Automated Debian package building with Gitlab CI and Reprepro


I previously deployed some ad-hoc services using ugly and difficult to maintain solutions, such as binaries manually extracted from container images and copied into /usr/local/bin. Of course, this is a lot of manual work for each upgrade of the service, and if you upgrade often, a lot of repetitive manual work. Or, in other words, the perfect kind of work to be automated.

So I decided to package the software in question for Debian, which is the Linux distribution I run these services on, and to automate the process of building the packages and publishing them to a repository. There's three different "categories" of software I wanted to have in my repository:

  • Binaries published as build artifacts in releases of their upstream repository. An example for this is Gitea. The binaries can be automatically downloaded and put into a package.

  • Software released as container images only. An example for this is the Drone CI Server. This is a bit more tricky, as the binaries must be extracted from the image before it can be put into a package.

  • Software already released as Debian packages, but not available through a repository. An example for this is a project of my own, the iCalendar Timeseries Server, where the CI pipeline automatically builds Debian packages and adds them as build artifacts to releases. Here, the already-built package just needs to be fetched and added to the repository.

For creating and maintaining the repository, I'm using Reprepro, as it is extremely simple to use, and generally is rather uncomplex and lightweight. It does however come with some limitations; I especially encountered the problem that Reprepro will only keep the latest version of a package in the repo index, so older versions won't be available to clients.

For automating the packaging and repository build process, I'm using Gitlab CI. The pipeline is running each night, building the latest stable version for each package, adding the packages to the in-container Reprepro repository, and then synchronize the repository to a web server of mine.

The source repository with the package build scripts and pipeline configuration is available on Gitlab. Though, before using this as a template, be advised that the packages built by this pipeline are not exceptionally high-quality. They are also usually built to fit my personal needs, so don't expect ready-to-use packages.