Like many Linux distributions, Debian comes with a package management and distribution system called apt (Advanced Package Tool). While apt is a very useful feature of Debian systems, upgrading packages can be a little daunting. Here’s what a recent
apt-get upgrade looked like for me:
ψ sudo apt-get upgrade [sudo] password for jxf: Reading package lists... Done Building dependency tree Reading state information... Done Calculating upgrade... Done The following packages have been kept back: linux-headers-generic linux-signed-generic linux-signed-image-generic lxc-docker postgresql-client-common postgresql-common The following packages will be upgraded: atom libdrm-intel1 libdrm-intel1:i386 libdrm-nouveau2 libdrm-nouveau2:i386 libdrm-radeon1 libdrm-radeon1:i386 libdrm2 libdrm2:i386 libicu52 libtasn1-6 libtasn1-6:i386 linux-libc-dev oxideqt-codecs-extra steam-launcher 15 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 6 not upgraded. Need to get 61.3 MB of archives. Do you want to continue? [Y/n]
Notice that a number of important-looking packages changed: graphics driver middleware, libc, and the text editor I use to write this blog. But it’s hard to know whether we should install these changes or not, and what the urgency on them is.
What if the updates are critical security fixes in libc? We might want to install them immediately. Conversely, what if the new graphics driver introduced features that disrupted the framerate on our favorite games? We might want to hold off.
With the apt-get interface, we know whether something has been updated, but we don’t know what the updates are. Can we do better?
Enter apt-listchanges, a wonderful tool by Sandro Tosi and Thadeu Lima de Souza Cascardo. Each apt package usually ships with two files that describe interesting human-readable details about the package:
debian/changelogfile that describes recent changes made to the package, usually of a technical nature
debian/NEWSfile that describes user-friendly updates about the package
For example, if we download a recent Firefox nightly package:
apt-get download firefox
apt-listchanges on it:
apt-listchanges --which=changelogs firefox
we’ll get this output:
firefox (40.0~a2~hg20150520r262219-0ubuntu1~umd1~trusty) trusty; urgency=medium * Refresh patches - update debian/patches/unity-menubar.patch - update debian/patches/dont-include-hyphenation-patterns.patch - update debian/patches/allow-lockPref-everywhere.patch -- Chris Coulson <firstname.lastname@example.org> Wed, 20 May 2015 17:17:16 +0100 firefox (39.0~a2~hg20150429r255253-0ubuntu1) vivid; urgency=medium * Refresh patches - update debian/patches/unity-menubar.patch - update debian/patches/ubuntu-ua-string-changes.patch * Drop patches fixed upstream - remove debian/patches/add-non-skia-fallback.patch - update debian/patches/series * Bundle our checkout of compare-locales in a different location, given that the Mozilla repo now contains a different version of it in the location we used previously - update debian/build/rules.mk - update debian/build/create-tarball.py -- Chris Coulson <email@example.com> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 19:32:34 +0100
It would be nice if we could get this list whenever we installed a package. Fortunately, apt-listchanges does just that for us, too!
First we’ll install the package:
sudo apt-get install apt-listchanges
After installation, there’s a configuration step which asks you how you’d like to view the changes and make some other choices; I find the
pager mode is most convenient for viewing. If you want to revisit your configuration choices, you can run
After the configuration is done your preferences will be saved in
Now that we’ve got that, let’s install a package!
sudo apt-get install firefox [...] Do you want to continue? [Y/n] Reading changelogs... Done firefox (40.0~a2~hg20150520r262219-0ubuntu1~umd1~trusty) trusty; urgency=medium * Refresh patches - update debian/patches/unity-menubar.patch - update debian/patches/dont-include-hyphenation-patterns.patch - update debian/patches/allow-lockPref-everywhere.patch -- Chris Coulson <firstname.lastname@example.org> Wed, 20 May 2015 17:17:16 +0100 apt-listchanges: Do you want to continue? [Y/n] y
Notice the second prompt for apt-listchanges; this is one of the configuration settings you can choose. Here, you’ll get a chance to review what changed before you decide to pull the trigger.
In short, apt-listchanges is an excellent addition to your Debian package-management workflow and highly recommended.