Package Installation Hygiene (for Babies & Older Ones)

    •     , ,

Two times a year, when all exams are successfully passed, every student does that: cleaning. Different courses require different software, and it tends to pile up, slowing updates (because there’s more stuff to update) and eating disk space (which isn’t that scarce nowadays, but you still can find better use for this GB or two). For students, cleaning also give that satisfactory feeling of really finishing with the course.

In this post I’m going to describe how one can remove unused packages using power of aptitude and deborphan.

aptitude: removing packages we installed ourselves

Usually it’s the user who pollutes the system the most. The easiest way to figure out what to remove is to just look for packages you installed manually, that is, what have been checked by you in Synaptics or what you specified on a command line invoking aptitude or apt-get. Hopefully, aptitude enables us to do that with a simple search query:

$ aptitude search '~i !~M'

That command asks for installed packages (~i) that wasn’t (!) installed automatically (~M). This way you get a list of everything you installed yourself. Now just scroll through it and remove everything you don’t need anymore. If you’re a developer, pay close attention to -dev packages; on the other hand, ordinary users may safely skip everything starting with the lib.

Oh, by the way, when removing packages you won’t need ever more it’s better to use purge, not remove. The difference is that purge not only removes the package but also deletes its configuration and data files, freeing more space than mere remove.

Note that purge would delete files in /etc and other places but not in your home directory. Skim through hidden directories (those whose names begin with a dot) in your $HOME and remove everything that belongs to removed software.

deborphan: removing libraries you don’t need any more

It so happens that some libraries doesn’t get removed along the software that required them. To fix that, just run deborphan — it would show you the libs that aren’t used by any package. After examining its output you may run the following command:

$ sudo aptitude purge `deborphan`

(note the backtics). It would remove everything deborphan found. You may need to re-run the command several times because deborphan may find still new “orphans” when you purged the previous ones.


So that’s all to it. Just don’t do any of that before the trip or when you expect to move over somewhere where Internet is a luxury: it’s better to wait a week or so to reinstall everything (if anything) you removed erroneously.

Your thoughts are welcome by email
(here’s why my blog doesn’t have a comments form)