Using Github Actions to create Debian (DEB) and RedHat (RPM) Packages and Repositories

Last week I created a post talking about the new project I’ve started on Github called “Terminate-Notice” (which in hindsight isn’t very accurate – at best it’s ‘spot-instance-responses’ and at worst it’s ‘instance-rebalance-and-actions-responder’ but neither work well)… Anyway, I mentioned how I was creating RPM and DEB packages for my bash scripts and that I hadn’t put it into a repo yet.

Well, now I have, so let’s wander through how I made this work.


Please don’t hesitate to use the .github directory I’m using for terminate-notice, which is available in the -skeleton repo and then to make it into a repo, you can reuse the .github directory in the repo to start your adventure.

Start with your source tree

I have a the following files in my shell script, which are:

  • /usr/sbin/terminate-notice (the actual script which will run)
  • /usr/lib/systemd/system/terminate-notice.service (the SystemD Unit file to start and stop the script)
  • /usr/share/doc/terminate-notice/LICENSE (the license under which the code is released)
  • /etc/terminate-notice.conf.d/service.conf (the file which tells the script how to run)

These live in the root directory of my repository.

I also have the .github directory (where the things that make this script work will live), a LICENSE file (so Github knows what license it’s released under) and a file (so people visiting the repo can find out about it).

A bit about Github Actions

Github Actions is a CI/CD pipeline built into Github. It responds to triggers – in our case, pushes (or uploads, in old fashioned terms) to the repository, and then runs commands or actions. The actions which will run are stored in a simple YAML formatted file, referred to as a workflow which contains some setup fields and then the “jobs” (collections of actions) themselves. The structure is as follows:

# The pretty name rendered by Actions to refer to this workflow
name: Workflow Name

# Only run this workflow when the push is an annotated tag starting v
      - 'v*'

# The workflow contains a collection of jobs, each of which has
# some actions (or "steps") to run
  # This is used to identify the output in other jobs
    # This is the pretty name rendered in the Github UI for this job
    name: Job Name
    # This is the OS that the job will run on - typically
    # one of: ubuntu-latest, windows-latest, macos-latest
    runs-on: runner-os
    # The actual actions to perform
      # This is a YAML list, so note where the hyphens (-) are
        # The pretty name of this step
      - name: Checkout Code
        # The name of the public collection of actions to perform
        uses: actions/checkout@v3
        # Any variables to pass into this action module
          path: "REPO"

      # This action will run a shell command
      - name: Run a command
        run: echo "Hello World"

Build a DEB package

At the simplest point, creating a DEB package is;

  1. Create the directory structure (as above) that will unpack from your package file and put the files in the right places.
  2. Create a DEBIAN/control file which provides enough details for your package manager to handle it.
  3. Run dpkg-deb --build ${PATH_TO_SOURCE} ${OUTPUT_FILENAME}

The DEBIAN/control file looks like this:

Section: misc
Priority: optional
Architecture: all
Maintainer: YOUR_NAME <>
Description: SOME_TEXT

Section, Priority and Architecture have specifically defined dictionaries you can choose from.

Assuming the DEBIAN/control file was static and also lived in the repo, and I were just releasing the DEB file, then I could make the above work with the following steps:

name: Create the DEB

  contents: write

      - 'v*'

    name: Create Package
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: Checkout code
        uses: actions/checkout@v3
          path: "REPO"

      - name: Copy script files around to stop .github from being added to the package then build the package
        run: |
          mkdir PKG_SOURCE
          cp -Rf REPO/usr REPO/etc REPO/DEBIAN PKG_SOURCE
          dpkg-deb --build PKG_SOURCE package.deb

      - name: Release the Package
        uses: softprops/action-gh-release@v1
          files: package.deb

But no, I had to get complicated and ALSO build an RPM file… and put some dynamic stuff in there.

Build an RPM file

RPMs are a little more complex, but not by much. RPM takes a spec file, which starts off looking like the DEBIAN/control file, and adds some “install” instructions. Let’s take a look at that spec file:

Release: 1
Summary: SOME_TEXT
BuildArch: noarch
Source0: %{name}




install -D -m 600 -o root -g root %{SOURCE0}etc/config/file ${RPM_BUILD_ROOT}%{_sysconfdir}/config/file
install -D -m 755 -o root -g root %{SOURCE0}usr/sbin/script ${RPM_BUILD_ROOT}%{_sbindir}/script


The “Name”, “Version”, “Release” and “BuildArch” values in the top of that file define what the resulting filename is (NAME_VERSION-RELEASE.BUILDARCH.rpm).

