Fixing broken packages in Debian systems

Package Repair

© stylephotographs,

© stylephotographs,

Article from Issue 196/2017

When human error stumps the Debian package manager, familiar tools like apt-get, aptitude, and dpkg can help restore functionality.

The Debian package manager pioneered automatic dependency resolution during software installation. However, like any software, it cannot protect against human error. Maybe you installed the wrong package from Testing or Unstable repositories or gambled on Experimental. Maybe you installed a flawed third-party package or mixed packages from different Debian derivatives. Or maybe the maintainer made a mistake or a major technology change has happened, and you are not to blame at all. But in all of these cases, you either receive an error message (Figure 1) or a ranked list of possible solutions (Figure 2), and suddenly you are unable to install, remove, or update anything until the problem completes its efforts and returns you to a waiting command prompt.

If you are patient, a new version of the problem package will be released that fixes the problem. The only trouble is, the new version might not be released for weeks, depending on where Debian, or your Debian derivative, like Linux Mint or Ubuntu, happens to be in its development cycle. Even after filing a bug, it can sometimes take time to resolve the problem. Probably, then, you want to take more active steps.

Fortunately, the tools you need are ones you are likely already be familiar with: apt-get [1], the package manager's front end; aptitude [2], the popular command-line interface; and dpkg [3], the basic package tool. All three have the structure


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