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Welcome to the Backports Portal edit
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Desktop ship with a limited set of software packages. These packages are supported under the SUSE Linux Enterprise technical support offerings provided to customers. On the other hand, thousands of additional packages are maintained by volunteers in the openSUSE Build Service for use with openSUSE and other distributions. Many of the packages are maintained for use with SUSE Linux Enterprise products as well.
Packages maintained for SUSE Linux Enterprise exist in many different individual projects - in particular the "devel" projects. Many of these packages would be useful for SUSE Linux Enterprise customers but some of them could interfere with functionality and supportability of the SUSE product if installed. The risk of breaking supportability makes it difficult for SUSE to recommend these community maintained packages to end customers. At the same time, SUSE encourages community efforts and wants to promote the community based packages to all users.
The idea of the Backports project is to collect openSUSE packages built for SUSE Linux Enterprise in a central repository. The policies for this repo are aligned with SUSE in order to maintain supportability of the main OS, making the packages "safe" to install and use.
At the moment the Backports project targets SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 GA (SLE-12). A SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 target might be considered if there is popular demand
Good for Packagers
In addition to being beneficial to users, the Backports project can help packagers. As mentioned, SUSE Linux Enterprise products come with a limited set of packages and often doesn't satisfy all the requirements for building extra packages. This usually leads to the packager "maintaining" all the extra dependencies in addition to the core package set. This leads to duplicate efforts across the disjoint projects needing to carry this extra baggage. With the Backports project, packages are consolidated into one repository, and instead of maintaining libfoo in every project that requires it, libfoo is provided by Backports project as common build target. The more packages in Backports project, the more everyone benefits. The openSUSE:Backports project is in that sense very much like the openSUSE:Factory project. In fact it's not just similar to Factory, it's a derivative of Factory.
While laying out the concepts of a common project for maintaining community built packages for SUSE Linux Enterprise distributions, it was clear that some policies and standards need to be in place to ensure the result is something we can all stand behind and promote widely. To avoid of re-invention and duplicated efforts, it was decided to simply leverage the packaging policies and quality checks of the openSUSE:Factory project. The easiest way to do that is to only accept package sources that have made it through the Factory submission process.
If a package already exists in openSUSE:Factory, and it builds against the openSUSE:Backports:SLE-12 project, then it can be submitted to the Backports project. From that point on the package can be maintained in parallel in both projects. If a package is not in Factory, it needs to be submitted and accepted there before it will be accepted in the Backports project.
See the Backports packaging policies for more information.
The openSUSE:Backports projects are built as "Maintenance" projects. This is a special type of project which not only contains the latest build of a package, but also a history of previous releases. It's also how the openSUSE Updates projects are managed.
By providing previous releases, a "rollback" to the last working release can be made if an update breaks something. This allows the project to be more liberal with updates while giving users a bit of a safety net if things go wrong.
Often in community OBS projects, certain target distros are dropped over time. This is beginning to happen with the SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 packages. As projects drop SLE-11 targets in favor of SLE-12 targets (perhaps because of dependencies), the SLE-11 repositories are removed, as well as public access to the binaries.
With the openSUSE:Backports projects, package builds are maintained for the life of the SUSE Linux Enterprise products. In fact every package release and update remains available regardless of how the originating community project moves on.