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dpkg - package manager for Debian


dpkg [options] action


This manual is intended for users wishing to understand dpkg’s command line options and package states in more detail than that provided by dpkg --help.

It should not be used by package maintainers wishing to understand how dpkg will install their packages. The descriptions of what dpkg does when installing and removing packages are particularly inadequate.


dpkg is a tool to install, build, remove and manage Debian packages. The primary and more user-friendly front-end for dpkg is dselect(8) . dpkg itself is controlled entirely via command line parameters, which consist of exactly one action and zero or more options. The actionparameter tells dpkg what to do and options control the behavior of the action in some way.

dpkg can be also be used as a front-end to dpkg-deb. The following are dpkg-deb actions, and if they are encountered, dpkg just runs dpkg-deb with the parameters given to it:
-b, --build,
-c, --contents,
-I, --info,
-f, --field,
-e, --control,
-x, --extract,
-X, --vextract, and
Please refer to dpkg-deb(1) for information about these actions.

Information About Packages

dpkg maintains some usable information about available packages. The information is divided in three classes: states, selection states and flags. These values are intended to be changed mainly with dselect.

The package is unpacked and configured OK.

The installation of the package has been started, but not com‐ pleted for some reason.

The package is not installed on your system.

The package is unpacked, but not configured.

The package is unpacked and configuration has been started, but not yet completed for some reason.

Only the configuration files of the package exist on the system.

The package is selected for installation.

The package is selected for deinstallation (i.e. we want to remove all files, except configuration files).

purge The package is selected to be purged (i.e. we want to remove everything, even configuration files).

hold A package marked to be on hold is not handled by dpkg, unless forced to do that with option --force-hold.

A package marked reinst-required is broken and requires rein‐ stallation. These packages cannot be removed, unless forced with option --force-remove-reinstreq.


dpkg -i | --install package_file...
Install the package. If --recursive or -R option is specified, package_file must refer to a directory instead.

Installation consists of the following steps:

1. Extract the control files of the new package.

2. If another version of the same package was installed before the new installation, execute prerm script of the old package.

3. Run preinst script, if provided by the package.

4. Unpack the new files, and at the same time back up the old files, so that if something goes wrong, they can be restored.

5. If another version of the same package was installed before the new installation, execute the postrm script of the old pack‐ age. Note that this script is executed after the preinst script of the new package, because new files are written at the same time old files are removed.

6. Configure the package. See --configure for detailed informa‐ tion about how this is done.

dpkg --unpack package_file ...
Unpack the package, but don’t configure it. If --recursive or -R option is specified, package_file must refer to a directory instead.

dpkg --configure package ... | -a | --pending Reconfigure an unpacked package. If -a or --pending is given instead of package, all unpacked but unconfigured packages are configured.

Configuring consists of the following steps:

1. Unpack the configuration files, and at the same time back up the old configuration files, so that they can be restored if something goes wrong.

2. Run postinst script, if provided by the package.

dpkg -r | --remove | -P | --purge package ... | -a | --pending Remove an installed package. -r or --remove remove everything except configuration files. This may avoid having to reconfig‐ ure the package if it is reinstalled later. (Configuration files are the files listed in the debian/conffiles control file). -P or --purge removes everything, including configura‐ tion files. If -a or --pending is given instead of a package name, then all packages unpacked, but marked to be removed or purged in file /var/lib/dpkg/status, are removed or purged, respectively.

Removing of a package consists of the following steps:

1. Run prerm script

2. Remove the installed files

3. Run postrm script

dpkg --update-avail | --merge-avail Packages-file Update dpkg’s and dselect’s idea of which packages are avail‐ able. With action --merge-avail, old information is combined with information from Packages-file. With action --update-avail, old information is replaced with the information in the Packages-file. The Packages-file distributed with Debian is simply named Packages. dpkg keeps its record of available packages in /var/lib/dpkg/available.

A simpler one-shot command to retrieve and update the available file is dselect update.

dpkg -A | --record-avail package_file ... Update dpkg and dselect’s idea of which packages are available with information from the package package_file. If --recursive or -R option is specified, package_file must refer to a direc‐ tory instead.

dpkg --forget-old-unavail
Forget about uninstalled unavailable packages.

dpkg --clear-avail
Erase the existing information about what packages are avail‐ able.

dpkg -C | --audit
Searches for packages that have been installed only partially on your system. dpkg will suggest what to do with them to get them working.

dpkg --get-selections [package-name-pattern...] Get list of package selections, and write it to stdout.

dpkg --set-selections
Set package selections using file read from stdin. This file should be in the format ’<package> <state>’, where state is one of install, hold, deinstall or purge. Blank lines and comment lines beginning with ’#’ are also permitted.

dpkg --yet-to-unpack
Searches for packages selected for installation, but which for some reason still haven’t been installed.

dpkg --print-architecture
Print architecture of packages dpkg installs (for example, “i386").

