Portability ABC: project naming

Surprisingly, portability/packaging issues may be introduced to a project long before the first line of code is even written, merely by a bad name choice.

Make sure the name of your project is clear, unambiguous, unique and compatible with packaging, otherwise the package or files installed by it are likely to be named differently than you’ve intended (to avoid name conflicts, comply with packaging policies, or just because of misunderstanding). This, in turn, causes trouble for users locating and running your software and breaks automated tools (such as new upstream release checkers and security vulnerability reporters). In addition, these changes are likely be different in each other repository, which complicates distro migration and hinders interoperability, portability of dependent software and usefulness of documentation.


  • Pick a clever unique name, check that it’s not already used by other projects, pick one which is not prone to conflicts in future (not too short, not a commonly used word).
  • Pick a name compatible with packaging - [a-z0-9-]+ (lower case) not too long, lib* for libraries.
  • Spell the name consistently all over your project (repository name, distribution file names, build system, documentation, installed file and directory names) to avoid confusion.

Pick unique name

In *nix world we historically put names of third party software into flat namespaces. For instance, all package names usually reside in a single namespace, and all executable files are put into a single bin/ directory, the same for library and configuration files.

From one side, this is convenient because you don’t need extra qualifiers to refer to third party software (you install firefox package instead of obscure org.firefox.firefox and run firefox binary without need to specify an absolute path). From another side, name conflicts, e.g. cases where unrelated projects have the same names, are possible.

Having conflicting names is generally not allowed as it would make it impossible to tell unrelated packages from each other when running package manager, or get files from unrelated packages mixed up and overwritten by each other. So maintainers have to resolve these conflicts by renaming stuff, usually by adding some sort of name suffixes. In most cases this allows coexistence of similarly named projects, however things are no longer named as authors intended them and users expect them to be.

To avoid conflicts consider checking whether the desired name is already used at least at the following sources:

  • Repology for existing package names (it knows most package repositories). Also try https://repology.org/project/<name> to check for gone projects not shown in the search.
  • Software repositories, markets and catalogues not covered by Repology, such as Google Play or App Store, for other software products.
  • GitHub for existing repository names.
  • Other source code hostings, even if these primarily host abandoned projects (which may be resurrected in future): Launchpad, Savannah, SourceForge. There’s an unmaintained script from Debian which checks some of them and suggested extension for it.
  • Conventional search engines. Note that you generally want your project to be unique and searchable not only among other software products, but preferably worldwide.

Even if you’ve chosen a name which seem unique right now, it’s not impossible for another project to use the same name in future. Judging by a list of known conflicts, it looks like additional considerations may decrease the odds of such an event:

  • avoid short names of 5 characters or less (shorter name → likelier the conflict);
  • avoid simple single-world names (ski, slack, slice, slim, slime, smack…).

Some examples of existing name conflicts (taken from Repology, which knows hundreds of them):

  • clementine (music player vs. window manager)
  • clog (changelog management utility vs. log tail utility vs. logging library vs. tcp logger)
  • et (eternal terminal vs. egg timer vs. enemy territory)
  • grip (cd ripper vs. markdown previewer vs. gambas previewer vs. regexp search vs. computer vision engine)
  • kup (KDE backup software vs. kernel.org upload tool)
  • lux (two unrelated brightness control utilities vs. full text search vs. kernel updater)
  • mars (two unrelated games vs. MIPS Assembler and Runtime Simulator vs. chemical software vs. runtime system)
  • nomad (wifi configurator vs. orchestrator vs. browser vs. active directory related tool)
  • pcl (coroutine library vs. point cloud library)
  • sdb (game vs. database library vs. sdbd client vs. hashtable library vs. mono soft debugger client)

Pick packaging friendly name

Some repositories do not allow or just avoid some name patterns in package names, or enforce specific rules. Taking these into account when picking a package name would allow maintainers to use the same name for a package which improves its availability.

  • Avoid upper case.

  • Prefer - as word separators.

    Package names SHOULD be in lower case and use dashes in preference to underscores.
    Fedora Naming Guidelines

  • Avoid other non-alphanumeric characters, preferably stick to [a-z0-9-]+

    When naming packages for Fedora, the maintainer MUST use the dash ‘-’ as the delimiter for name parts. The maintainer MUST NOT use an underscore ‘_’, a plus ‘+’, or a period ‘.’ as a delimiter
    Fedora Naming Guidelines

  • Prefer prefixing library project name with lib.

    Package should be named lib%name%abiversion
    Alt Linux Shared Libs Policy (Russian)

  • Avoid prefixing project name with a language name (as in python-twitter).

    Not only this allows conflicts within a namespace of modules for this language (as with twitter module in this case), but also most repositories prefix module packages themselves, so python-twitter becomes confusing python-python-twitter (prefix + complete original name), or gets mangled into e.g. py3-twitter (part of original name stripped to not duplicate prefix), and this gets even more complicated when both twitter and python-twitter are packaged.

Examples of some incompatible names and how they are changed for packaging:

  • libc++libcxx
  • freetypelibfreetype
  • python-dateutilpython-python-dateutil, py-dateutil

Spell project name consistently

Another common problem is when a project name is spelled inconsistently in different contexts (source code repository name; distribution file name; internal naming, build system, documentation; executable and library file names, include directory name; expected package name, taking into account limitations described in the previous section).

The inconsistency may involve capitalization (ddnet vs. DDNet), word separators (dd-rescue, dd_rescue, ddrescue), long/short forms (garden-of-coloured-lights vs. garden, speech-dispatcher vs. speechd, src-highlite vs. source-highlight), or project development epochs (mandelbulber vs. mandelbulber2), and cause the very same problem of unexpected and inconsistent naming.

Examples of consistent naming:

  • diff-so-fancy hosted at https://github.com/so-fancy/diff-so-fancy which distributes file diff-so-fancy and installs diff-so-fancy executable.
  • libvirt hosted at https://gitlab.com/libvirt/libvirt and https://libvirt.org/ which installs include/libvirt/*.h and libvirt.so.

References and further reading