Converting packages with Alien

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The Alien package conversion tool can be very effective but can also generate unpredictable results. We show how to get the most out of this tool.

I can't lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies. – Ash to Ripley in Alien

Debian packages have a reputation for reliability, but Alien [1] is a notable exception. The problem has nothing to do with its code. Rather, the problem is that its purpose – to convert packages to other formats – is so dependent on the purpose and quality of the packages it works with that the success rate is mostly unpredictable. Despite its limitations, Alien remains a popular package. The dream of compatibility across package formats is simply too tantalizing to abandon.

Alien was first written before the turn of the millennium, when the balance of power between package managers was more equal. Back then, developer Joey Hess thought it made sense to give Debian a means of converting .rpm packages to .deb format.

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