dpkg --compare-versions ver1 op ver2
Compare version numbers, where op is a binary operator. dpkg returns success (zero result) if the specified con‐ dition is satisfied, and failure (nonzero result) other‐ wise. There are two groups of operators, which differ in how they treat an empty ver1 or ver2. These treat an empty version as earlier than any version: lt le eq ne ge gt. These treat an empty version as later than any ver‐ sion: lt-nl le-nl ge-nl gt-nl. These are provided only for compatibility with control file syntax: < << <= = >= >> >.

dpkg --command-fd <n>
Accept a series of commands on input file descriptor <n>. Note: additional options set on the command line, and thru this file descriptor, are not reset for subsequent commands executed during the same run.

dpkg --help
Display a brief help message.

dpkg --force-help
Give help about the --force-thing options.

dpkg -Dh | --debug=help
Give help about debugging options.

dpkg --licence | dpkg --license
Display dpkg licence.

dpkg --version
Display dpkg version information.

See dpkg-deb(1) for more information about the following actions.

dpkg -b | --build directory [filename] Build a deb package.
dpkg -c | --contents filename
List contents of a deb package. dpkg -e | --control filename [directory] Extract control-information from a package. dpkg -x | --extract filename directory Extract the files contained by package. dpkg -f | --field filename [control-field] ... Display control field(s) of a package. dpkg --fsys-tarfile filename
Display the filesystem tar-file contained by a Debian package.
dpkg -I | --info filename [control-file] Show information about a package. dpkg -X | --vextract filename directory Extract and display the filenames contained by a package.

See dpkg-query(1) for more information about the follow‐ ing actions.

dpkg -l | --list package-name-pattern ... List packages matching given pattern. dpkg -s | --status package-name ... Report status of specified package. dpkg -L | --listfiles package ... List files installed to your system from package. dpkg -S | --search filename-search-pattern ... Search for a filename from installed packages. dpkg -p | --print-avail package
Display details about package, as found in /var/lib/dpkg/available.


All options can be specified both on the commandline and in the dpkg configuration file /etc/dpkg/dpkg.cfg. Each line in the configuration file is either an option (exactly the same as the commandline option but without leading dashes) or a comment (if it starts with a #).

Change after how many errors dpkg will abort. The default is 50.

When a package is removed, there is a possibility that another installed package depended on the removed pack‐ age. Specifying this option will cause automatic decon‐ figuration of the package which depended on the removed package.

-Doctal | --debug=octal
Set debugging on. octal is formed by bitwise-orring desired values together from the list below (note that these values may change in future releases). -Dh or --debug=help display these debugging values.

number description

Generally helpful progress information
Invocation and status of maintainer scripts
Output for each file processed
Lots of output for each file processed
Output for each configuration file
Lots of output for each configuration file
Dependencies and conflicts
Lots of dependencies/conflicts output
Lots of drivel about e.g. the dpkg/info dir
Insane amounts of drivel

--force-things | --no-force-things | --refuse-things

Force or refuse (no-force and refuse mean the same thing) to do some things. things is a comma separated list of things specified below. --force-help displays a message describing them. Things marked with (*) are forced by default.

Warning: These options are mostly intended to be used by experts only. Using them without fully understanding their effects may break your whole system.

all: Turns on(or off) all force options.

auto-select(*): Select packages to install them, and des‐ elect packages to remove them.

downgrade(*): Install a package, even if newer version of it is already installed.

Warning: At present dpkg does not do any dependency checking on downgrades and therefore will not warn you if the downgrade breaks the dependency of some other pack‐ age. This can have serious side effects, downgrading essential system components can even make your whole sys‐ tem unusable. Use with care.

configure-any: Configure also any unpacked but unconfig‐ ured packages on which the current package depends.

hold: Process packages even when marked “hold".

remove-reinstreq: Remove a package, even if it’s broken and marked to require reinstallation. This may, for example, cause parts of the package to remain on the sys‐ tem, which will then be forgotten by dpkg.

remove-essential: Remove, even if the package is consid‐ ered essential. Essential packages contain mostly very basic Unix commands. Removing them might cause the whole system to stop working, so use with caution.

depends: Turn all dependency problems into warnings.

depends-version: Don’t care about versions when checking dependencies.

conflicts: Install, even if it conflicts with another package. This is dangerous, for it will usually cause overwriting of some files.

confmiss: Always install a missing configuration file. This is dangerous, since it means not preserving a change (removing) made to the file.

confnew: If a conffile has been modified always install the new version without prompting, unless the --force-confdef is also specified, in which case the default action is preferred.

confold: If a conffile has been modified always keep the old version without prompting, unless the --force-confdef is also specified, in which case the default action is preferred.

confdef: If a conffile has been modified always choose the default action. If there is no default action it will stop to ask the user unless --force-confnew or --force-confold is also been given, in which case it will use that to decide the final action.

overwrite: Overwrite one package’s file with another’s file.

overwrite-dir Overwrite one package’s directory with another’s file.

overwrite-diverted: Overwrite a diverted file with an undiverted version.

architecture: Process even packages with the wrong archi‐ tecture.

bad-path: PATH is missing important programs, so problems are likely.

not-root: Try to (de)install things even when not root.

bad-verify: Install a package even if it fails authentic‐ ity check.

