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40.6. Installing Software with Debian's Apt-Get

The dselect program is useful, because it lets you browse a list of available packages, viewing their descriptions and dependencies, and selecting desired packages for installation. However, if you know the name of a package you want to install, apt-get is often the easiest way to install it. Before using apt-get, you must configure the sources.list file. This same file is used when you choose the apt access method of dselect. Even if you don't plan on using apt-get, you'll find the information in the following subsection useful.

40.6.1. Configuring the sources.list File

The sources.list file resides in the /etc/apt directory. Like most other Linux configuration files, it can be revised by using an ordinary text editor, such as ae.

The file contains a series of lines, each specifying a source for packages. The lines are consulted serially, so it's usually advantageous to place lines that specify local sources -- such as a CD-ROM -- ahead of lines that specify remote sources. Doing so can save many minutes of download time.

Each line has the form:

deb uri distribution components

The uri is a universal resource identifier (URI) that specifies the computer on which the packages reside, the location of the packages, and the protocol used for accessing the packages. It has the following form:


Four protocols -- sometimes called URI types -- are recognized:

A local CD-ROM drive

A directory of the local filesystem

A web server

An FTP server

The host part of the URI and the preceding pair of slashes (//) are used only for the http and ftp protocols. There, the host part of the URI gives the name of the host that contains the packages.

The path part of the URI always appears, with the preceding slash (/). It specifies the absolute path of the directory that contains the packages.

Here are some examples of typical URIs:


The distribution part of a sources.list line specifies the distribution release that contains the packages. Typical values include:

The latest stable release; that is, one that is commonly regarded as having sufficiently few serious bugs for everyday use.

The latest unstable release. This release sometimes contains serious bugs and should not be installed by users who require high levels of system availability or reliability.

The components part of a sources.list line specifies the parts of the distribution that will be accessed. Typical values include:

The main set of packages.

Packages not an integral part of the distribution, but which may be useful.

Packages that contain software distributed under terms too restrictive to allow inclusion in the distribution, but which may be useful.

A typical sources.list file might contain the following entries:

deb file:/cdrom stable main contrib
deb http://www.us.debian.org/debian stable main contrib non-free
deb http://non-us.debian.org/debian-non-US stable non-US

This configuration allows rapid access to the distribution packages contained on the local CD-ROM. It also allows convenient access via the network to other packages and more recent package versions stored on web servers.

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