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Meta packages are packages that do not install anything by themselfs, but are dependent on other packages. How do I list the installed meta packages on my system?

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I think there's no other way than the brute force one: check all installed packages and report those whose installed files are only /usr/share/doc/$pkg/(copyright|changelog)*. – angus Jan 21 '12 at 23:30

Try the following command, that list the name of every installed package that has the string "metapackage" in its section field in apt-cache show output:

apt-cache show $(dpkg-query -Wf '${Package}\n') | 
  awk '$1 == "Package:" { pkg = $2 }; 
       $1 == "Section:" && $2 ~ /metapackage/ { print pkg }'
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Maybe you mean “Description” field? But then, there is also (at least) “meta-package” and “meta package”... – angus Jan 22 '12 at 11:25
@angus: no, I mean exactly section field: at least in Debian and in Ubuntu real metapackages are in section metapackages and multiverse/metapackages. – enzotib Jan 22 '12 at 11:30
Isn't (for example) emacs a metapackage? I have it in section “editors”. Its description says: “The GNU Emacs editor (metapackage)”. (?) What's an example of a package in section “metapackage”? I couldn't find any :-/. – angus Jan 22 '12 at 14:23
OK, with perl -n00e 'print if /^Section: .*metapackage/m' /var/lib/apt/lists/*Packages I found 4 of them. I don't think it's a very reliable method... – angus Jan 22 '12 at 14:37

I used:

apt-cache search . | grep -i "metapackage\|meta-package"

combined with:

dpkg --get-selections

in the following script:

awk 'BEGIN{
    FS=" - ";
    findmeta="apt-cache search . | grep -i \"metapackage\|meta-package\"";
    while ((findmeta | getline) > 0) meta[$1]=$2;
    FS=" ";
    findinstalled="dpkg --get-selections";
    while ((findinstalled | getline) > 0) {
        if ($1 in meta) print $1" - "meta[$1]

On one line:

awk 'BEGIN{FS=" - ";findmeta="apt-cache search . | grep -i \"metapackage\|meta-package\""; while ((findmeta | getline) > 0) meta[$1]=$2; FS=" "; findinstalled="dpkg --get-selections"; while ((findinstalled | getline) > 0) {if ($1 in meta) print $1" - "meta[$1]}}'

Example results:

emacs - GNU Emacs editor (metapackage)
exim4 - metapackage to ease Exim MTA (v4) installation
linux-headers-amd64 - Header files for Linux amd64 configuration (meta-package)
linux-image-amd64 - Linux for 64-bit PCs (meta-package)
xfce4 - Meta-package for the Xfce Lightweight Desktop Environment
xserver-xorg-input-all - X.Org X server -- input driver metapackage
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