Ignore dependency-checking for specified packages (actu‐ ally, checking is performed, but only warnings about con‐ flicts are given, nothing else).

--new | --old
Select new or old binary package format. This is a dpkg-deb(1) option.

Don’t read or check contents of control file while build‐ ing a package. This is a dpkg-deb(1) option.

--no-act | --dry-run | --simulate
Do everything which is supposed to be done, but don’t write any changes. This is used to see what would happen with the specified action, without actually modifying anything.

Be sure to give --no-act before the action-parameter, or you might end up with undesirable results. (e.g. dpkg --purge foo --no-act will first purge package foo and then try to purge package --no-act, even though you prob‐ ably expected it to actually do nothing)

-R | --recursive
Recursively handle all regular files matching pattern *.deb found at specified directories and all of its sub‐ directories. This can be used with -i, -A, --install, --unpack and --avail actions.

Don’t install a package if a newer version of the same package is already installed. This is an alias of --refuse-downgrade.

--root=dir | --admindir=dir | --instdir=dir
Change default directories. admindir defaults to /var/lib/dpkg and contains many files that give informa‐ tion about status of installed or uninstalled packages, etc. instdir defaults to / and refers to the directory where packages are to be installed. instdir is also the directory passed to chroot(2) before running package’s installation scripts, which means that the scripts see instdir as a root directory. Changing root changes inst‐ dir to dir and admindir to dir/var/lib/dpkg.

-O | --selected-only
Only process the packages that are selected for installa‐ tion. The actual marking is done with dselect or by dpkg, when it handles packages. For example, when a package is removed, it will be marked selected for deinstallation.

-E | --skip-same-version
Don’t install the package if the same version of the package is already installed.

--status-fd <n>
Send package status info to file descriptor <n>. This can be given multiple times. Status updates are of the form ‘status: <pkg>: <pkg qstate>’. Errors are reported as ‘status: <pkg>: error: extend-error-message’. Config‐ uration file conflicts are reported as ‘status: conffileprompt: conffile : ’current-conffile’ ’new-conffile’ useredited distedited’

Log status change updates and actions to filename. This can be given multiple times. Log messages are of the form ‘YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS status <state> <pkg> <installed-version>’ for status change updates; ‘YYYY-MMDD HH:MM:SS <action> <pkg> <installed-version> <avail‐ able-version>’ for actions where <action> is one of install, upgrade, remove, purge; and ‘YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS conffile <filename> <decision>’ for conffile changes where <decision is either install or keep.


Configuration file with default options.

The other files listed below are in their default directories, see option --admindir to see how to change locations of these files.

List of available packages.

Statuses of available packages. This file contains infor‐ mation about whether a package is marked for removing or not, whether it is installed or not, etc. See section INFORMATION ABOUT PACKAGES for more info.

The following files are components of a binary package. See deb(5) for more information about them:







Environment Variables

Define this to something if you prefer dpkg starting a new shell rather than suspending itself, while doing a shell escape.

SHELL The program dpkg will execute while starting a new shell.

Sets the number of columns dpkg should use when display‐ ing formatted text. Currently only used by -l.

Set by dpkg to the filename of the old configuration file when you start a shell to examine a changed configura‐ tion. file.

Set by dpkg to the filename of the newversion of a con‐ figuration file when you start a shell to examine a changed configuration. file.


To list packages related to the editor vi: dpkg -l ’*vi*’

To see the entries in /var/lib/dpkg/available on two packages: dpkg --print-avail elvis vim | less

To search the listing of packages yourself: less /var/lib/dpkg/available

To remove an installed elvis package:
dpkg -r elvis

To install a package, you first need to find it in an archive or CDROM. The “available” file shows that the vim package is in section “editors":
cd /cdrom/hamm/hamm/binary/editors
dpkg -i vim_4.5-3.deb

To make a local copy of the package selection states: dpkg --get-selections >myselections

You might transfer this file to another computer, and install it there with:
dpkg --set-selections <myselections
Note that this will not actually install or remove anything, but just set the selection state on the requested packages. You will need some other application to actually download and install the requested packages. For example, run dselect and choose “Install".

Ordinarily, you will find that dselect(8) provides a more conve‐ nient way to modify the package selection states.

Additional Functionality

Additional functionality can be gained by installing any of the following packages: apt, aptitude and debsums.

See Also

dselect(8) , dpkg-deb(1) , deb(5) , deb-control(5) , and dpkg-recon‐ figure(8)


--no-act usually gives less information than might be helpful.


See /usr/share/doc/dpkg/THANKS.gz for the list of people who have contributed to dpkg .

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