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Why Are They Needed?

If all the software in the world followed the usual "one source, one binary" structure, there would be no need for subpackages. After all, RPM handles the building and packaging of a program into a single package file just fine.

But software doesn't always conform to this simplistic structure. It's not unusual for software to support two or more different modes of operation. A client/server program, for example, comes in two flavors: a client, and a server.

And it can get more complicated than that. Sometimes software relies on another program so completely that the two cannot be built separately. The result is often several packages.

While it is certainly possible that some convoluted procedure could be devised to force these kinds of software into a single-package structure, it makes more sense to let RPM manage the creation of subpackages. Why? From the package builder's viewpoint, the main reason to use subpackages is to eliminate any duplication of effort.

By using subpackages, there's no need to maintain separate spec files and endure the resulting headaches when new versions of the software become available. By keeping everything in one spec file, new software versions can be quickly integrated, and every related subpackage rebuilt with a single command.

But that's enough of the preliminaries. Let's see how subpackages are created.