Debian Free Software Guidelines and Debian Policy

Free or not free: Debian has a collection of criteria, referred to as the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) , that allow to distinguish free and open source software from other categories of software. The most notable of these rules is that a software license must permit modifications and that those modifications are allowed to be redistributed, while granting the recipient the same rights. Moreover, there shall be no restrictions imposed on the recipients to whom those rights are granted regarding the work that is exerted with that software. For example, Debian does not consider software as free, if it only comes as free for academia. Such software cannot become part of the Debian system, but may only by offered in supplemental repositories.

Another important rule is that any granted permission must not be specific to Debian, but shall be universally applicable to anyone, such as other software vendors or individual users. This requirement is another indication of an intrinsic impetus to help Free Software at large.

The technical constraints on the packaging are formulated in the Debian Policy document. While every package needs to comply with that policy, every single maintainer of a Debian package has complete freedom to decide what software to package. Those who package, i.e. those who do, give the distribution it shape. This is referred to as do-ocracy in Debian and refers to the fact that: the one who does something decides what is done and how it is done.

Andreas Tille 2010-12-10