1. At https://packages.ubuntu.com/, we follow the link "bionic" under "Browse through the lists of packages:".
  2. At https://packages.ubuntu.com/bionic/, we follow the link "Virtual packages".
  3. We reach https://packages.ubuntu.com/bionic/virtual/, but nothing is shown there (I think this is a bug!).

If we know the name of the virtual package (e.g. build-essential), we can display the information by manually typing the full URL, like the following:

This bothered me for 10+ years (since perhaps Ubuntu 6.06 or 8.04). Does anyone know where I can obtain a list of all virtual packages?


  • 2
    You can search for virtual packages using aptitude e.g. aptitude search '?virtual' - but build-essential isn't a actually virtual package AFAIK – steeldriver Mar 1 at 16:44
  • @steeldriver : Thanks, it works! Yeah, I just found that build-essential is not a virtual package too. XD If you put this into the answer section, I will mark it as the accept answer. – Siu Ching Pong -Asuka Kenji- Mar 1 at 17:16

The aptitude package manager's search function can match virtual packages as follows:

aptitude search '?virtual'

However build-essential isn't such a package - in Debian terminology, a virtual package is described as follows:

A virtual package is a generic name that applies to any one of a group of packages, all of which provide similar basic functionality. For example, both the konqueror and firefox-esr programs are web browsers, and should therefore satisfy any dependency of a program that requires a web browser on a system, in order to work or to be useful. They are therefore both said to provide the "virtual package" called www-browser.

So for example the virtual package xserver may be provided by any of

$ aptitude search '?provides(^xserver$)'
p   tigervnc-standalone-server                                              - Standalone virtual network computing server                                      
p   tigervnc-standalone-server:i386                                         - Standalone virtual network computing server                                      
p   tightvncserver                                                          - virtual network computing server software                                        
p   tightvncserver:i386                                                     - virtual network computing server software                                        
p   vnc4server                                                              - Virtual network computing server software                                        
p   vnc4server:i386                                                         - Virtual network computing server software                                        
p   xnest                                                                   - Nested X server                                                                  
p   xnest:i386                                                              - Nested X server                                                                  
p   xserver-xephyr                                                          - nested X server                                                                  
p   xserver-xephyr:i386                                                     - nested X server                                                                  
p   xserver-xephyr-hwe-18.04                                                - nested X server                                                                  
p   xserver-xephyr-hwe-18.04:i386                                           - nested X server                                                                  
i   xserver-xorg                                                            - X.Org X server                                                                   
p   xserver-xorg:i386                                                       - X.Org X server                                                                   
p   xserver-xorg-hwe-18.04                                                  - X.Org X server                                                                   
p   xserver-xorg-hwe-18.04:i386                                             - X.Org X server                                                                   
p   xvfb                                                                    - Virtual Framebuffer 'fake' X server                                              
p   xvfb:i386                                                               - Virtual Framebuffer 'fake' X server                                              

Unfortunately I don't think there's a specific search term that would let you identify "packages like" build-essential - I've seen it sometimes referred to as a dependency-only package, but that's not strictly true since it does install some files of its own.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.