Updating packages with dpkg-reconfigure

Beyond the Limitations

Often, the dpkg-reconfigure command can help you repair a system faster than any other method. Unfortunately, it has limitations.

One of these limitations is that the list of tools for system configuration is undocumented but constantly changing. Unless you maintain your own list by running grep regularly, you may find that a command you've come to rely on no longer applies.

Another major limitation is that not all subsystems of your operating system are registered with debconf. Over the years, Debian has updated dpkg-reconfigure (e.g., seven years ago, CUPS was not recognized), but support continues to be erratic in places. Additionally, dpkg-reconfigure never did work with ALSA, Linux's former soundsystem, and today Debian configures PulseAudio individually for users, which means that dpkg-reconfigure does not affect it.

Some users, including me, would like dpkg-reconfigure more if it indicated which configuration files it edited. You can usually find the information online if you search long enough, but you shouldn't have to search in the first place.

Despite these limitations, the dpkg-reconfigure tool can help solve a problem or recover a system when nothing else can. It is especially useful in recovery mode or when you are otherwise unable to run a desktop environment. It gives the users of Debian-based systems an extra tool that other distributions lack, and although the tool may be incomplete, it often proves to be just what you need.

The Author

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist and a freelance writer and editor specializing in free and open source software. In addition to his writing projects, he is also a fan of parrots, heavy exercise, British folk-rock, science fiction, and 19th century novels. In his spare time, Bruce writes about Northwest coast art. You can read more of his work at http://brucebyfield.wordpress.com

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