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Package any app into deb packages, using heroku buildpacks



Make debian packages out of any Ruby or NodeJS app that can run on Heroku. Hosted service available at

More languages and target distributions will be added after thorough testing, though nothing prevents you from specifying a specific buildpack (see Usage).

Supported distributions (64bits only)

  • Ubuntu 12.04 ("Precise")
  • Debian 7.4 ("Wheezy")
  • Ubuntu 10.04 ("Lucid")
  • Debian 6 ("Squeeze")


See for examples of apps packaged with pkgr (Gitlab, Redmine, Discourse, Ghost, etc.).


On a debian based build machine:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y build-essential ruby1.9.1-full rubygems1.9.1
sudo gem install pkgr


To package your app, you can either execute pkgr locally if your app repository is on the same machine:

pkgr package path/to/app/repo

Or, assuming your build machine is accessible via SSH by doing ssh pkgr-build-machine (set this in your ~/.ssh/config file), you can do as follows:

pkgr package path/to/app/repo --host pkgr-build-machine

The resulting .deb package will be in your current working directory.

Full command line options are given below:

$ pkgr help package
  pkgr package TARBALL

  [--target=TARGET]                        # Target package to build (only 'deb' supported for now)
                                           # Default: deb
  [--changelog=CHANGELOG]                  # Changelog
  [--architecture=ARCHITECTURE]            # Target architecture for the package
                                           # Default: x86_64
  [--homepage=HOMEPAGE]                    # Project homepage
  [--description=DESCRIPTION]              # Project description
  [--version=VERSION]                      # Package version (if git directory given, it will use the latest git tag available)
  [--iteration=ITERATION]                  # Package iteration (you should keep the default here)
                                           # Default: 20131016164652
  [--user=USER]                            # User to run the app under (defaults to your app name)
  [--group=GROUP]                          # Group to run the app under (defaults to your app name)
  [--compile-cache-dir=COMPILE_CACHE_DIR]  # Where to store the files cached between packaging runs
  [--dependencies=one two three]           # Specific system dependencies that you want to install with the package
  [--build-dependencies=one two three]     # Specific system dependencies that must be present before building
  [--before-precompile=BEFORE_PRECOMPILE]  # Provide a script to run just before the buildpack compilation
  [--host=HOST]                            # Remote host to build on (default: local machine)
  [--auto]                                 # Automatically attempt to install missing dependencies
  [--clean]                                # Automatically clean up temporary dirs
                                           # Default: true
  [--buildpack=BUILDPACK]                  # Custom buildpack to use
  [--edge]                                 # Always use the latest version of the buildpack if already installed
                                           # Default: true
  [--verbose]                              # Run verbosely
  [--debug]                                # Run very verbosely
  [--name=NAME]                            # Application name (if directory given, it will default to the directory name)
  [--env="RACK_ENV=staging" ]              # Specify environment variables for buildpack


Tools such as Capistrano are great for deploying applications, but the deployment recipe can quickly become a mess, and scaling the deployment to more than a few servers can prove to be difficult. Plus, if you're already using automation tools such as Puppet to configure your servers, you have to run two different processes to configure your infrastructure.

pkgr builds on top of the Heroku tools to provide you with an easy way to package you app as a debian package. The great advantage is that once you've built it and you tested that it works once, you can deploy on any number of servers at any time and you're sure that it will just work. Then, you can upgrade/downgrade or uninstall the whole application in one command.

Finally, it's a great way to share your open source software with your users and clients. Much easier than asking them to install all the dependencies manually! I'm in the process of making sure pkgr is feature complete by trying to package as many successful open-source projects as I can. Don't hesitate to test it on your app and report your findings!

What this does

  • Uses Heroku buildpacks to embed all the dependencies related to your application runtime within the debian package. For a Rails app for instance, this means that pkgr will embed the specific ruby runtime you asked for, along with all the gems specified in your Gemfile. However, all other dependencies you may need must be specified as additional system dependencies (see Usage). This avoids the 'packaging-the-world' approach used by other tools such as omnibus (with the pros and cons that come with it), but it still allows you to use the latest and greatest libraries for your language of choice. See this blog post for more background.

  • Gives you a nice executable, which closely replicates the Heroku toolbelt utility. For instance, assuming you're packaging an app called my-app, you can do the following:

    my-app config:set VAR=value
    my-app config:get VAR
    my-app run [procfile process] # e.g. my-app run rake db:migrate; my-app run console; etc.
    my-app run [arbitrary process] # e.g. my-app run ruby -v; my-app run bundle install; etc.
    my-app scale web=1 worker=1
  • Your app will reside in /opt/app-name.

  • You'll also get upstart (or sysvinit) initialization scripts that you can use directly:

    service my-app start/stop/restart/status
  • Logs will be stored in /var/log/app-name/, with a proper logrotate config automatically added.

  • Config files can be added in /etc/app-name/


  • You must have a Procfile.

  • Your application must be Heroku compatible, meaning you should be able to set your main app's configuration via environment variables.


If you're on older versions of Debian, you may need to append /var/lib/gems/1.9.1/bin to your PATH to "see" the pkgr command:

export PATH="$PATH:/var/lib/gems/1.9.1/bin"

If you get the following error ERROR: While executing gem ... (ArgumentError) invalid byte sequence in US-ASCII while trying to install pkgr, try setting a proper locale, and then retry:

sudo locale-gen en_US.UTF-8
export LANG=en_US.UTF-8
export LC_ALL=en_US.UTF-8
sudo gem install pkgr




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