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When I run the command sudo dpkg-reconfigure lightdm, I'm taken to a screen that allows me to customize which display manager I want to use. It lists lightdm, gdm, and other display managers I have installed. I haven't used this command for other things, but I assume it lets you configure other categories of packages as well.

How does dpkg-reconfigure know what applications are display managers (or any other category you're configuring) and which aren't? If there is some categorization going on behind the scenes with apt-get, I'd like to know about it, and how I can view these categories.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

It gets the choices within its the config control file in the .deb package:

if db_metaget shared/default-x-display-manager choices; then

You can see meta-info about a package, including virtual functions it provides like "x-display-manager", with the apt-cache command:

steven@wind:~$ apt-cache show lightdm | head
Package: lightdm
Priority: optional
Section: x11
Installed-Size: 440
Maintainer: Robert Ancell <>
Architecture: i386
Version: 1.2.3-0ubuntu2.2
Provides: x-display-manager
Depends: debconf (>= 0.5) | debconf-2.0, upstart-job, libc6 (>= 2.4), libglib2.0-0 (>= 2.28.0), libpam0g (>=, libxcb1, libxdmcp6, libpam-runtime (>= 0.76-14), libpam-modules, adduser, libglib2.0-bin, dbus, plymouth (>= 0.8.2-2ubuntu31.1)
Pre-Depends: dpkg (>=

The Provides: x-display-manager line is the relevant piece here.

One way to find out which other packages provide this function is apt-cache search ...:

steven@wind:~$ apt-cache search x-display-manager
kdm - KDE Display Manager for X11
lightdm - Display Manager
gdm - GNOME Display Manager
lxdm - GUI login manager for LXDE
slim - desktop-independent graphical login manager for X11
wdm - WINGs Display Manager - an xdm replacement with a WindowMaker look
xdm - X display manager

If you really want to dive into the details, the Debconf Programmer's Tutorial is a good place to start.

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Thanks! The ability to search for packages with a certain category is really useful. Now I can easily find all of the display managers and window managers I can try out. – gsingh2011 Jul 18 '13 at 3:39

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