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There are multiple tools that are used to manage Debian packages, from graphic or text-based interfaces to the low level tools used to install packages. All the available tools rely on the lower level tools to properly work and are presented here in decreasing complexity level.
It is important to understand that the higher level package management tools
synaptic rely on
which, itself, relies on
dpkg to manage the packages in the
2. Debian package management of the
reference for more information about the Debian package management
utilities. This document is available in various languages and formats, see
Debian Reference entry in the DDP Users' Manuals overview.
This is the main package management program.
dpkg can be invoked
with many options. Some common uses are:
Find out all the options: dpkg --help.
Print out the control file (and other information) for a specified package: dpkg --info foo_VVV-RRR.deb.
Install a package (including unpacking and configuring) onto the file system of the hard disk: dpkg --install foo_VVV-RRR.deb.
Unpack (but do not configure) a Debian archive into the file system of the hard disk: dpkg --unpack foo_VVV-RRR.deb. Note that this operation does not necessarily leave the package in a usable state; some files may need further customization to run properly. This command removes any already-installed version of the program and runs the preinst (see What is a Debian preinst, postinst, prerm, and postrm script?, Section 7.6) script associated with the package.
Configure a package that already has been unpacked: dpkg --configure foo. Among other things, this action runs the postinst (see What is a Debian preinst, postinst, prerm, and postrm script?, Section 7.6) script associated with the package. It also updates the files listed in the conffiles for this package. Notice that the 'configure' operation takes as its argument a package name (e.g., foo), not the name of a Debian archive file (e.g., foo_VVV-RRR.deb).
Extract a single file named "blurf" (or a group of files named "blurf*") from a Debian archive: dpkg --fsys-tarfile foo_VVV-RRR.deb | tar -xf - 'blurf*'.
Remove a package (but not its configuration files): dpkg --remove foo.
Remove a package (including its configuration files): dpkg --purge foo.
List the installation status of packages containing the string (or regular expression) "foo*": dpkg --list 'foo*'.
APT is the Advanced Package Tool, an advanced interface to the Debian
packaging system which provides the
apt-get program. It provides
commandline tools for searching and managing packages, and for querying
information about them, as well as low-level access to all features of the
libapt-pkg library. For more information, see the User's Guide in
/usr/share/doc/apt-doc/guide.html/index.html (you will have to
Starting with Debian Jessie, some frequently used
apt-cache commands have an equivalent via the new
binary. This means some popular commands like
apt-cache show now can also be called simply via
apt search, or
The following is an overview of the old and new commands:
apt-get update -> apt update apt-get upgrade -> apt upgrade apt-get dist-upgrade -> apt full-upgrade apt-get install package -> apt install package apt-get remove package -> apt remove package apt-get autoremove -> apt autoremove apt-cache search string -> apt search string apt-cache policy package -> apt list -a package apt-cache show package -> apt show package apt-cache showpkg package -> apt show -a package
apt tool merges functionality of apt-get and apt-cache and by
default has a fancier colored output format, making it more pleasant for
humans. For usage in scripts or advanced use cases, apt-get is still
preferable or needed.
apt-get provides a simple way to retrieve and install packages
from multiple sources using the command line. Unlike
apt-get does not understand .deb files, it works with the packages
proper name and can only install .deb archives from a source specified in
apt-get will call
dpkg directly after downloading the .deb archives from the configured sources.
Some common ways to use
To update the list of packages known by your system, you can run:
(you should execute this regularly to update your package lists)
To install the foo package and all its dependencies, run:
apt install foo
To remove the foo package from your system, run:
apt remove foo
To remove the foo package and its configuration files from your system, run:
apt purge foo
To list all packages for which newer versions are available, run:
apt list --upgradable
To upgrade all the packages on your system (without installing extra packages or removing packages), run:
To upgrade all the packages on your system, and, if needed for a package upgrade, installing extra packages or removing packages, run:
(The command upgrade keeps a package at its installed obsolete version if upgrading would need an extra package to be installed, for a new dependency to be satisfied. The full-upgrade command is less conservative.)
Note that you must be logged in as root to perform any commands that modify packages.
apt-get now also installs recommended packages as
default, and thanks to its robustness it's the preferred program for package
management from console to perform system installation and major system
The apt tool suite also includes the
apt-cache tool to query the
package lists. You can use it to find packages providing specific
functionality through simple text or regular expression queries and through
queries of dependencies in the package management system. Some common ways to
To find packages whose description contain word:
apt search word
To print the detailed information of a package:
apt show package
To print the packages a given package depends on:
apt-cache depends package
To print detailed information on the versions available for a package and the packages that reverse-depends on it:
apt-cache showpkg package
For more information, install the
apt package and read
apt-doc package and read
aptitude is a package manager for Debian GNU/Linux systems that
provides a frontend to the apt package management infrastructure.
aptitude is a text-based interface using the curses library.
Actions may be performed from a visual interface or from the command-line.
aptitude can be used to perform management tasks in a fast and
easy way. It allows the user to view the list of packages and to perform
package management tasks such as installing, upgrading, and removing packages.
aptitude provides the functionality of
well as many additional features:
aptitude offers easy access to all versions of a package.
aptitude makes it easy to keep track of obsolete software by
listing it under "Obsolete and Locally Created Packages".
aptitude includes a fairly powerful system for searching
particular packages and limiting the package display. Users familiar with
mutt will pick up quickly, as
mutt was the
inspiration for the expression syntax.
aptitude can be used to install the predefined tasks available.
