Software Release Practice HOWTO

Eric Steven Raymond

Revision History
Revision 4.12013-01-14Revised by: esr
Check out from a repo to be sure of making patches against fresh code. Freshmeat changed its name. USENET topic groups aren't very visible any more.
Revision 4.02010-04-11Revised by: esr
It's no longer necessary to provide RPMS or debs at project level. The packaging infrastructure has gotten good at that. New caveats about configuration and autotools. AsciiDOC is now a viable alternative for documentation masters.
Revision 3.92004-11-28Revised by: esr
New material on good patching practice. Recommend Electric Fence and valgrind rather than proprietary tools.
Revision 3.82003-02-17Revised by: esr
URL fixups after site move.
Revision 3.72002-09-25Revised by: esr
Point at the DocBook Demystification HOWTO.
Revision 3.62002-09-12Revised by: esr
Incorporated material on portability by Keith Bostic.
Revision 3.62002-08-14Revised by: esr
Rewrote section on documentation practice, since XML-Docbook is mature now.
Revision 3.52002-07-04Revised by: esr
Added section on providing checksums. Cited doclifter.
Revision 3.42002-01-04Revised by: esr
More about good patching practice.
Revision 3.32001-08-16Revised by: esr
New section about how to send good patches.
Revision 3.22001-07-11Revised by: esr
Note about not relying on proprietary components.
Revision 3.12001-02-22Revised by: esr
LDP Styleguide fixes.
Revision 3.02000-08-12Revised by: esr
First DocBook version. Advice on SourceForge and a major section on documentation practice added.

This HOWTO describes good release practices for Linux and other open-source projects. By following these practices, you will make it as easy as possible for users to build your code and use it, and for other developers to understand your code and cooperate with you to improve it.

This document is a must-read for novice developers. Experienced developers should review it when they are about to release a new project. It will be revised periodically to reflect the evolution of good-practice standards.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
1.1. Why this document?
1.2. New versions of this document
2. Good patching practice
2.1. Do send patches, don't send whole archives or files
2.2. Send patches against the current version of the code.
2.3. Don't include patches for generated files.
2.4. Don't send patch bands that just tweak version-control $-symbols.
2.5. Do use -c or -u format, don't use the default (-e) format
2.6. Do include documentation with your patch
2.7. Do include an explanation with your patch
2.8. Do include useful comments in your code
2.9. Just one bugfix or new feature per patch.
3. Good project- and archive- naming practice
3.1. Use GNU-style names with a stem and major.minor.patch numbering.
3.2. But respect local conventions where appropriate
3.3. Try hard to choose a name prefix that is unique and easy to type
4. Good licensing and copyright practice: the theory
4.1. Open source and copyrights
4.2. What qualifies as open source
5. Good licensing and copyright practice: the practice
5.1. Make yourself or the FSF the copyright holder
5.2. Use a license conformant to the Open Source Definition
5.3. Don't write your own license if you can possibly avoid it.
5.4. Make your license visible in a standard place.
6. Good development practice
6.1. Choose the most portable language you can
6.2. Don't rely on proprietary code
6.3. Build systems
6.4. Test your code before release
6.5. Sanity-check your code before release
6.6. Sanity-check your documentation and READMEs before release
6.7. Recommended C/C++ portability practices
7. Good distribution-making practice
7.1. Make sure tarballs always unpack into a single new directory
7.2. Have a README
7.3. Respect and follow standard file naming practices
7.4. Design for Upgradability
7.5. Provide checksums
8. Good documentation practice
8.1. Documentation formats
8.2. Good practice recommendations
9. Good communication practice
9.1. Announce to Freecode
9.2. Have a website
9.3. Host project mailing lists
9.4. Release to major archives
10. Good project-management practice