AAC and Debian


Currently, in a default installation of Debian with the GNOME desktop, Bluetooth headphones that require the AAC codec1 cannot be used. As the Debian wiki outlines, using the AAC codec over Bluetooth, while technically supported by PipeWire, is explicitly disabled in Debian at this time. This is because the fdk-aac library needed to enable this support is currently in the non-free component of the repository, meaning that PipeWire, which is in the main component, cannot depend on it.

How to Fix it Yourself

If what you, like me, need is simply for Bluetooth Audio to work with AAC in Debian’s default desktop environment2, then you’ll need to rebuild the pipewire package to include the AAC codec. While the current version in Debian main has been built with AAC deliberately disabled, it is trivial to enable if you can install a version of the fdk-aac library.

I preface this with the usual caveats when it comes to patent and licensing controversies. I am not a lawyer, building this package and/or using it could get you into legal trouble.

These instructions have only been tested on an up-to-date copy of Debian 12.

  1. Install pipewire’s build dependencies
    sudo apt install build-essential devscripts
    sudo apt build-dep pipewire
  2. Install libfdk-aac-dev
    sudo apt install libfdk-aac-dev

    If the above doesn’t work you’ll likely need to enable non-free and try again

    sudo sed -i 's/main/main non-free/g' /etc/apt/sources.list
    sudo apt update

    Alternatively, if you wish to ensure you are maximally license-compliant and patent un-infringing3, you can instead build fdk-aac-free which includes only those components of AAC that are known to be patent-free3. This is what should eventually end up in Debian to resolve this problem (see below).

    sudo apt install git-buildpackage
    mkdir fdk-aac-source
    cd fdk-aac-source
    git clone https://salsa.debian.org/multimedia-team/fdk-aac
    cd fdk-aac
    gbp buildpackage
    sudo dpkg -i ../libfdk-aac2_*deb ../libfdk-aac-dev_*deb
  3. Get the pipewire source code
    mkdir pipewire-source
    cd pipewire-source
    apt source pipewire

    This will create a bunch of files within the pipewire-source directory, but you’ll only need the pipewire-<version> folder, this contains all the files you’ll need to build the package, with all the debian-specific patches already applied. Note that you don’t want to run the apt source command as root, as it will then create files that your regular user cannot edit.

  4. Fix the dependencies and build options To fix up the build scripts to use the fdk-aac library, you need to save the following as pipewire-source/aac.patch
    --- debian/control.orig
    +++ debian/control
    @@ -40,8 +40,8 @@
    -               systemd [linux-any]
    -Build-Conflicts: libfdk-aac-dev
    +               systemd [linux-any],
    +               libfdk-aac-dev
     Standards-Version: 4.6.2
     Vcs-Browser: https://salsa.debian.org/utopia-team/pipewire
     Vcs-Git: https://salsa.debian.org/utopia-team/pipewire.git
    --- debian/rules.orig
    +++ debian/rules
    @@ -37,7 +37,7 @@
     		-Dauto_features=enabled \
     		-Davahi=enabled \
     		-Dbluez5-backend-native-mm=enabled \
    -		-Dbluez5-codec-aac=disabled \
    +		-Dbluez5-codec-aac=enabled \
     		-Dbluez5-codec-aptx=enabled \
     		-Dbluez5-codec-lc3=enabled \
     		-Dbluez5-codec-lc3plus=disabled \

    Then you’ll need to run patch from within the pipewire-<version> folder created by apt source:

    patch -p0 < ../aac.patch
  5. Build pipewire
    cd pipewire-*

    Note that you will likely see an error from debsign at the end of this process, this is harmless, you simply don’t have a GPG key set up to sign your newly-built package4. Packages don’t need to be signed to be installed, and debsign uses a somewhat non-standard signing process that dpkg does not check anyway.

  1. Install libspa-0.2-bluetooth
    sudo dpkg -i libspa-0.2-bluetooth_*.deb
  2. Restart PipeWire and/or Reboot
    sudo reboot

    Theoretically there’s a set of services to restart here that would get pipewire to pick up the new library, probably just pipewire itself. But it’s just as easy to restart and ensure everything is using the correct library.


This is a slightly unusual situation, as the fdk-aac library is licensed under what even the GNU project acknowledges is a free software license. However, this license explicitly informs the user that they need to acquire a patent license to use this software5:


NO EXPRESS OR IMPLIED LICENSES TO ANY PATENT CLAIMS, including without limitation the patents of Fraunhofer, ARE GRANTED BY THIS SOFTWARE LICENSE. Fraunhofer provides no warranty of patent non-infringement with respect to this software. You may use this FDK AAC Codec software or modifications thereto only for purposes that are authorized by appropriate patent licenses.

To quote the GNU project:

Because of this, and because the license author is a known patent aggressor, we encourage you to be careful about using or redistributing software under this license: you should first consider whether the licensor might aim to lure you into patent infringement.

AAC is covered by a number of patents, which expire at some point in the 2030s6. As such the current version of the library is potentially legally dubious to ship with any other software, as it could be considered patent-infringing3.

Fedora’s solution

Since 2017, Fedora has included a modified version of the library as fdk-aac-free, see the announcement and the bugzilla bug requesting review.

This version of the library includes only the AAC LC profile, which is believed to be entirely patent-free3.

Based on this, there is an open bug report in Debian requesting that the fdk-aac package be moved to the main component and that the pipwire package be updated to build against it.

The Debian NEW queue

To resolve these bugs, a version of fdk-aac-free has been uploaded to Debian by Jeremy Bicha. However, to make it into Debian proper, it must first pass through the ftpmaster’s NEW queue. The current version of fdk-aac-free has been in the NEW queue since July 2023.

Based on conversations in some of the bugs above, it’s been there since at least 20227.

I hope this helps anyone stuck with AAC to get their hardware working for them while we wait for the package to eventually make it through the NEW queue.

Discuss on Hacker News

  1. Such as, for example, any Apple AirPods, which only support AAC AFAICT. 

  2. Which, as of Debian 12 is GNOME 3 under Wayland with PipeWire. 

  3. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know what kinds of infringement might or might not be possible here, do your own research, etc.  2 3 4

  4. And if you DO have a key setup with debsign you almost certainly don’t need these instructions. 

  5. This was originally phrased as “explicitly does not grant any patent rights.” It was pointed out on Hacker News that this is not exactly what it says, as it also includes a specific note that you’ll need to acquire your own patent license. I’ve now quoted the relevant section of the license for clarity. 

  6. Wikipedia claims the “base” patents expire in 2031, with the extensions expiring in 2038, but its source for these claims is some guy’s spreadsheet in a forum. The same discussion also brings up Wikipedia’s claim and casts some doubt on it, so I’m not entirely sure what’s correct here, but I didn’t feel like doing a patent deep-dive today. If someone can provide a clear answer that would be much appreciated. 

  7. According to Jeremy Bícha: https://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=1021370#17