Fortunately, deb packges are in a standard format: they're ar archives. So you can use ar to extract the control archive, modify its files, and use ar again to replace the control archive by a new version.

mkdir tmp
cd tmp
ar p ../original.deb control.tar.gz | tar -xz
# edit postinst
cp ../original.deb ../fixed.deb
tar czf control.tar.gz *[!z]
ar r ../fixed.deb control.tar.gz

You should add a changelog entry and change the version number if you modify anything in the package. The infrastructure to manipulate Debian packages assumes that if two packages have the same name and version, they're the same package. Add a suffix to the debian_revision part at the end of the version number; for sorting reasons the suffix should start with ~, e.g. 1.2.3-4.1 becomes 1.2.3-4.1~johnjumper1.

Instead of using shell tools, you can use Emacs. The dpkg-dev-el package (which is its own upstream as this is a native Debian package) contains modes to edit .deb files and to edit Debian changelogs. Emacs can be used interactively or scripted.

  • 2
    You can also use the -e switch of fpm to change the control file: fpm -e -s deb -t deb ../old.deb. This will open the control file in your editor. – Artefacto Jun 30 '14 at 13:33
  • btw, fakeroot bash and try to issue commands will not work concerning ownership, and the ar method is incredbly fast for big deb files! – Aquarius Power Oct 6 '16 at 2:53
  • Thanks. This was useful. Using dpkg-deb -R the modes were kept and dpkg-deb -b reset the uid:gid of the extracted files to 0:0. Didn't need fakeroot (I imagine there might be issues if there were set{u,g}id files inside the archive but that wasn't the case in my situation. – PSkocik Aug 16 at 10:52
  • 1
    @PSkocik Not just setxid files, also e.g. files and directories under /etc or /var that need to belong to a specific group. – Gilles Aug 16 at 19:33

You can use fpm with the --after-install option to replace the postinst script, like this:

fpm -e --after-install ../DEBIAN/postinst.new -s deb -t deb ../old.deb
  • To install fpm on Debian/Ubuntu: sudo apt-get install ruby-dev build-essential; sudo gem install fpm – Craig S. Anderson May 24 at 21:47

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