Most distributors ship their distribution in binary packages. Two package formats are widely used:
It is this adherence to policy that causes a distribution to remain consistent within its own bounds. At the same time, this is the reason why packages can not always be safely installed across distribution boundaries. A SuSE package.rpm might not play well with a RedHat package.rpm, although the packages work perfectly well within their own distributions. A similar compatibility problem could also apply to packages from the same distributor, but from a different version or generation of the distribution.
For Debian, all files of a program are packed as the ar archiver, otherwise known for the creation of programming libraries. Every such DEB package has a companion source package from which the binary package may be built automatically. The distributions of SuSE, RedHat and derivatives use the RPM format. The program alien by Joey Hess (not to be mistaken for the Grid environment at CERN) can translate between these. Though scripts to be run upon installation may get lost in the translation process.
Andreas Tille 2005-05-13