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UNMAINTAINED we no longer have the time to maintain this app, but would love to see someone take it over and continue developing it!

Lil' Debi

This is an app to setup and manage a Debian install in parallel on an Android phone. It can build a Debian install from scratch or use an existing image. It manages the starting and stopping of the Debian install.

It uses cdebootstrap to build up the disk image as a chroot, and then provides start and stop methods for handling mounting, fsck, starting/stopping sshd, etc.

It is 100% free software. Ultimately, our aim is to have the whole process for every bit of this app documented so that it can be freely inspected, modified, ported, etc. We want this app to build a trusted Debian install on the phone, so free software is the only way to get there. This is currently functional alpha software, so do not rely on it to produce a trusted Debian install. Please do try it out, use it, and report criticisms, bugs, improvements, etc.

Installing Debian

The process of installing Debian with Lil' Debi is self-explanatory, just run the app and click the Install... button. But it doesn't yet work on all phones. If the install process fails on your phone, you can still use Lil' Debi by downloading a pre-built Debian image. It should work with any Debian/Ubuntu/Mint armel image file. Here is a Debian image file that was built by Lil' Debi:

Download the file, uncompress it and rename it 'debian.img' and copy it to your SD Card. Launch Lil' Debi, and you should now see the button says "Start Debian". Click the button to start your new Debian install.

Build Setup

On Debian/Ubuntu/Mint/etc.:

sudo apt-get install autoconf automake libtool transfig wget patch \
     texinfo ant make openjdk-7-jdk faketime

On Mac OS X, you will need Fink, MacPorts, or Brew to install some of these dependencies. For example, GNU tar is required, OS X's tar will not work. Also, faketime is needed to make repeatable builds of busybox.

Both the Android SDK and the Android NDK are needed:



Building Lil' Debi is a multi-step process including clone the sources, getting busybox code as a submodule, building the native utilities, and then finally building the Android app. Here are all those steps in a form to run in the terminal:

  git clone
  cd lildebi
  git submodule init
  git submodule update
  make NDK_BASE=/path/to/your/android-ndk -C external assets
  ant debug

Once that has completed, you can install it however you would normally install an .apk file. You will find the .apk in the bin/ folder. An easy way to install it via the terminal is to run:

  adb install bin/LilDebi-debug.apk

Deterministic Release

Having a deterministic, repeatable build process that produces the exact same APK wherever it is run has a lot of benefits:

  • makes it easy for anyone to verify that the official APKs are indeed generated only from the sources in git

  • makes it possible for FDroid to distribute APKs with the upstream developer's signature instead of the FDroid's signature

To increase the likelyhood of producing a deterministic build of LilDebi, run the java build with faketime. The rest is already included in the Makefiles. This is also included in the ./ script. Running a program with faketime causes that program to recent a fixed time based on the timestamp provided to faketime. This ensures that the timestamps in the files are always the same.

  faketime "`git log -n1 --format=format:%ai`" \
  ant clean debug

The actual process that is used for making the release builds is the included ./make-release-build script. To reproduce the official releases, run this script. But be aware, it will delete all changes in the git repo that it is run in, so it is probably best to run it in a clean clone. Then you can compare your release build to the official release using the included ./compare-to-official-release script. It requires a few utilities to work. All of them are Debian/Ubuntu packages except for apktool. Here's what to install:

  apt-get install unzip meld bsdmainutils

Or on OSX with brew:

  brew install apktool unzip

If you want to reproduce a build and the cdebootstrap-static package is no longer available, you can download it from For example:

NDK build options

The following options can be set from the make command line to tailor the NDK build to your setup:

  • NDK_BASE (/path/to/your/android-ndk)
  • NDK_PLATFORM_LEVEL (7-17 as in android-17)
  • NDK_ABI (arm, mips, x86)
  • NDK_COMPILER_VERSION (4.4.3, 4.6, 4.7, clang3.1, clang3.2)
  • HOST (arm-linux-androideabi, mipsel-linux-android, x86)

Original Sources


cdebootstrap is downloaded directly from Debian, extracted, and then tar'ed into the included tarball assets/cdebootstrap.tar. See external/cdebootstrap/Makefile for details.



busybox is included as a git submodule and built from source by externals/Makefile using a custom config file.



Only gpgv is needed, so it is built from GnuPG v1.4.x. It is built statically to get around PIE vs non-PIE. If an executable is built fully statically, with no dynamic linking at all, then the same binary will work on both PIE systems (android-21 and above), and systems where PIE does not work (older than android-16).