I recently installed Ubuntu Server edition 13.10 (Saucy Salamander). But I have run into a bit of problem.

At the end of the installation, it asks about several extra packages whether you want them or not, like OpenSSH server and virtual machine host. Here's what I'm looking at:

dialog offering packages

Now, my problem is that I can't remember if I have checked the "virtual machine host" checkbox. How do I check if my server has the corresponding packages?

What packages come with the virtual machine host?

  • 2
    $ apt-cache policy <package-name>, e.g. $ apt-cache policy dillo – Daniel Apr 10 '19 at 12:21

10 Answers 10


Are you looking to know about all dpkg commands with options? Have a read from the below link.

15 dpkg commands to Manage Debian based Linux Servers

To List all Installed Packages

Here less is a simple text reader used to scroll through the list of packages in a new buffer that opens in the existing terminal window. The list will not be mixed with other terminal commands and output. Hit q to return to the terminal prompt. See man less for more info.

dpkg -l | less

To check whether a package is installed or not:

dpkg -l {package_name}
dpkg -l vlc

To check if the package is installed or not (for example, vlc). If installed, launch the package:

dpkg -l | grep vlc

Show the location where the package is installed. The -S (capital S) stands for "search"

sudo dpkg -S {package_name}
sudo dpkg -S skype

To use Grep to search:

dpkg -l | grep {keywords}
dpkg -l | grep pdf
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  • 1
    What is the diference between this and dpkg-query -l "packagename" – heypaleblue May 24 '15 at 17:56
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    Do not depend on the exit code of dpkg -l packagename, as it might return with a 0 exit code even if the package is not fully installed - see: github.com/bitrise-io/bitrise/issues/433 – Viktor Benei Oct 25 '16 at 18:08
  • dpkg -l | cut -d " " -f 3 | grep "^vlc" to show all package names that start with vlc – anatoly techtonik Apr 14 '17 at 18:49
  • FYI, this doesn't work for meta packages since they don't correlate directly to a dpkg. Your response does answer the question as asked though. – mtalexan Oct 11 '17 at 19:15
  • @heypaleblue They are the same. From manual page: "dpkg can also be used as a front-end to dpkg-deb(1) and dpkg-query(1). The list of supported actions can be found later on in the ACTIONS section. If any such action is encountered dpkg just runs dpkg-deb or dpkg-query with the parameters given to it..." – Franklin Yu Nov 25 '19 at 22:19

apt -qq list PACKAGE can also be used for checking whether the PACKAGE is installed.

If installed it'll print something like (with [installed] at the end of the line):

$ apt -qq list awscli
awscli/stable,now 1.4.2-1 all [installed]

If not installed the output will be:

$ apt -qq list awscli
awscli/stable 1.4.2-1 all
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  • 1
    You can put a star on the end of the package name for a wildcard. – Brannon Oct 22 '16 at 3:09
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    You can also use the --installed option for that command to limit to matches which are actually installed. – mtalexan Oct 11 '17 at 19:17
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    What's the -qq for? It seems to work identically without it, and that option isn't in the manual man apt – Gabriel Staples Mar 8 '18 at 0:09
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    @GabrielStaples It looks like the apt list command isn't yet fully documented. Some quick testing on 16.04 seems to indicate that -q is a synonym for --quiet option. The first -q prevents the word "Done" being printed. The second also prevents "Listing... " from being printed. – Anthony Geoghegan Apr 3 '18 at 11:39
  • Even on Bionic, apt list still seems to be "WIP". Anyway for interactive use it does the job. I think in general apt family isn't meant for scripting, in which case you would still want dpkg. – Franklin Yu Nov 25 '19 at 18:43

Use dpkg

This command is the Debian package manager.

You can list all the installed packages with

dpkg -l

You can see details for a specific package with

dpkg -p packagename

And to learn if it is installed, use

dpkg -s packagename | grep Status

You can learn which package contains the software you want with

apt-cache search name*  

In your case you should use this command to search the package name you want

apt-cache search virtual machine host 
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  • Also apt-cache show <pkg_name> to show detailed information about installed and installable versions of a package. – Rockallite Jan 16 at 0:56

I've found a way to check for package installation with just dpkg-query command and no pipes.

