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Easily Deploy Java to Debian

Level up the way you distribute your Java/Scala/Kotlin applications by packaging them as .deb files and deploying via apt.


The basic approach:

  1. Create a .deb package using sbt and the excellent sbt-native-packager
  2. Create your own Debian repository, add your packages and then serve them over HTTP
  3. Tell your customers where your repository is hosted
  4. Profit

This post looks at the first step, creating the .deb package using the sbt-native-packager plugin. In the next post, we’ll look at how setup your own debian repository so users can install and upgrade your software via apt-get to popular Linux distros like Debian and Ubuntu.

Thanks and appreciation to @muuki88 and the project maintainers for sbt-native-manager, it’s a seriously useful piece of software.


The sbt-native-packager plugin can create platform specific distributions for any sbt project. It can create a simple zip bundle for your application (the universal package), tarballs, rpms, Mac dmgs, Windows MSIs, Docker images and, the one we’re interested in, .deb files. Debian and derivatives like Ubuntu use this package format with dpkg and apt as the standard way to install and manage software. If you want to make it easy for Linux user’s to get hold of your software, this is the way to do it.

Native Packager Core Concepts

The native packager takes care of packaging, the act of putting a list of mappings (source file to install target path) into the chosen package format (zip, rpm, etc.). Each packaging format you use will expect the package specific files in a specific folder location in your source. For example, the Universal plugin will look in src\universal for files to add to the zip. Debian packaging will look for src\debian.

You’ll need to read up a little on how to use the plugin, see Debian specific instructions but the core concepts include:

  1. Packaging format plugins - how an application is packaged; universal, linux, debian, rpm, docker, windows etc
  2. Archetype plugins - what’s packaged (predefined configurations); java application, java server application, system loaders etc
  3. Mappings map source files to target system locations

The native packager uses Project Arcetypes like the Java CLI Application Archetype or Java Server Application Archetype to add additional files to the mappings enriching the created package. They don’t provide any new features per se.

Running as a Service

One of the many awesome features of the packager is that it can set your application up as a service on the target system. For example, if you want to start your application using systemd, just add a enablePlugins(SystemdPlugin) line to your build. The OS will take care of everything else, even restarting your application should it crash.

The native packagers doesn’t provide application lifecyle management however. Custom start/stop scripts, PID management, etc. are not part of native packager.


For some additional nice to haves, you might consider adding man pages (with ronn), creating a “fat” JAR (with sbt-assembly plugin) and stripping unused Scala library classes with ProGuard.

Deploying Debian Repository

The native packager doesn’t take care of deployment. You use it to create your .deb package but what you do with it is down to you. The obvious choice is to deploy it to a Debian repository for your users to download via apt. Read the next post to find out how.

More in the Deploying to Debian Series

Over to you...