A toolkit for packages

Debian Goodies

Article from Issue 156/2013
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The Debian Goodies collection offers a variety of time-tested scripts to help you manage Debian packages.

If you use a Debian-based system, you soon learn to install or remove packages with apt-get/dpkg. But, how do you access packages while they are on your system? One of Debian's answers to this question is Debian Goodies [1], a collection of scripts for administering .deb packages that is available on most Debian-based systems, including Linux Mint and Ubuntu.

The commands bundled in the Debian Goodies collection are small scripts, with such limited options and general purposes that none of them seem to deserve to be in a separate package. Over the past 14 years or so, each script has found its way into Debian Goodies, making it a collection of tools that ranges from small features for tracking broken packages or extracting copyright information to tools intended mainly for Debian developers fixing bugs in preparation for a release.

The scripts of Debian Goodies are not the only package-related tools on a Debian-based system. Except perhaps for their size, packages like apt-cache, apt-listbugs, apt-mirror, and a couple of dozen others could easily fit into the collection. However, the commands packaged under Debian Goodies have one overwhelming advantage – you only need to remember a single name to have access to a variety of tools.

However, presenting these scripts as a collection also means that dependencies are not always handled as well as they would have to be in separate packages. In at least two cases, you have to read a command's man page to realize that it needs other packages to run properly. Fortunately, the man page is a sensible starting point for any script that you need to be root user to run. The Debian Goodies scripts generally provide information, rather than editing packages in any way, but knowing what the tools can do can only help you use them more efficiently.

check-enhancements

The check-enhancements command is a relatively new addition to Debian Goodies, available in Testing's repository version, but not in Stable's. The command lists packages that enhance a other packages but are not strictly necessary to run it (Figure 1). For example, Gnome's Eye of Gnome (eog) does not need eog-plugins to perform its basic function of viewing files, but it gains extra features if the package is installed. These listings are especially welcome because the online descriptions of Debian packages are irregular about using the enhances category – sometimes putting packages that belong in it in the suggests category instead.

Figure 1: If you're looking for ways to improve an application, check-enhancements may be the script for you.

You can use the check-enhancements command to find enhancements for a single package (Figure 1). Or, you can use the -ip or --installed-packages options to list all the enhancements available for all installed packages or -ie or --installed-enhancements to view all enhancements. Given that even a moderately sized system can contain several thousand packages, both of these processes can take more than half an hour to run.

checkrestart

When you run apt-get dist-upgrade, all the packages installed on your system are upgraded. This process usually revolves around closing and restarting services as part of the upgrade. Major services like PulseAudio and GDM3 are generally reset automatically by init scripts, but smaller ones associated with desktop environments, such as KDE's akonadi-server, or applications like GIMP may not be.

Ordinarily, restarting the system will restart all the services. However, if you are running applications that you do not want to interrupt, you can use the checkrestart command to restore the services you need. The script lists each service's name, process ID, and file path.

The default for checkrestart is to list all packages that could be restarted (Figure 2). However, you can receive a report on a single package with -p NAME or --package NAME or omit packages from the report with -i NAME or --ignore=NAME. The -v or --verbose option gives you more detailed information about what checkrestart is doing but produces an otherwise similar report.

Figure 2: Use checkrestart after a system upgrade to make sure that all services have been restarted.

debget

The debget command downloads a package from apt-get's sources to the current working directory (Figure 3). It requires cURL for the downloading. The command accomplishes exactly the same purpose as downloading a package directly from the link on its online description. Usually, you would use debget when you want to examine or edit a package.

Figure 3: With debget, you can download a package directly using cURL.

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