Debian's netpbm

Due to the following causes debian has to provide an own upstream of the netpbm package. Management of this is done here on alioth.

We do support the usage of netpbm without Debian. There's an extra page that lists possible pitfalls on this way. If you need help on this way, you can of course contact us.

Ways of accessing the code

If you want a debian package, you can always apt it from the normal debian sites and mirros; the newest code is always in unstable and sometimes also testing, subject to the normal rules. See for more information. For woody, a current package is available at

If you want the source, and don't want to use normal Debian's apt-get source feature, you can access it via

cvs -z3 export -r debian-10-0-3 netpbm

There is also a list of all tags; however, this list is only for reference reasons, and usage of older versions (except the one in Debians stable) is discouraged.

History of this source repository ...

On alioth the source of Debian's netpbm-free 9.20-10 was imported and then updated. netpbm-free 9.20-10 is successor of the first debian packages by Steve, source-equivalent to the version in woody r2, and the last with another technical upstream. This upstream was and the source file could have been downloaded from

Packaging netpbm for debian was not a simple job, as the licensing is complicated upstream. The upstream source is split into two to allow Debian packaging - some of it is free and some goes into non-free. Some of the upstream source files cannot be redistributed at all, as there is no license associated with them. These cases are tried to be handled on a case-by-case basis. In creating the Debian "upstream" source packages, Steve has removed the references to the non-free and non-distributable files.

This package was debianised by Steve McIntyre, finishing on Sun 7th October 2001. The maintainership was transfered in August 2003 to Andreas Barth, first as cooperative maintainership and sponsored by Steve.

The last package used for updating the cvs-version can be downloaded from

... and of netpbm

The history of netpbm itself is much older:

Jef Poskanzer invented the PBM format in the 1980s to provide the computer graphics world with a common, trouble-free format, a lingua-franca, for bitmaps. The format was designed to be simple enough that it could transmitted within an email message without any special encapsulating and survive any translations and recoding that an email message might go through and be easily extractable on the other end.

In 1988, Jef distributed the forerunner of Netpbm, Pbmplus, which gathered together the various tools he had developed to work with PBM files. These were mainly tools to convert between PBM and other existing graphics formats, making it possible to deal with the Tower Of Babel situation that had arisen with the proliferation of graphics formats.

By the end of 1988, Jef had added the PGM and PPM formats and lots more tools to Pbmplus.

In 1991, Jef added a variety of programs and code contributed by the user community, and then stopped maintaining Pbmplus. Jef never formally renounced support for it, but simply didn't get around to distributing any updates for over a year.

In 1993, Netpbm was developed to replace Pbmplus. Netpbm was nothing more than a new release of Pbmplus, and named for the fact that people all over the world would maintain the package by submitting fixes and enhancements over the Net. This was a time when such worldwide collaboration was still novel.

Then Netpbm apparently fell into neglect with the last release by its regular maintainer in March 1994. In September of 1995 Anthony Thyssen released an unofficial update of it called Netpbm-1mar1994.p1, while disclaiming any responsibity for ongoing upkeep.

The documentation in that 1995 release mentioned two different official mailing lists concerning the package, but by April 1999, neither existed anymore.

In September 1999, Bryan Henderson needed some minor bugs fixed, and wanted to clean up the mess of unsupported versions and outdated documentation of these tools. After checking around to see if anyone had any claims of ownership of the package, and finding none, Bryan assumed control and responsibility for Netpbm.

In November 1999, Thorbjoern Ravn Anderson did the same thing, for the same reason (apparently unaware of Bryan's work) and made available an updated version (based on the 1994 release) as described by Shortly thereafter, he discontinued his effort in deference to the new Pbmplus effort mentioned below. Bryan did not know about Anderson's work until March 2000.

In parallel, and unknown to Bryan, Jef was working on a new release under the original name Pbmplus and claiming again (or maybe still) to be maintaining Pbmplus. He did a limited release of a beta version of it in November 1999. A mailing list was active. Bryan learned of this effort's existence in March 2000.

Pbmplus and Netpbm were once part of the body of X/Windows contributed software, distributed on (directory contrib/utilities). Bryan didn't receive a response to an inquiry to the owner as to the prospect of cleaning up the Netpbm related files there. So Bryan instead made Metalab the new home of the source code. But Metalab had pretty low quality too, and in April 2000 Bryan moved the package's home to Sourceforge.

In August 2003 this site was created with security and license auditing in mind.

How to get in contact with us

netpbm development is done here by Andreas Barth and by Steve McIntyre (though he is acting more as a backup).

For reporting bugs you can use the Debian Bug Tracking System, for everything else the Mailing List ((un-)subscription is here). Mails to personell adresses are not really welcome.


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