Once upon a time, if I wanted to know what a particular (uninstalled) packages was for, I could go

apt-cache show <package>

and it would produce a slew of information, including a good couple of paragraphs describing the package.

This has changed recently. Now the "Description" field is only ever one line.

On an older, system, It goes:

mslade@natty1:~$ apt-cache show apt
Description: Advanced front-end for dpkg
 This is Debian's next generation front-end for the dpkg package manager.
 It provides the apt-get utility and APT dselect method that provides a
 simpler, safer way to install and upgrade packages.
 APT features complete installation ordering, multiple source capability
 and several other unique features, see the Users Guide in apt-doc.

And now:

mslade@mickpc:~$ apt-cache show apt
Description: commandline package manager

The long descriptions are still in the package files, and you can query them with dpkg -s if you've already installed them, but this isn't helpful if you just want to know more about some package that was mentioned on some web site.

I have searched everywhere for some source for these descriptions. The best I have some up with so far is, download the .deb file and run dpkg-deb -I on it. This is really overkill if all you want is the metadata.

Is there a better way?

Update: I just installed a new pangolin VM and noticed its apt-cache show gave long descriptions, until i fudged /etc/apt/sources.list to use my own mirror, produced with debmirror. I suspect debmirror is the culprit.

  • I still see more than one line. I see what you see in the "older system". This is on Lubuntu 12.10. And this is also for software that I haven't installed (but are available). – user25656 Mar 1 '13 at 15:54
  • I also tested this on a system running Ubuntu Raring (what will eventually be released as 13.04) and I do get a long description. – roadmr Mar 1 '13 at 16:10

This sounds like you have something like

Acquire::Languages { "none"; };

somewhere in /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/

Replace it by

Acquire::Languages { "environment"; };


Acquire::Languages { "en"; };

You may need to run

apt-get update

to download to corresponding translation files (/var/lib/apt/lists/*Translation-*)

  • No, nothing of the sort. See question edit. – Michael Slade Mar 2 '13 at 16:12
  • That answer is so perfectly right for me. – Robert Siemer Mar 10 '14 at 18:01

Passing --i18n to debmirror has fixed this.

This is an ubuntu quirk. Debian's Packages files contain the long english descriptions, ubuntu has pulled them out into Translation-en files. debmirror assumes you only need translation files if you want something besides english, so it doesn't mirror any by default.

(Is this worth keeping as a question/answer?)

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