For more information see tasksel, Section 8.1.5.
aptitude in full screen mode has
embedded and can be run by a normal user. It will call
ask for the root password, if any) when you really need administrative
You can use
aptitude through a visual interface (simply run
aptitude) or directly from the command line. The command line
syntax used is very similar to the one used in
example, to install the foo package, you can run aptitude
aptitude is the preferred program for daily package
management from the console.
For more information, read the manual page
aptitude(8) and install
synaptic is a graphical package manager. It enables you to
install, upgrade and remove software packages in a user friendly way. Along
with most of the features offered by aptitude, it also has a feature for
editing the list of used repositories, and supports browsing all available
documentation related to a package. See the
Synaptic Website for more
When you want to perform a specific task it might be difficult to find the
appropiate suite of packages that fill your need. The Debian developers have
defined tasks, a task is a collection of several individual Debian
packages all related to a specific activity. Tasks can be installed through
tasksel program or through
Typically, the Debian installer will automatically install the task associated with a standard system and a desktop environment. The specific desktop environment installed will depend on the CD/DVD media used, most commonly it will be the GNOME desktop (gnome-desktop task). Also, depending on your selections throughout the installation process, tasks might be automatically installed in your system. For example, if you selected a language other than English, the task associated with it will be installed automatically too and if the installer recognises you are installing on a laptop system the laptop task will also be installed.
This program manipulates Debian archive (.deb) files. Some common uses are:
Find out all the options: dpkg-deb --help.
Determine what files are contained in a Debian archive file: dpkg-deb --contents foo_VVV-RRR.deb)
Extract the files contained in a named Debian archive into a user specified directory: dpkg-deb --extract foo_VVV-RRR.deb tmp extracts each of the files in foo_VVV-RRR.deb into the directory tmp/. This is convenient for examining the contents of a package in a localized directory, without installing the package into the root file system.
Extract the control information files from a package: dpkg-deb --control foo_VVV-RRR.deb tmp.
Note that any packages that were merely unpacked using dpkg-deb --extract will be incorrectly installed, you should use dpkg --install instead.
More information is given in the manual page
The kernel (file system) in Debian GNU/Linux systems supports replacing files even while they're being used.
We also provide a program called
start-stop-daemon which is used
to start daemons at boot time or to stop daemons when the runlevel is changed
(e.g., from multi-user to single-user or to halt). The same program is used by
installation scripts when a new package containing a daemon is installed, to
stop running daemons, and restart them as necessary.
To learn the status of all the packages installed on a Debian system, execute the command
This prints out a one-line summary for each package, giving a 2-letter status symbol (explained in the header), the package name, the version which is installed, and a brief description.
To learn the status of packages whose names match any pattern beginning with "foo", run the command:
dpkg --list 'foo*'
To get a more verbose report for a particular package, execute the command:
dpkg --status packagename
To list all the files provided by the installed package foo execute the command
dpkg --listfiles foo
Note that the files created by the installation scripts aren't displayed.
To identify the package that produced the file named foo execute either:
dpkg --search foo
This searches for foo in installed packages. (This is (currently) equivalent to searching all of the files having the file extension of .list in the directory /var/lib/dpkg/info/, and adjusting the output to print the names of all the packages containing it, and diversions.)
A faster alternative to this is the
dlocate -S foo
zgrep foo Contents-ARCH.gz
This searches for files which contain the substring foo in their full path names. The files Contents-ARCH.gz (where ARCH represents the wanted architecture) reside in the major package directories (main, non-free, contrib) at a Debian FTP site (i.e. under /debian/dists/stretch). A Contents file refers only to the packages in the subdirectory tree where it resides. Therefore, a user might have to search more than one Contents files to find the package containing the file foo.
This method has the advantage over dpkg --search in that it will find files in packages that are not currently installed on your system.
apt-file search foo
If you install the
apt-file package, similar to the above, it
searches files which contain the substring or regular expression
foo in their full path names. The advantage over the example
above is that there is no need to retrieve the Contents-ARCH.gz
files as it will do this automatically for all the sources defined in
/etc/apt/sources.list when you run (as root) apt-file
Some packages are split in program (`foo') and data (`foo-data') (or in `foo' and `foo-doc'). This is true for many games, multimedia applications and dictionaries in Debian and has been introduced since some users might want to access the raw data without installing the program or because the program can be run without the data itself, making `foo-data' optional.
Similar situations occur when dealing with libraries: generally these get installed since packages containing applications depend on them. When the application-package is purged, the library-package might stay on the system. Or: when the application-package no longer depends upon e.g. libdb4.2, but upon libdb4.3, the libdb4.2 package might stay when the application-package is upgraded.
In these cases, `foo-data' doesn't depend on `foo', so when you remove the
`foo' package it will not get automatically removed by most package management
tools. The same holds true for the library packages. This is necessary to
avoid circular dependencies. However, if you use
apt-get (see APT, Section 8.1.2) or
aptitude (see aptitude, Section 8.1.3) as your package management
tool, they will track automatically installed packages and give the possibility
to remove them, when no packages making use of them remain in your system.
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The Debian GNU/Linux FAQversion 9.0, 17 November 2018