I am maintaining a debian package, which includes some config files that are installed under /etc/. Is there a way I can somehow make the package to always automatically --purge itself whenever a user does a regular apt-get remove mypackage ?

The reason is that I have some config files in /etc that should really be removed when the binaries are removed, otherwise it can lead to weird behavior. However I still want to treat them as conf files, i.e. make sure apt does not just wipe them on every upgrade of the package. But they should be removed when the package is uninstalled.

Currently I am manually deleting the /etc conf files in my postrm script. However I just found out that this has a unfortunate side effect: if the user uninstalls and then later re-installs the package, the conf files won't be reinstalled, because apt thinks that they are still there. So is there a way I can manually trigger a full 'purge' in my postrm, such that apt knows that the conf files are gone?

  • 1
    Can you elaborate more on what is going wrong? Is it perhaps a crontab or something erroring when the binary is missing? You should add logic to your crontabs or anything else to only run if the package is actually installed.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 8:17

3 Answers 3


The debian policy forbids you from messing around with files that belong to other packages and/or system changes. (or at least I think it does)

Teach your users

You may instruct users to use purge instead of remove:

sudo apt-get purge mypackage

Automatic overwrite

If you need to overwrite configuration files, debian may prompt the user to install the maintainer configuration files: http://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/maint-guide/dother.en.html#conffiles

One of the most annoying things about software is when you spend a great deal of time and effort customizing a program, only to have an upgrade stomp all over your changes. Debian solves this problem by marking such configuration files as conffiles. [55] When you upgrade a package, you'll be asked whether you want to keep your old configuration files or not.

Force new configuration files by default

You may do that automatically while upgrading:

apt-get -o Dpkg::Options::="--force-confnew" dist-upgrade

Sources: http://raphaelhertzog.com/2010/09/21/debian-conffile-configuration-file-managed-by-dpkg/ and https://askubuntu.com/a/104912/5538


I'm not sure about this, but I think you may can fully purge and replace an old package version with a new package version.

Read here: http://www.debian.org/doc/debian-policy/ch-relationships.html#s-replaces


open the terminal and type this command.

alias remove='apt-get remove --purge

It will create an alias called remove and define it to include remove --purge

  • Alias is for apt-get remove --purge right? remove by itself is another command/function.
    – saji89
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 6:05
  • Thats not what I meant. I am a package developer, and I would like this to apply to anyone who install my package. I rephrased the post a bit, hopefully it is clear now. Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 6:25
  • @Jeroen Oh sorry. I misunderstood you
    – Suhaib
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 20:10
  • @saji89 Yea, I had the same idea. But when I typed alias in the terminal it showed me this alias ls='ls --color=auto' so a you can see that the command ls is already assigned to another command ls --color=auto
    – Suhaib
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 20:12
  • 1
    @Suhaib, I think you got me wrong. I meant that you should change the alias to alias remove='apt-get remove --purge'. And not an alias to remove --purge as you have told.
    – saji89
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 3:59

I occasionally run aptitude purge '~c' which purges everything that hasn't been purged before. Encourage people to do that.

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