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The package management system binds all the software on a Debian system together. Debian uses named "packages" for each piece of software, bundles of files which provide the files to be installed on the system, the dependencies between packages and the configuration of the software. These packages can be installed or removed (unless, of course some other package requires it) at will. In fact, the majority of the Debian installation process is installing the most basic packages that allow Debian to function.

Debian package management consists of several layers. The lowest layers, most of which you won't want to touch, are made up of dpkg and associated programs. On top of those layers are the Apt and apt-get tools as well as the newer aptitude tool. The Package Management Tools page has brief descriptions of these and other tools which work with DebianPackage files.

All of those tools are documented by a ManPage, so if you have questions, you should consult them (eg. 'man apt'). If you're new, there are some commands that have proven most useful for everyday use. They are grouped generally as:

Full-Screen Frontends

These are both console (ncurses) and GUI based. There are a number of alternatives, similar in some regards, different in others. For users of RPM-based Linux distros, analogs include RedCarpet and Up2Date.

Command-line Frontends

Generally, the command line tools integrate a number of operations (package list management, package retrieval, package installation, package configuration) in a single command plus arguments. The primary command line tool is aptitude. apt-get fulfills a similar purpose and although it is no longer the recommended primary tool some still use it. Here are some typical invocations:

"Apt Help":http://www.spack.org/wiki/UsingApt

You can also use Wajig, for an unified and more logical command-line interface to all package management functions.

Low-level Tools

Largely dpkg and friends, these are commands that perform a single task. They are most directly comparable to Redhat's "rpm" command.

Contents of a debian file

To see the contents of debian packages in the Debian repositories, whether installed or uninstalled, install the apt-file package and enter

$ apt-file update
$ apt-file list foo

To get the contents of the file "abc.deb", you have to enter

$ dpkg-deb -c abc.deb

Reconfiguring of debconf

To reconfigure debconf, so that it informs you of most changes of the new packages, you have to enter (as Root):

 # dpkg-reconfigure debconf

Chose "medium" here

Package Management with apt-get and dpkg

Package resource list for APT

The file /etc/apt/sources.list is the definition file of the sources for apt. For further information about this file type

$ man 5 sources.list

Retrieve new lists of packages:

To fetch the new lists of all the packages from sources.list enter:

# aptitude update

or the equivalent

# apt-get update

This command checks for new release-files on the given servers. Luckily the command is clever enough to check if the release-file has changed after the last update.

Upgrade of all the files:

To make an update of all the changed packages, enter the line

# aptitude safe-upgrade

If you want to do this from cron you should consider using the cron-apt package.

The older apt-get based method is:

# apt-get upgrade -u

The additional flag -u shows a list of upgraded packages as well. If you want to run the update in a cron-job, you should use the flags -dy. With this flags the new packages will be downloaded but not installed. You can install them later by writing apt-get update -u.

Distribution Upgrade of all the files:

WARNING

Following the upgrade instructions found in the release notes is the best way to ensure that your system upgrades from one major Debian release to another (e.g. from lenny to squeeze) without breakage!

These instructions will tell you to do a dist-upgrade (instead of upgrade) in the case of apt-get or full-upgrade (instead of safe-upgrade in the case of aptitude) at least once. So you would have to type something like

# aptitude full-upgrade

or

# apt-get dist-upgrade -dy

# apt-get dist-upgrade -u

at some point during the major release upgrade.

A dist-upgrade may also be required to keep up-to-date with the latest version of sid.

Discover a package:

How can you discover which package to use without the GUI programs?

# apt-cache search sylpheed

Or use a web interface:

http://packages.debian.org/search?sylpheed

With the web search interface you can search the package contents for specific files:

http://packages.debian.org/search?suite=default&section=all&arch=any&searchon=contents&keywords=bin%2Fsylpheed

Add a package:

How can you add a package to your system without the GUI programs? All you have to do is find out the name of this package and enter the command

# aptitude install sylpheed-claws

or

# apt-get install sylpheed-claws

to add the package sylpheed-claws.

Remove a package:

To get rid of the package foo which is no longer needed, enter the command

# aptitude remove foo

or

#  apt-get remove foo

If the package is needed by other packages you will be prompted to remove this package and all packages which depend on it.

Forcing removal of a package:

While making a distribution upgrade it could happen that you have to remove a package first. But sometimes this is not possible with apt-get remove since the package has unmet dependencies or is not installed completely. You can remove the package foo by using the command

# dpkg --force-all --remove foo

Read the contents of a installed package:

Sometimes you want to know which files are in the package foo. To get this information enter the command

$ dpkg -L foo

Get the description of a package:

You don't know what the package foo is for? Just write

$ aptitude show foo

or

$ dpkg -p foo

Search the package of a file:

Have you ever wondered to which package belongs a given file? To get this information (e.g. for /usr/bin/apt-get), start the command

$ dpkg -S /usr/bin/apt-get

and it will tell you that this file is part of the package apt.


CategoryQuickPackageManagement | CategoryPackageManagement