Tutorial: Functional testing of Debian packages

This is a transcription of a Debconf15 talk, which you might want to watch (WebM format, 469MB).

Do you maintain a Debian package? This tutorial covers implementing autopkgtests for your Debian packages.

Before covering how to get your package(s) running under autopkgtest, let's cover a few preliminary topics. If you already have knowledge about the topics below, feel free to skip to the Adding tests section of the tutorial.

What is autopkgtest?

autopkgtest establishes a standard interface to define and run “as-installed” tests of packages, i.e. the testing of packages in context as close as possible to a Debian system where the packages subject to testing are properly installed.

The DEP-8 specification

Information on the DEP-8 specification is available from dep.debian.net/deps/dep8.

There are two basic elements of this specification:

  • The Source stanza of your Debian control file declaring that the package has a testsuite.

  • An extra control file in debian/tests/

Declaring that a package has a testsuite

This can be done by adding a Testsuite field with autopkgtest as the value.


Source: foo
Testsuite: autopkgtest

You can also use other values. One such value is autopkgtest-pkg-language. This helps to identify how to run the tests in the package.

Adding the extra control file

Once you have the debian/control file completed, you need to create an extra control file in debian/tests (i.e. debian/tests/control).

In this file, you list your tests for the package.


Tests: foo bar baz

In this example, there are three tests declared and foo, bar, and baz must be executables in debian/tests/.

There can also be extra fields in the debian/tests/control file. You can use Depends:

Depends: @, test-tool

The @ symbol means all the binaries of this source package. So, when the testbed is prepared, all of the binaries will be installed in addition to the ones you declare.

In this case, all the binaries will be installed and some test tool will be installed to run tests.

Adding tests

Tests with different characteristics

You can also have multiple tests with different characteristics. To do this, multiple stanzas must be in the control file.

Tests: test-my-package
Depends: @, test-tool

Tests: smoke-test

In this case, there is one test program that needs a given test tool and some smoke test that does not need anything besides the binary.

If nothing is declared, the Depends values are assumed to be binaries. @ will be the default value.

If you just need your binaries, you do not need to declare anything.

Build dependencies

Build dependencies are also needed to run tests. Let's assume you want to run an upstream test suite which uses x unit framework or other frameworks. You can use that framework and your build dependencies.

Test: upstream-tests
Depends: @, @builddeps@

Additional Requirements

Restrictions can also be specified on the tests. It is an additional requirement. Let's look at an example.

Tests: break-the-world
Restrictions: breaks-testbed

The above states that the tests break the testbed. It puts the testbed into a state that is not going to work when you run a second test on it.

In this case, there is only one test. If you have more than one test though, and breaks-testbed is specified you will instantiate a new testbed for each test. Otherwise, you just use the same one.

Note: If you run these tests outside a VM or a container, the virtualization driver will skip these tests. On your main system, especially as root, these tests are going to be skipped so that your main system is not broken.

Tests that need root access

It can also be specified that the tests need root access. You may need to think twice before doing this.

Tests: play-with-danger
Restrictions: needs-root

Allowing output to standard error (stderr)

If the tests output anything on the standard error stream, then it's considered a failure. To overcome this, allow-stderr needs to be declared in the Restrictions header.

Tests: complain-but-succeed
Restrictions: allow-stderr

Isolating tests with a container

The level of isolation you want from your host system can also be specified. If isolation-container is declared in the Restrictions header, then the only things as isolated as a container or more will be able to run the tests.

So, if you want to mess with system services by stopping, starting, etc services, you do not want that to run in your chroot because it will cause problems.

Tests: mess-with-services
Restrictions: isolation-container

Isolating tests with a virtual machine

Tests can also be isolated to running in a virtual machine. This is specified by declaring isolation-machine. This provides even more isolation than a container. This can be useful for loading kernel modules and test things related to the kernel.

Tests: mess-with-kernel
Restrictions: isolation-machine



sadt, which is part of devscripts, runs tests from the root of a source package in the current directory on the current system.

It is somewhat limited since it will possibly skip some tests but is useful as a first step.


autopkgtest can run tests from the current directory, the DSC, a changefile, or pass additional binary DEBs.

$ autopkgtest [options] -- [virtualization args]

Two dashes are passed to autopkgtest after the input options followed by virtualization options which specifies which virtual environment to use to run the tests.

Let's look at a basic example:

$ autopkgtest . -- null

The command above runs the tests from the source package at the current directory, on the current system. Note the null argument for the virtualization.

Let's look at an example that uses virtualization:

$ autopkgtest -u debci /path/to/foo_1.2.3-1_amd64.changes -- lxc --sudo autopkgtest-unstable-amd64

The command above runs tests from the source referenced by the changes file, using its binaries, under a user called debci. The tests are being run in a lxc session based on the autopkgtest-unstable-amd64 base container.

You can also use other virtualization tools, such as qemu, and ssh. See autopkgtest-virt-* man pages for more information.

Functional tests by example (plus tips and tricks)

Let's look at a couple of package examples that have autopkgtest support.

Package: pinpoint

In pinpoint's debian/tests/control file, the following is declared:

Tests: smoke-tests
Depends: @, file, shunit2

As you can see, pinpoint has a very simple test definition. It has a simple test script called smoke-tests and it uses its own binaries (noted by the @), file, and shunit2.

Tip 1: Use shunit2

The smoke-tests file contains the following:


exec 2>&1

set -e

test_pdf_output() {
  pinpoint -o $pdf introduction.pin
  assertEquals "application/pdf" "$(file --mime-type --brief $pdf)"

test_pdf_output_with_empty_background() {
  cat > $pin <<EOF
  pinpoint -o $pdf $pin
  assertEquals "application/pdf" "$(file --mime-type --brief $pdf)"

. shunit2

Then, we can run it with sadt or autopkgtest.

Note: sadt hides output and autopkgtest . -- null gives full output.


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