Should I update it? – Try using apt-listchanges

As a linux system administrator, I often find myself dealing with numerous new “updates” on the command line when I run my usual “sudo apt-get update ; sudo apt-get upgrade” every other day.  Often, I don’t know what’s included with the updates, so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope that good things will come with installing the updates.  And yet there may be hidden issues or strange defaults that come with changes.

For Debian/Ubuntu, I just recently discovered a program out there that’ll help with putting together the missing pieces for me and it’s called “apt-listchanges”.

To install it on one of your servers, go with something like:

sudo apt-get install apt-listchanges

Then configure with:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure apt-listchanges

The software explains itself pretty nicely, apparently it hooks into apt-get update to put together a nicer list of changelog data and other important news information.  There are also options to email a copy of the changes to yourself, for easier reading out of the command line prompts.  From a description for the program (

The tool apt-listchanges can compare a new version of a package with the one currently installed and show what has been changed, by extracting the relevant entries from the Debian changelog and NEWS files.

It can be run on several .deb archives at a time to get a list of all changes that would be caused by installing or upgrading a group of packages. When configured as an APT plugin it will do this automatically during upgrades.

What other ways do you know of to keep track of what you’re really updating on your Linux servers whilst in command-line?

About Ben Shum

Ben Shum (bshum) is the Open Source Software Coordinator for Bibliomation, a consortium of public and school libraries in Connecticut that implemented Evergreen ILS in 2010.

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