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Finding packages.

Posted by Steve on Sun 10 Oct 2004 at 17:40

Tags: none.

A few writeups here have covered using specific Debian packages for accomplishing tasks, but they haven't explained how you discover the name of a package to solve a particular problem. This piece redresses the balance.

As we covered already in the simple simple introduction to Debian packages we can use apt-get update to download a list of all the new packages which are available from the Debian site.

What we didn't mention, at the time, is that these downloads contain more than just the available program versions and names. They also contain a small description of each package.

These descriptions can be searched using a program called apt-cache. For example to search for a program for generating passwords we can run:

skx@undecided:~$ apt-cache search password generation
apg - Automated Password Generator - Standalone version
pwgen - Automatic Password generation
python-ldaptor - Pure-Python library for LDAP
python2.3-ldaptor - Pure-Python library for LDAP
tcllib - The Standard Tcl Library
vqregister - configurable email user signup CGI for vpopmail

Here we have used 'apt-cache search ' then a list of keywords to search upon. This returned a list of results, firstly the name of the package, then seperated by a '-' a simple one-line description of the package.

To see the full description of the package we must use another command 'apt-cache show pwgen', where you can replace pwgen with the name of the package you wish to see.

In this case we can see:

skx@undecided:~$ apt-cache show pwgen
Package: pwgen
Priority: optional
Section: admin
Installed-Size: 29
Maintainer: Vincent Renardias 
Architecture: i386
Version: 2.03-1
Depends: libc6 (>= 2.3.1-1)
Filename: pool/main/p/pwgen/pwgen_2.03-1_i386.deb
Size: 9190
MD5sum: 25dea73d1f2649e01db7d9ec72bfcb29
Description: Automatic Password generation
 pwgen generates random, meaningless but pronounceable passwords.
 These passwords contain either only lowercase letters, or upper
 and lower case mixed, or digits thrown in.
 Uppercase letters and digits are placed in a way that eases
 remembering their position when memorizing only the word.

This shows us the name of the package, it's section admin, the maintainer and some other information.

If you are not in front of a Debian machine you can likewise search the Debian webpages for a package, by name or keyword, by visiting the following URL:

Once you've installed a new package you have a couple of immediate sources for help in getting it working. Chances are any package you install will have a manpage installed, so you can run "man pwgen" to see a brief page of help about the command, and its available options.

Debian packages often have other information installed too, which you can find in the directory "/usr/share/doc". In this case we can see the following files inside the directory /usr/share/doc/pwgen:

skx@undecided:~$ ls /usr/share/doc/pwgen/
changelog.Debian.gz  copyright

Just two files, a copyright file, and the changelog of the Debian package.

Bugs relating to any package can be viewed online at a dedicated bugtracking page Other packages have similar pages, and the main main Debian bugtracking system (BTS) is searchable.



Re: Finding packages.
Posted by dopehouse (84.130.xx.xx) on Fri 19 Aug 2005 at 13:15
If you have a running xserver, than you can use synaptic to search for packages. It has a very good search function. You can search for packagename, name and description, maintainer and a few other. On systems with xserver it's my favorit way to search for a package. The package is named 'synaptic' and the command to start it is the same.

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Re: Finding packages.
Posted by Anonymous (64.81.xx.xx) on Thu 1 Dec 2005 at 07:02
Awesome site. I'm enjoying myself hugely reading through the articles. Very much appreciate your time and effort.

A note that might be helpful with apt-cache search: --names-only can whittle down some of the candidate packages.

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Re: Finding packages.
Posted by Anonymous (219.236.xx.xx) on Fri 24 Feb 2006 at 11:14
If you're looking for a place where you can find old debian testing/unstable packages that are no longer in the archive (that's how I got here), you may want to look at

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Re: Finding packages.
Posted by Anonymous (91.152.xx.xx) on Mon 29 Sep 2008 at 10:41
How to search by tag? The aptitude package, for instance, has "admin::configuring" as one of its tags, but I can't figure out how to find other packages with that tag.

[ Parent ]

Re: Finding packages.
Posted by Steve (82.41.xx.xx) on Mon 29 Sep 2008 at 10:46
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