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For a specific package, can I find out why it is installed?

So, can I see or it's manually installed, or that it is installed as a dependency of another package? Or that it is installed as part of the distro?

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This is related to (a part of) this question, see this answer for details. – koushik Oct 10 '10 at 14:34
up vote 65 down vote accepted

A quick solution is to enter the following command in a terminal:

aptitude why $package

Replace $package with the package's name, and you may need to install the aptitude package first.

The following command

apt-cache rdepends --installed $package

lists the other packages installed on your computer that depend directly on $package. You can add the --recurse option to list all packages that depend directly or indirectly on it.

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Pity aptitude isn't included by default :( – badp Oct 10 '10 at 14:21
@badp thank you to point out. This is the bad new with maverick, only to save some space on the livecd iso image. But it is an invaluable tool, and i will not go without. – enzotib Oct 10 '10 at 14:31
apt-cache rdepends --recurse $package probably gives too many packages. I would add --installed option to restrict to installed packages. -i option restricts to pre-dependence and dependence related packages. But a package may be installed because it is recommended by another package. To include such recommendation relateded packages, I suppose this would give the right ones: apt-cache rdepends --no-suggests --no-conflicts --no-breaks --no-replaces --no-enhances --installed --recurse $package – jarno Dec 22 '13 at 18:20
slightly shorter equivalent of @jarno's incantation, assuming you're on bash or other shell with brace expansion: apt-cache rdepends --no-{suggests,conflicts,breaks,replaces,enhances} --installed --recurse $package – akavel Nov 2 '15 at 10:59

A quick and short reasoning on why a certain package was installed can be found out by typing the following command in a terminal (Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal) :

aptitude why <package-name>

Replace with the name of the package you are interested in. For example, typing aptitude why libgoo-canvas-perl outputs the following :

i   shutter Suggests libgoo-canvas-perl

This basically means that the package shutter in this case has suggested libgoo-canvas-perl be installed. By then typing aptitude why shutter I can walk up the dependency chain.

However, there is a caveat. I often notice aptitude finds the most plausible explanation for the situation that may not be the actual case, but will nevertheless give you a clue to look further.

In my case, shutter suggests libgoo-canvas-perl - however, suggested packages are not automatically installed by default. Nevertheless, it jogs my memory of the "experience" with not being able to edit screenshots with shutter which led me to manually install ligbgoo-canvas-perl

Finally, you can find out whether a package was installed automatically (meaning decided by the package management system as mandatory from looking at dependencies and recommendations of other packages you asked it to install) by running following command.

aptitude show <package-name>

This will output a line like below (3rd line of the output) :

Automatically installed: no

For more info run info aptitude (in a terminal) or visit the Aptitude wiki page

To find out when a particular package was installed, there are 2 options:

  1. Synaptic package manager maintains a history log of all activity. To view the history log file, choose History from the File menu. You can search for Install (mind the case) to list all entries regarding installation. However, this will only show the packages installed using Synaptic
  2. Run the following command in a terminal. This will search dpkg logs for installation history entries. However, there is maximum limit of how much of these logs are retained, so if the package you are looking for was installed a long time ago, you may not find it. More details here

    zcat -f /var/log/dpkg.log* | grep "\ install\ " | grep -i <package-name>
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+1 zoinks: very useful, thanks – msw Sep 21 '10 at 14:11
Yes, thanks a lot! Just what I needed! – bheeshmar Apr 30 '13 at 14:26
If you want to find out when a package was installed or upgraded zcat -f /var/log/dpkg.log* | grep -i PackageName | egrep “\ install\ |\ upgrade\ “ – Chris Good Jul 31 '15 at 0:19

Yes, you can, and it's a pretty obvious command, in fact. Assuming you've aptitude installed, you can open up a Terminal Window ad type:

aptitude why package

That should give a list of packages that depend on that specific package. If it's a manually installed package, it will say something like "It wasn't possible to find a reason to install package".

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Here's a simple way that doesn't rely on aptitude, which 10.10 doesn't ship by default anymore.


You do need root access to run these commands.


Open Synaptic and try to remove it.

If a dialog pops up asking you to delete other packages, those are the packages that (recursively) depend upon it.

From terminal

apt-get remove package_name_goes_here -s

Again, the packages that would be removed as a result are all those that (recursively) depend on it. (The -s parameter tells apt-get to not actually remove the package.)

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This is a risky solution because it could actually remove the package and all dependencies if they mis-click. – ImaginaryRobots Oct 10 '10 at 15:41
@ImaginaryRobots, that's a lot of misclicking. (You have to misclick Ok on the first dialog, then Apply, then again Ok on the confirmation dialog.) For the terminal version, there's also an extra y/N confirmation request should you typo -s. I added a warning however. – badp Oct 10 '10 at 15:44
-1 as this information is availble in Synaptic under the dependencies tab, when viewing the properties of a package. – alexanderpas Oct 29 '10 at 22:46
@alex incorrect - that dialog doesn't tell you whether that package is installed manually or automatically. PS: Inbox counter reset, try harder. – badp Oct 29 '10 at 22:52
@badp no, but that info can be found with the "Installed (manual)" status filter on the main screen, and can be seen in the package menu when you select a package. – alexanderpas Oct 29 '10 at 23:42

You can also use plain dpkg .

For example, dpkg -p [PACKAGE NAME] provides its information:

Example : if [ PACKAGE NAME ] is zip

dpkg -p zip  
Package: zip  
Priority: optional  
Section: utils  
Installed-Size: 616  
Maintainer: Ubuntu Developers <>  
Architecture: i386  
Version: 3.0-2  
Replaces: zip-crypt (<= 2.30-2)  
Depends: libbz2-1.0, libc6 (>= 2.7)  
Recommends: unzip  
Conflicts: zip-crypt (<= 2.30-2)  
Size: 318238  
Description: Archiver for .zip files  
 This is InfoZIP's zip program. It produces files that are fully  
 compatible with the popular PKZIP program; however, the command line  
 options are not identical. In other words, the end result is the same,  
 but the methods differ. :-)  
 This version supports encryption.  
Original-Maintainer: Santiago Vila <>  
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this is not an answer – Fredrick Gauss Dec 2 '14 at 9:42
The OP is asking for the reverse dependencies, as in which packages depends on zip not what packages zip depends on. – ecerulm Sep 15 '15 at 10:43

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