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Package Management: A Hands-On Explanation


Anatomy of a Slackware package

A Slackware package is a simple TGZ or TXZ compressed archive containing:

  • the tree structure of files and directories ;
  • post-installation scripts ;
  • the package description.

The name of every package provides a series of informations:

  • the program name ;
  • the program version ;
  • the architecture of the package ;
  • the build number.

Here's a few examples:

  • emacs-24.2-i486-1
  • mozilla-firefox-15.0.1-i486-1
  • vim-7.3.645-x86_64-1

Managing Slackware packages using the traditional tools

Since its early releases, Slackware provides a collection of simple tools - the pkgtools - enabling the user to install, upgrade and remove software packages, as well as build them:

  • installpkg
  • removepkg
  • upgradepkg
  • explodepkg
  • makepkg

Installing software packages

Install the Emacs editor from the Slackware DVD 1):

# mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom
# cd /mnt/cdrom/slackware/e
# installpkg emacs-24.2-i486-1.txz
Verifying package emacs-24.2-i486-1.txz.
Installing package emacs-24.2-i486-1.txz [ADD]:
# emacs (GNU Emacs)
# Emacs is the extensible, customizable, self-documenting real-time
# display editor. If this seems to be a bit of a mouthful, an
# easier explanation is that Emacs is a text editor and more. At
# its core is an interpreter for Emacs Lisp, a dialect of the Lisp
# programming language with extensions to support text editing.
# This version supports X.
# http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/
Executing install script for emacs-24.2-i486-1.txz.
Package emacs-24.2-i486-1.txz installed.
If you're using the CD set, Emacs is on the first CD.

Checking if a package is installed

The package installation process has created a new entry in /var/log/packages :

# ls /var/log/packages/em*

Knowing if a package is installed boils down to checking the existence of the corresponding entry in /var/log/packages. Example :

# ls /var/log/packages/*firefox*

Firefox is installed on the system, in version 15.0.1. Another example :

# ls /var/log/packages/kdebase*
ls: cannot access /var/log/packages/kdebase*: No such file or directory

There is no kdebase-* package installed on the system.

Removing a package

Use removepkg to remove an installed package. The command can take the simple basename of the package as an argument. Example:

# removepkg emacs

It's also possible to provide the complete name as an argument. In that case, it's better to call the command from within /var/log/packages and use tab completion:

# cd /var/log/packages
# removepkg emacs-24.2-i486-1

Upgrading a package

Slackware provides security updates for its latest releases. Visit the official site to know more about the latest updates:

# links http://www.slackware.com
  1. Follow the ChangeLogs link.
  2. Check out Slackware-stable ChangeLog.
  3. Read the file ChangeLog.txt corresponding to the architecture of your system.

You can also use the Links browser to fetch updates manually. Before launching Links, create a /root/updates directory 2) to store your downloaded updates:

# cd
# mkdir updates
# cd updates/
# links mirrors.slackware.com
  1. Follow the Slackware File Tree link.
  2. Check out the directory corresponding to your release and architecture.
  3. Change into the patches/packages directory.
  4. Download any available updates.

Quit Links and install your updates like this :

# upgradepkg bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0.txz

| Upgrading bind-9.9.1_P3-i486-1 package using ./bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0.txz
Pre-installing package bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0...
Removing package /var/log/packages/bind-9.9.1_P3-i486-1-upgraded-2012-11-21,12:14:32...
  --> Deleting /usr/doc/bind-9.9.1-P3/CHANGES
  --> Deleting /usr/doc/bind-9.9.1-P3/COPYRIGHT
  --> Deleting /usr/doc/bind-9.9.1-P3/FAQ
Verifying package bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0.txz.
Installing package bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0.txz:
bind (DNS server and utilities)
# The named daemon and support utilities such as dig, host, and
# nslookup.  Sample configuration files for running a simple caching
# nameserver are included.  Documentation for advanced name server
# setup can be found in /usr/doc/bind-9.x.x/.
Executing install script for bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0.txz.
Package bind-9.9.1_P4-i486-1_slack14.0.txz installed.
Package bind-9.9.1_P3-i486-1 upgraded with new package

Another example :

# upgradepkg iptables-1.4.14-i486-2_slack14.0.txz

Know more about the contents of a package

Every package has a corresponding entry in /var/log/packages. These are all simple text files providing information about the contents of the respective packages. Example:

# less /var/log/packages/wget-1.14-i486-1
PACKAGE NAME:     wget-1.14-i486-1
PACKAGE LOCATION: /var/log/mount/slackware/n/wget-1.14-i486-1.txz
wget: wget (a non-interactive network retriever)
wget: GNU Wget is a free network utility to retrieve files from the 
wget: World Wide Web using HTTP and FTP, the two most widely used Internet
wget: protocols.  It works non-interactively, thus enabling work in the
wget: background after having logged off.
wget: The author of Wget is Hrvoje Niksic <hniksic@srce.hr>.

