Translation(s): Italiano

This article try to explain how to use APT Preferences. At this moment, only pinning is documented here.


Before you consider 'pinning', you might want to check if the package you want has been backported to your release.

<!> When using apt-pinning, you must ensure compatibility of packages by yourself since Debian does not guarantee it. Note that apt-pinning is completely optional, and Debian does not encourage its use without thorough consideration.

Pinning allows you to run certain packages from one version (stable, testing, unstable) without the necessity of upgrading your entire system. However, pulling in packages from "later" distributions are prone to pull in libraries as well, which might have you end up with a system that has the disadvantages of stable (old software), the disadvantages of unstable/testing (security support not as good as stable, bugs) without the advantages of either.

At its most basic level, pinning involves two files, /etc/apt/sources.list and /etc/apt/preferences.

An additional role is played by the target release, which can be set in apt.conf (or in a /etc/apt/conf.d/... file and via the apt command line.


 #### testing  #########
 deb testing main contrib non-free

 #### unstable #########
 deb unstable main contrib non-free

In this example, we're pulling from testing and unstable. You could, of course, modify this to pull from stable as well.


The 'preferences' file is where the actual pinning takes place. Here's an example:

 Package: *
 Pin: release n=testing
 Pin-Priority: 900

 Package: *
 Pin: release n=unstable
 Pin-Priority: 800

Package defaults to any, as specified by the asterisk. Pin specifies the release (testing and unstable). Pin-Priority specifies the priority level. 'apt-get' defaults to something along the lines of "highest package version wins". The above restructures this priority so that packages in testing are given a higher priority.

You should also refer to the apt_preferences(5) manpage.

Installing from unstable

Let's assume that we're running testing and we want to try enlightenment from unstable. There are basically two methods for installing:

 # apt-get install enlightenment/unstable
 # apt-get -t unstable install enlightenment

The first will not attempt to upgrade any packages on your system, so if specific dependencies are not met, the install will fail. The second method will attempt to install/upgrade any dependencies. Of course, given the above example, 'apt-get' will ask you before proceeding.

Notes from JoshuaRodman

Personally, I found the common configuration of a higher priority Testing pin and a lower priority Unstable pin to be problematic. At times, testing packages will depend upon other packages which are not currently in testing (perhaps representing a small glitch in testing) which causes packages to be automatically pulled in from unstable. In the period of testing prior to stabilization for the Woody release, this caused me to end up with over 100 unstable packages installed without even realizing it.

As a a result, I use a more conservative "only if I say so" approach to a mixed distribution, with a Pin file like this:

  Package: *
  Pin: release a=testing
  Pin-Priority: 900

  Package: *
  Pin: release o=Debian
  Pin-Priority: -10

Thus all debian packages are defaulted to priority -10, while testing receives a 900 point bonus. This invokes the behaviors:

From apt_preferences(5)

  500 < P <=990 :
        causes a version to be installed unless there is a version 
        available belonging to the target release or the installed 
        version is more recent
  P < 0 :
        prevents the version from being installed

Note that a priority above 1000 will allow even downgrades no matter the version of the prioritary package. This means that you can use priority 1001 for a stable source if you want to downgrade to the stable versions of the packages you have installed (let's say from testing) on the system. this is not recommended unless the number of changes are minimal

Installing packages with apt-get install packagename/unstable and apt-get install -t unstable packagename will both still work, but unstable packages will only be installed by these commands.

Notes from ZugSchlus


This page has been written by ZugSchlus, who not even remotely grasps the concept of pinning. So, please take the words "probably", "needs to be verified" and similiar wordings literally, and document your findings (may they be "this page is right" or "this page is wrong", optionally "this page is wrong because") here.

Description of Package Selection Process

ToDo: This needs to be verified

Examples of /etc/apt/preferences file

Example 1

 Package: *
 Pin: release o=Debian,a=testing
 Pin-Priority: 900

 Package: *
 Pin: release o=Debian,a=unstable
 Pin-Priority: 300

 Package: *
 Pin: release o=Debian
 Pin-Priority: -1

Missing: Documentation what this preferences file does.

ZugSchlus tries to explain:

Problem: This pin behaves differently depending on which target release is set in other parts of apt configuration. Hence, this example cannot really be documented without adding more information. A non-pinned package being part of the target release has default priority 990, while other non-pinned packages have a default priority of 500.

Example 2

Objective: On an unstable system, pull dpatch from experimental.

A possible (and not completely correct) solution:

Example 3

From Mihamina rakotomandimby

Suppose you have a personnal repository where you have a personnal version of Postfix. You want Apt to prefer you version over official ones.

You may set preferences by Origin

Package: *
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 610

Package: *
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 600


apt-cache policy package gives information about the selection process. Unfortunately, it is not widely known what the output means. The following is a try to interpret:

 $ apt-cache policy exim4-daemon-light
  Installed: 4.50-1
  Candidate: 4.50-1
  Package Pin: (not found)
  Version Table:
      4.50-4 555
        500 http://mirror sid/main Packages
  *** 4.50-1 555
        100 /var/lib/dpkg/status
      4.44-2 555
        500 http://mirror sarge/main Packages

The priority of each version/location is the number at the left of it. In this case, 500, 100, and 500. It is unclear what the number at the right of the version number means. Some people believe that it is just the last period that was specified for this package in /etc/apt/preferences for that package, while others said it is the actual pin priority being placed on the package.

ToDo: This section was written after taking a lot of more or less educated guesses. Would somebody with real knowledge of apt please verify?

Notes from Ryan B.

If you're wondering what the options are for release file preferences, based on this link:

we find:

Archive: archive

Component: component

Origin: Your Company

Label: Your Company Debian repository

Architecture: architecture

Thus, the line: "Pin: release a=testing" would find archive values in the release file named "testing".