Notice that there are some “macros” which replace /etc with %{_sysconfdir}, /usr/sbin with %{_sbindir} and so on, which means that, theoretically, this RPM could be installed in an esoteric tree… but most people won’t bother.

The one quirk with this is that %{name} bit there – RPM files need to have all these sources in a directory named after the package name, which in turn is stored in a directory called SOURCES (so SOURCES/my-package for example), and then it copies the files to wherever they need to go. I’ve listed etc/config/file and usr/sbin/script but these could just have easily been file and script for all that the spec file cares.

Once you have the spec file, you run sudo rpmbuild --define "_topdir $(pwd)" -bb file.spec to build the RPM.

So, again, how would that work from a workflow YAML file perspective, assuming a static spec and source tree as described above?

name: Create the DEB

  contents: write

      - 'v*'

    name: Create Package
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: Checkout code
        uses: actions/checkout@v3
          path: "REPO"

      - name: Copy script files around to stop .github from being added to the package then build the package
        run: |
          mkdir -p SOURCES/my-package-name
          cp -Rf REPO/usr REPO/etc SOURCES/my-package-name
          sudo rpmbuild --define "_topdir $(pwd)" -bb my-package-name.spec

      - name: Release the Package
        uses: softprops/action-gh-release@v1
          files: RPMS/my-package-name_0.0.1-1.noarch.rpm

But again, I want to be fancy (and I want to make resulting packages as simple to repeat as possible)!

So, this is my release.yml as of today:

name: Run the Release

  contents: write

      - 'v*'

    name: Create Packages
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: Checkout code
        uses: actions/checkout@v3
          path: "REPO"

      - name: Calculate some variables
        run: |
            echo "GITHUB_REPO_NAME=$(echo "${GITHUB_REPOSITORY}" | cut -d/ -f2)"
            echo "VERSION=$(echo "${GITHUB_REF_NAME}" | sed -e 's/^v//')"
            echo "DESCRIPTION=A script which polls the AWS Metadata Service looking for an 'instance action', and triggers scripts in response to the termination notice."
            echo "DEB_ARCHITECTURE=${ARCHITECTURE:-all}"
            echo "RPM_ARCHITECTURE=${ARCHITECTURE:-noarch}"
            echo "RELEASE=1"
            cd REPO
            echo "FIRST_YEAR=$(git log $(git rev-list --max-parents=0 HEAD) --date="format:%Y" --format="format:%ad")"
            echo "THIS_COMMIT_YEAR=$(git log HEAD -n1 --date="format:%Y" --format="format:%ad")"
            echo "THIS_COMMIT_DATE=$(git log HEAD -n1 --format="format:%as")"
            if [ "$FIRST_YEAR" = "$THIS_COMMIT_YEAR" ]
              echo "YEAR_RANGE=$FIRST_YEAR"
              echo "YEAR_RANGE=${FIRST_YEAR}-${THIS_COMMIT_YEAR}"
            cd ..
          ) >> $GITHUB_ENV

      - name: Make Directory Structure
        run: mkdir -p "SOURCES/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}" SPECS release

      - name: Copy script files into SOURCES
        run: |
          cp -Rf REPO/[a-z]* "SOURCES/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}"
          if grep -lr '#TAG#' SOURCES
            sed -i -e "s/#TAG#/${VERSION}/" $(grep -lr '#TAG#' SOURCES)
          if grep -lr '#TAG_DATE#' SOURCES
            sed -i -e "s/#TAG_DATE#/${THIS_COMMIT_YEAR}/" $(grep -lr '#TAG_DATE#' SOURCES)
          if grep -lr '#DATE_RANGE#' SOURCES
            sed -i -e "s/#DATE_RANGE#/${YEAR_RANGE}/" $(grep -lr '#DATE_RANGE#' SOURCES)
          if grep -lr '#MAINTAINER#' SOURCES
            sed -i -e "s/#MAINTAINER#/${MAINTAINER:-Jon Spriggs <>}/" $(grep -lr '#MAINTAINER#' SOURCES)

