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I've heard some packages being classified as a meta-package. So now I am left wondering what is the difference between a meta-package and a package?

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If I may submit a very similar question was asked on another channel… …by me. –  kojiro Oct 14 '11 at 19:26
oh... i was just looking into askubuntu.com to see if the question had been asked before. –  nitstorm Oct 14 '11 at 23:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

These packages do not contain actual software, they simply depend on other packages to be installed.

It is important to note that removing a meta package does NOT remove the packages it installed:

when a metapackage is automatically removed by the removal or purging of any one, or more, of its underlying dependencies, all of the other packages that were in the metapackage's depends list are still installed on the system.

You can look at the structure of a typical meta package by pulling (for example) ubuntu-desktop:

apt-get source ubuntu-desktop

and then looking at the structure, you'll find the list of packages each meta-package recommends, as well as the structure of putting it all together in debian/rules.


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What about update? If i update a metapackage, would the dependencies would also update? –  Kit Ho Apr 17 '13 at 5:46

Metapackages are a link to existing package or packages. So they are essentially a script that installs other packages.They keep the packages as dependencies

Eg: the package ubuntu-desktop installs all the packages needed for the Default UI for ubuntu. But uninstalling the same doesen't uninstall its dependencies

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what about upgrade? upgrade a metapackage would update the dependencies? –  Kit Ho Apr 17 '13 at 5:51

A meta-package pulls in other packages, and by definition should not do anything else.

A package usually has some sort of content (files, applications, documentation, a script, or such).

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Simply said, a meta package has nothing in it, except empty docs. The only thing it has is metadata, which means that it can have dependencies, or conflicts etc...

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