The package management system manipulates data represented in a
common format, known as control data, stored in control files.
Control files are used for source packages, binary packages and
the .changes files which control the installation of uploaded
files (dpkg's internal databases are in a similar format).
A control file consists of one or more paragraphs of fields (the
paragraphs are also sometimes referred to as stanzas). The
paragraphs are separated by empty lines. Parsers may accept
lines consisting solely of U+0020 SPACE and U+0009 TAB as
paragraph separators, but control files should use empty lines.
Some control files allow only one paragraph; others allow
several, in which case each paragraph usually refers to a
different package. (For example, in source packages, the first
paragraph refers to the source package, and later paragraphs
refer to binary packages generated from the source.) The
ordering of the paragraphs in control files is significant.
Each paragraph consists of a series of data fields. Each field
consists of the field name followed by a colon (U+003A ‘:’), and
then the data/value associated with that field. The field name
is composed of US-ASCII characters excluding control characters,
space, and colon (i.e., characters in the ranges U+0021 ‘!’
through U+0039 ‘9’, and U+003B ‘;’ through U+007E ‘~’,
inclusive). Field names must not begin with the comment
character (U+0023 ‘#’), nor with the hyphen character (U+002D
The field ends at the end of the line or at the end of the last
continuation line (see below). Horizontal whitespace (U+0020
SPACE and U+0009 TAB) may occur immediately before or after the
value and is ignored there; it is conventional to put a single
space after the colon. For example, a field might be:
the field name is Package and the field value dpkg.
Empty field values are only permitted in source package control
files (debian/control). Such fields are ignored.
A paragraph must not contain more than one instance of a
particular field name.
There are three types of fields:
simple The field, including its value, must be a single line.
Folding of the field is not permitted. This is the
default field type if the definition of the field does not
specify a different type.
folded The value of a folded field is a logical line that may
span several lines. The lines after the first are called
continuation lines and must start with a U+0020 SPACE or a
U+0009 TAB. Whitespace, including any newlines, is not
significant in the field values of folded fields.
This folding method is similar to RFC5322, allowing
control files that contain only one paragraph and no
multiline fields to be read by parsers written for
The value of a multiline field may comprise multiple
continuation lines. The first line of the value, the part
on the same line as the field name, often has special
significance or may have to be empty. Other lines are
added following the same syntax as the continuation lines
of the folded fields. Whitespace, including newlines, is
significant in the values of multiline fields.
Whitespace must not appear inside names (of packages,
architectures, files or anything else) or version numbers, or
between the characters of multi-character version relationships.
The presence and purpose of a field, and the syntax of its value
may differ between types of control files.
Field names are not case-sensitive, but it is usual to capitalize
the field names using mixed case as shown below. Field values
are case-sensitive unless the description of the field says
Paragraph separators (empty lines) and lines consisting only of
U+0020 SPACE and U+0009 TAB, are not allowed within field values
or between fields. Empty lines in field values are usually
escaped by representing them by a U+0020 SPACE followed by a dot
Lines starting with U+0023 ‘#’, without any preceding whitespace
are comments lines that are only permitted in source package
control files (debian/control) and in deb-origin(5) files. These
comment lines are ignored, even between two continuation lines.
They do not end logical lines.
All control files must be encoded in UTF-8.
This page is part of the dpkg (Debian Package Manager) project.
Information about the project can be found at
⟨https://wiki.debian.org/Teams/Dpkg/⟩. If you have a bug report
for this manual page, see
page was obtained from the project's upstream Git repository
⟨https://salsa.debian.org/dpkg-team/dpkg.git⟩ on 2021-08-27. (At
that time, the date of the most recent commit that was found in
the repository was 2021-06-17.) If you discover any rendering
problems in this HTML version of the page, or you believe there
is a better or more up-to-date source for the page, or you have
corrections or improvements to the information in this COLOPHON
(which is not part of the original manual page), send a mail to
1.19.6-2-g6e42d5 2019-03-25 deb822(5)