      - name: Create Control File
        # Fields from
        run: |
            echo "Package:      ${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}"
            echo "Version:      ${VERSION}"
            echo "Section:      ${SECTION:-misc}"
            echo "Priority:     ${PRIORITY:-optional}"
            echo "Architecture: ${DEB_ARCHITECTURE}"
            if [ -n "${DEPENDS}" ]
              echo "Depends: ${DEPENDS}"
            echo "Maintainer: ${MAINTAINER:-Jon Spriggs <>}"
            echo "Description: ${DESCRIPTION}"
            if [ -n "${HOMEPAGE}" ]
              echo "Homepage: ${HOMEPAGE}"
          ) | tee SOURCES/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}/DEBIAN/control
            echo "Files:"
            echo " *"
            echo "Copyright: ${YEAR_RANGE} ${MAINTAINER:-Jon Spriggs <>}"
            echo "License: MIT"
            echo ""
            echo "License: MIT"
            sed 's/^/ /' "SOURCES/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}/usr/share/doc/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}/LICENSE"
          ) | tee SOURCES/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}/DEBIAN/copyright

      - name: Create Spec File
        run: PATH="REPO/.github/scripts:${PATH}"

      - name: Build DEB Package
        run: dpkg-deb --build SOURCES/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME} "${{ env.GITHUB_REPO_NAME }}_${{ env.VERSION }}_${{ env.DEB_ARCHITECTURE }}.deb"

      - name: Build RPM Package
        run: sudo rpmbuild --define "_topdir $(pwd)" -bb SPECS/${GITHUB_REPO_NAME}.spec

      - name: Confirm builds complete
        run: sudo install -m 644 -o runner -g runner $(find . -type f -name *.deb && find . -type f -name *.rpm) release/

      - name: Release
        uses: softprops/action-gh-release@v1
          files: release/*

So this means I can, within reason, drop this workflow (plus a couple of other scripts to generate the slightly more complex RPM file – see the other files in that directory structure) into another package to release it.

OH WAIT, I DID! (for the terminate-notice-slack repo, for example!) All I actually needed to do there was to change the description line, and off it went!

So, this is all well and good, but how can I distribute these? Enter Repositories.

Making a Repository

Honestly, I took most of the work here from two fantastic blog posts for creating an RPM repo and a DEB repo.

First you need to create a GPG key.

To do this, I created the following pgp-key.batch file outside my repositories tree

%echo Generating an example PGP key
Key-Type: RSA
Key-Length: 4096
Expire-Date: 0

To make the key, I used this set of commands:

export GNUPGHOME="$(mktemp -d /tmp/pgpkeys-XXXXXX)"
gpg --no-tty --batch --gen-key pgp-key.batch
gpg --armor --export YOUR_ORG_NAME > public.asc
gpg --armor --export-secret-keys YOUR_ORG_NAME > private.asc

Store the public.asc file to one side (you’ll need it later) and keep the private.asc safe because we need to put that into Github.

Creating Github Pages

Create a new Git repository in your organisation called This marks the repository as being a Github Pages repository. Just to make that more explicit, in the settings for the repository, go to the pages section. (Note that yes, the text around this may differ, but are accurate as of 2023-03-28 in EN-GB localisation.)

Under “Source” select “GitHub Actions”.

Clone this repository to your local machine, and copy public.asc into the root of the tree with a sensible name, ending .asc.

In the Github settings, find “Secrets and variables” under “Security” and pick “Actions”.

Select “New repository secret” and call it “PRIVATE_KEY”.

Now you can use this to sign things (and you will sign *SO MUCH* stuff)

Building the HTML front to your repo (I’m using Jekyll)

I’ve elected to use Jekyll because I know it, and it’s quite easy, but you should pick what works for you. My workflow for deploying these repos into the website rely on Jekyll because Github built that integration, but you’ll likely find other tools for things like Eleventy or Hugo.

Put a file called _config.yml into the root directory, and fill it with relevant content:

title: your-org
description: >- 
  This project does stuff.
baseurl: ""
url: ""
github_username: your-org

# Build settings
theme: minima
  - jekyll-feed
  - tools/
  - doc/

Naturally, make “your-org” “” and the descriptions more relevant to your environment.

Next, create an file with whatever is relevant for your org, but it must start with something like:

layout: home
title: YOUR-ORG Website
Here is the content for the front page.