I searched for such solution while writing a task for ansible playbook.

You can do something like this:

/usr/bin/dpkg-query --show --showformat='${db:Status-Status}\n' '<your package name>'

This is just one another way to do the thing.

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  • pipes in ansible can be used with the shell module. – sjas Aug 27 '17 at 9:51

I am writing a new answer as Tasksel 'Task names' DO NOT show up in dpkg or apt queries. Meaning the other answers are incomplete (or wrong).

"I can't remember If I have checked the 'virtual machine host' checkbox.."

Check if there is an asterisk by the name after re-running sudo tasksel (or an ' i ' if running tasksel --list-tasks).

If you do not see this, then you probably do not have the 'tasksel meta-package' installed.

"..How do I check if my server has the corresponding packages?"

If you want to find out what is installed under the Virtual Machine Host tasksel meta-package:

tasksel --list-tasks

(in your case tasksel --list-tasks | grep virt is enough)

This gives the proper task name and an indication as to whether it is installed.

In your case this tasksel name is virt-host.

"What packages come with the virtual machine host?"

From the last command, find the tasksel task name. This is needed for the next command:

tasksel --task-packages virt-host

This lists the individual Tasksel meta-package (denoted by appended '^') that make up the name. In your case it's virt-host^.

Once you find proper meta-name you can use apt:

 apt show virt-host^ | grep "Package:"

(or apt-cache show ... if apt show doesn't work.)

This will show all packages making up the given meta package.


 dpkg -l {each individual pkg name listed above}

This will tell you if the individual package is installed/uninstalled (noted by 2nd letter: 'i' status means installed). Do this for all packages listed under the task/meta package.

This should answer the original questions.

Side note: /usr/share/tasksel/descs/ubuntu-tasks.desc also holds descriptions of Tasksel meta-packages. If you: grep "virt" /usr/share/tasksel/descs/ubuntu-tasks.desc it will show the proper APT meta-package name. (In your case this is ubuntu-virt-server). You can also use apt commands with this meta-name.

If you are wanting to remove tasksel packages, this gets into the weeds a bit. Please consult this Ask Ubuntu answer or any number of other answers out there.

Please note that "meta" apt packages do not match Tasksel package names. Please consult the Tasksel Community Page for more info.

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Use tasksel (sudo apt-get install tasksel if you don't already have it) and run tasksel --list-tasks.

tasksel will print out a list of the tasks, and there will be an i next to each task that is installed, and a u next to each task that is not installed.

If you wish to install the task, use tasksel install <task>. The name of the task you are looking for is virt-host.

The software selection items are called "tasks".

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  • thanks for telling me the name of the task, that was one of my problems, wasn't sure which package to look for. – D.Zou Feb 20 '14 at 22:11

Simpler solution:

There is now an apt list command that lists installed packages. You can also search for a specific package with

apt list <package>

See man apt for more information. If you do not know the exact package name, you can use apt search followed by part of it to see a list of related packages.

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I created a little script with which you can automatically install from a list of packages or applications or simply check if they are already installed:

apt -qq list YOUR_LIST_GOES_HERE | grep -v "installed" | awk -F/ '{print $1}' > /root/list.txt
packages=$(cat /root/list.txt)
grep -q '[^[:space:]]' < /root/list.txt
if [[ $CHECK_LIST -eq 1 ]]; then
echo "Your packages are already installed"
echo "Installing packages"
apt-get  install -y $packages

Hope it helps someone.

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  • apt shouldn’t be used in scripts, the command always says. – Smar Apr 23 at 6:05

Check if some packages are installed and install missing ones otherwise

pkgs='qemu-user pandoc'
if ! dpkg -s $pkgs >/dev/null 2>&1; then
  sudo apt-get install $pkgs

More info at: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1298066/check-if-an-apt-get-package-is-installed-and-then-install-it-if-its-not-on-linu/54239534#54239534

Similar technique previously mentioned at: https://askubuntu.com/a/1102572/52975

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Another (not necessarily better) way: see whether the field APT-Manual-Installed appears in apt show <pkgname>. If it is absent then the package isn't installed. Unfortunately it's not shown in apt-cache show <pkgname>.

As always, the apt is for interactive use and not recommended for scripting.

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