Managing Slackware packages with slackpkg

The slackpkg utility has been officially included in Slackware since the 13.0 release. It enables the user to manage Slackware packages much more comfortably.

A few remarks:

  1. Only official Slackware packages are handled by slackpkg.
  2. Third-party packages can be managed if you use Matteo Rossini's slackpkg+ plugin.
  3. Dependencies still have to be managed manually.

Initial configuration

Edit /etc/slackpkg/mirrors and comment out one and only one package source, for example:

# /etc/slackpkg/mirrors
# http://mirror.ovh.net/mirrors/ftp.slackware.com/slackware-14.0/
If you are using a stable release of Slackware, don't get the section wrong and uncomment a mirror from Slackware-current. If you do that, you will upgrade to a development version of Slackware!

If you prefer managing packages locally without the benefit of updates, you can still use the Slackware installation DVD as a package source. In that case, you will have to configure the default mount point:

# /etc/slackpkg/mirrors 
# Local CD/DVD drive

Don't forget to mount the DVD before calling slackpkg:

# mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom

Update the information on available packages:

# slackpkg update
Note that the above command does not install any package updates. It only updates the internal list of packages you can install.
It's always a good idea to invoke slackpkg update before searching, installing or updating a package, so the system's informations about available packages are up to date.

Installing packages

Example with a single package:

# slackpkg install mplayerplug-in

Confirm the installation in the subsequent screen, and the package is automatically downloaded and installed.

You can also provide several packages as an argument:

# slackpkg install mplayerplug-in bittorrent

You can also manage whole package groups:

# slackpkg install kde

Another example for package groups:

# slackpkg install xfce

Remove packages

Example with a single package:

# slackpkg remove mplayerplug-in

As above, confirm the removal of the package in the subsequent screen.

Remove several packages at once:

# slackpkg remove mplayerplug-in bittorrent

Likewise, you can remove a whole package group:

# slackpkg remove kde


# slackpkg remove xfce

Upgrading packages

When a package update is available, you can install it using the following command:

# slackpkg upgrade iptables

Update several packages at once:

# slackpkg upgrade mozilla-firefox mozilla-thunderbird

It is common practice to keep your whole system up to date:

# slackpkg upgrade-all

Search for specific packages or files

Search for a specific package:

# slackpkg search k3b    
Looking for k3b in package list. Please wait... DONE
The list below shows all packages with name matching "k3b".
[uninstalled] - k3b-2.0.2_20120226.git-i486-1

If the package is already installed, here's what you get:

# slackpkg search Terminal
Looking for Terminal in package list. Please wait... DONE
The list below shows all packages with name matching "Terminal".
[ installed ] - Terminal-0.4.8-i486-1

You can also search for individual files. The search will eventually display on or several packages containing the file in question:

# slackpkg file-search libncurses.so
Looking for libncurses.so in package list. Please wait... DONE
The list below shows the packages that contains "libncurses\.so" file.
[ installed ] - aaa_elflibs-14.0-i486-4
[ installed ] - ncurses-5.9-i486-1

If you want to know more about the content of a package:

# slackpkg info mesa

PACKAGE NAME:  mesa-8.0.4-i486-1.txz
PACKAGE LOCATION:  ./slackware/x
PACKAGE SIZE (compressed):  19208 K
PACKAGE SIZE (uncompressed):  83930 K
mesa: mesa (a 3-D graphics library)
mesa: Mesa is a 3-D graphics library with an API very similar to that of
mesa: another well-known 3-D graphics library.  :-)  The Mesa libraries are
mesa: used by X to provide both software and hardware accelerated graphics.
mesa: Mesa was written by Brian Paul.

Cleaning the system

Remove all third-party packages:

# slackpkg clean-system

If you decide to keep some of the packages, simply unselect them in the subsequent screen.

You can also use slackpkg to repair a damaged package. Let's say I accidentally deleted the file /usr/bin/glxgears. First, I have to search for the package providing that file:

# slackpkg file-search glxgears
Looking for glxgears in package list. Please wait... DONE
The list below shows the packages that contains "glxgears" file.
[ installed ] - mesa-8.0.4-i486-1

With this information, I can simply reinstall the package:

# slackpkg reinstall mesa

Rebuild official packages

Slackware provides the entire system's source code in the source directory. Every binary system package will have his corresponding source directory. These source directories usually contain:

  • the source code for the application or the library;
  • its fabrication recipe in the shape of a *.SlackBuild file;
  • the package description in a slack-desc file;
  • eventually, a post-installation script named doinst.sh;
  • various other files like patches, custom menu entries, etc.

