Posted by Steve on Sun 10 Oct 2004 at 17:40
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 skx@undecided:~$
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 http://bugs.debian.org/pwgen. Other packages have similar pages, and the main main Debian bugtracking system (BTS) is searchable.