Building the repo behind your static content

We’re back to working with Github Actions workflow files, so let’s pop that open.


name: Deploy Debian and RPM Repo plus Jekyll homepage

    branches: ["main"]
  # Allows you to run this workflow manually from the Actions tab

  contents: read
  pages: write
  id-token: write

  group: "pages"
  cancel-in-progress: false

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: Checkout
        uses: actions/checkout@v3

      - name: [REPO] Install required packages
        run: |
          until sudo apt update
            sleep 1
          sudo apt install -y jq createrepo-c coreutils gnupg2 dpkg-dev

      - name: [REPO] Insert environment variables
        run: |
          echo GNUPGHOME="$(mktemp -d /tmp/pgpkeys-XXXXXX)" >> $GITHUB_ENV
          echo REPO_OWNER="$(echo "${GITHUB_REPOSITORY}" | cut -d/ -f1)" >> $GITHUB_ENV
          echo REPO_NAME="$(echo "${GITHUB_REPOSITORY}" | cut -d/ -f2)" >> $GITHUB_ENV

      - name: [REPO] Import GPG key
        id: import_gpg
        uses: crazy-max/ghaction-import-gpg@v5
          gpg_private_key: ${{ secrets.PRIVATE_KEY }}

      - name: [JEKYLL] Setup Pages
        uses: actions/configure-pages@v3

      - name: [JEKYLL] Build with Jekyll
        uses: actions/jekyll-build-pages@v1
          source: ./
          destination: ./_site

      - name: [REPO] Set permissions on the _site directory
        run: sudo chown -R runner:docker _site

      - name: [REPO] Build DEB and RPM Repos
        run: |
          export GPG_FINGERPRINT="${{ steps.import_gpg.outputs.fingerprint }}"
          export ORIGIN="${{ }}"

      - name: [JEKYLL] Upload artifact
        uses: actions/upload-pages-artifact@v1

      name: github-pages
      url: ${{ steps.deployment.outputs.page_url }}
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    needs: build
      - name: [JEKYLL] Deploy to GitHub Pages
        id: deployment
        uses: actions/deploy-pages@v1

I’ve basically changed the “stock” Jekyll static site Github Actions file and added every step that starts [REPO] to make the repository stuff fit in around the steps that start [JEKYLL] which build and deploy the Jekyll based site.

The key part to all this though is the step Build DEB and RPM repos which calls a script that downloads all the RPM and DEB files from the various other repository build stages and does some actions to them. Now yes, I could have put all of this into the workflow.yml file, but I think it would have made it all a bit more confusing! So, let’s work through those steps!

Making an RPM Repo

To build a RPM repo you get and sign each of the RPM packages you want to offer. You do this with this command:

rpm --define "%_signature gpg" --define "%_gpg_name ${FINGERPRINT}" --addsign FILENAME.rpm

Then, once you have all your RPM files signed, you then run a command called createrepo_c (available in Debian archives – Github Actions doesn’t have a RedHat based distro available at this time, so I didn’t look for the RPM equivalent). This creates the repository metadata, and finally you sign that file, like this:

gpg --detach-sign --armor repodata/repomd.xml

Making a DEB Repo

To build a DEB repo you get each of the DEB packages you want to offer in a directory called pool/main (you can also call “main” something else – for example “contrib”, “extras” and so on).

Once you have all your files, you create another directory called dists/stable/main/binary-all into which we’ll run a command dpkg-scanpackages to create the list of the available packages. Yes, “main” could also be called “contrib”, “extras” and “stable” could be called “testing” or “preprod” or the name of your software release (like “jaunty”, “focal” or “warty”). The “all” after the word “binary” is the architecture in question.

dpkg-scanpackages creates an index of the packages in that directory including the version number, maintainer and the cryptographic hashes of the DEB files.

We zip (using gzip and bzip2) the Packages file it creates to improve the download speeds of these files, and then make a Release file. This in turn has the cryptographic hashes of each of the Packages and zipped Packages files, which in turn is then signed with GPG.

Ugh, that was MESSY

Making the repository available to your distributions

RPM repos have it quite easy here – there’s a simple file, that looks like this:

name=org-name Repository

The distribution user simply downloads this file, puts it into /etc/yum.sources.d/org-name.repo and now all the packages are available for download. Woohoo!

DEB repos are a little harder.

First, download the public key – and put it in /etc/apt/keyrings/org-name.asc. Next, create file in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/org-name.list with this line in:

deb [arch=all signed-by=/etc/apt/keyrings/org-name.asc] stable main

And now they can install whatever packages they want too!

Doing this the simple way

Of course, this is all well-and-good, but if you’ve got a simple script you want to package, please don’t hesitate to use the .github directory I’m using for terminate-notice, which is available in the -skeleton repo and then to make it into a repo, you can reuse the .github directory in the repo to start your adventure.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Featured image is “Some Math” by “Behdad Esfahbod” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.


He/Him. Husband and father. Linux advocating geek. Co-Host on the AdminAdmin Podcast, occasional conference speaker.

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