Build a package from source

In the example below, we will build the Terminal application from the source code provided by Slackware. You might want to remove the corresponding package if it is installed.

The Terminal package is Xfce's terminal. In Slackware 14.1, the package has been renamed to xfce4-terminal.
# removepkg Terminal

Choose an appropriate place on your system to store the source code and the scripts, for example:

# cd
# mkdir -pv source/Terminal
mkdir: created directory 'source'
mkdir: created directory 'source/Terminal'
# cd source/Terminal/
# links mirrors.slackware.com

Fetch the content from the source/xfce/Terminal directory on a Slackware mirror. Here's what we get:

# ls -lh 
total 1,4M
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  821 nov.  24 15:09 slack-desc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1,4M nov.  24 15:11 Terminal-0.4.8.tar.xz
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3,6K nov.  24 15:10 Terminal.SlackBuild

Make the Terminal.SlackBuild file executable and start the building process:

# chmod +x Terminal.SlackBuild
# ./Terminal.SlackBuild

The script initiates the package compilation. If everything goes as expected, the operation exits with the following message:

Slackware package /tmp/Terminal-0.4.8-i486-1.txz created.

Now we can install the resulting package:

# installpkg /tmp/Terminal-0.4.8-i486-1.txz

Modify an official Slackware package

The main reason for rebuilding an official package is to modify it, for example to add or strip certain functionalities. In the following example, we will rebuild the audacious-plugins package in order to modify the Audacious audio player. The vanilla application sports two different graphical interfaces, and we will disable one of them.

Let's begin with removing the package if it is installed:

# removepkg audacious-plugins

Now create a suitable directory to store the source code:

# cd /root/source
# mkdir audacious-plugins
# cd audacious-plugins
# links mirrors.slackware.com 

Fetch the contents of the /source/xap/audacious-plugins directory and make the audacious-plugins.SlackBuild script executable:

# chmod +x audacious-plugins.SlackBuild
# ls -lh
total 1,4M
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1,4M nov.  24 15:28 audacious-plugins-3.3.1.tar.xz
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 4,0K nov.  24 15:28 audacious-plugins.SlackBuild*
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  892 nov.  24 15:28 slack-desc

Now edit audacious-plugins.SlackBuild and add one option:

# Configure:
./configure \
  --prefix=/usr \
  --libdir=/usr/lib${LIBDIRSUFFIX} \
  --sysconfdir=/etc \
  --mandir=/usr/man \
  --enable-amidiplug \
  --disable-gtkui \          -> add this option
  --program-prefix= \
  --program-suffix= \

Build and install the package:

# ./audacious-plugins.SlackBuild
Slackware package /tmp/audacious-plugins-3.3.1-i486-1.txz created.
# installpkg /tmp/audacious-plugins-3.3.1-i486-1.txz

Choosing your configuration options for compiling

The source configuration script (or more exactly the sometimes very long line in the SlackBuild beginning with ./configure) often displays an overview of activated and/or deactivated options. To interrupt the package construction process and display this overview, you can temporarily edit the SlackBuild like this:

# Configure:
./configure \
  --prefix=/usr \
  --libdir=/usr/lib${LIBDIRSUFFIX} \
  --sysconfdir=/etc \
  --mandir=/usr/man \
  --enable-amidiplug \
  --program-prefix= \
  --program-suffix= \

exit 1          -> add this option to interrupt the script

# Build and install:
make $NUMJOBS || make || exit 1
make install DESTDIR=$PKG || exit 1

Now run the script and wait a few seconds for the configuration overview:

# ./audacious-plugins.SlackBuild

GTK (gtkui):                            yes
Winamp Classic (skins):                 yes

Use the ./configure –help option to display a list of all the possible options:

# tar xvf audacious-plugins-3.3.1.tar.xz
# cd audacious-plugins-3.3.1
# ./configure --help | less
--disable-speedpitch    disable Speed and Pitch effect plugin
--disable-gtkui         disable GTK interface (gtkui)
--disable-skins         disable Winamp Classic interface (skins)
--disable-lyricwiki     disable LyricWiki plugin (default=enabled)
The SlackBuild script already takes care of automatically uncompressing the source tarball to the /tmp directory. So you can simply run ./configure –help | less from this directory, without manually uncompressing the source tarball to the current directory.
In the present case, activating certain functionalities like for example managing proprietary audio formats will depend on the presence of the corresponding libraries on your system.

Once you've chosen all your configuration options, get rid of the temporary exit 1 command in your script and launch the build and installation process:

# ./audacious-plugins.SlackBuild
Slackware package /tmp/audacious-plugins-3.3.1-i486-1.txz created.
# installpkg /tmp/audacious-plugins-3.3.1-i486-1.txz



if it's not already installed
This is just an example, of course. Feel free to use any convenient place on your system.

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