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In Gentoo there is the file /var/lib/portage/world that contains packages that I explicitly installed. By explicit I mean, packages that I choose, not including anything installed by default, or pulled in by the dependencies.

Is there a similar file or a command to find that information in Ubuntu?

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@Stefan: no "hi" and "thanks" in a question? – phunehehe Oct 29 '10 at 13:41
I can't find it right now, but there's a FAQ somewhere that states that on StackExchange you shouldn't use "hi" and "thanks", just post the question :) – Joril Oct 29 '10 at 13:56
Thanks, I found it in a meta, gonna edit my questions and answers in a while meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2950/… – phunehehe Oct 29 '10 at 15:08
I don't know about the thanks really. But hi is out.. :) – Stefan Oct 29 '10 at 19:53
There is a quite good answer on this similar question at Super User. There may be complementary information on this similar question at Ask Ubuntu. – Gilles Oct 29 '10 at 22:45
up vote 37 down vote accepted

Just the code

aptitude search '~i !~M' -F '%p' --disable-columns | sort -u > currentlyinstalled.txt
wget -qO - http://mirror.pnl.gov/releases/precise/ubuntu-12.04.3-desktop-amd64.manifest \
  | cut -f1 | sort -u > defaultinstalled.txt
comm -23 currentlyinstalled.txt defaultinstalled.txt


One way to think about this problem is to break this into three parts:

  • How do I get a list of packages not installed as dependencies?
  • How do I get a list of the packages installed by default?
  • How can I get the difference between these two lists?

How do I get a list of packages not installed as dependencies?

The following command seems to work on my system:

$ aptitude search '~i !~M' -F '%p' --disable-columns | sort -u > currentlyinstalled.txt

Similar approaches can be found in the links that Gilles posted as a comment to the question. Some sources claim that this will only work if you used aptitude to install the packages; however, I almost never use aptitude to install packages and found that this still worked. The --disable-columns prevents aptitude from padding lines of package names with blanks that would hinder the comparison below. The | sort -u sorts the file and removes duplicates. This makes the final step much easier.

How do I get a list of the packages installed by default?

Note: This section starts out with a 'wrong path' that I think is illustrative. The second piece of code is the one that works.

This is a bit trickier. I initially thought that a good approximation would be all of the packages that are dependencies of the meta-packages ubuntu-minimal, ubuntu-standard, ubuntu-desktop, and the various linux kernel related packages. A few results on google searches seemed to use this approach. To get a list of these dependencies, I first tried the following (which didn't work):

$ apt-cache depends ubuntu-desktop ubuntu-minimal ubuntu-standard linux-* | awk '/Depends:/ {print $2}' | sort -u

This seems to leave out some packages that I know had to come by default. I still believe that this method should work if one constructs the right list of metapackages.

However, it seems that Ubuntu mirrors contain a "manifest" file that contains all of the packages in the default install. The manifest for Ubuntu 12.04.3 is here:


If you search through this page (or the page of a mirror closer to you):


You should be able to find the ".manifest" file that corresponds to the version and architecture you are using. To extract just the package names I did this:

wget -qO - http://mirror.pnl.gov/releases/precise/ubuntu-12.04.3-desktop-amd64.manifest | cut -f1 | sort -u > defaultinstalled.txt

The list was likely already sorted and unique, but I wanted to be sure it was properly sorted to make the next step easier. I then put the output in defaultinstalled.txt.

How can I get the difference between these two lists?

This is the easiest part since most Unix-like systems have many tools to do this. The comm tool is one of many ways to do this:

comm -23 currentlyinstalled.txt defaultinstalled.txt

This should print the list of lines that are unique to the first file. Thus, it should print a list of installed packages not in the default install.

share|improve this answer
What does your first pipeline do that aptitude search '~i!~M' -F %p doesn't? – ephemient Oct 30 '10 at 4:57
@ephemient: Probably nothing. I don't know much about aptitude and thus used tools I'm familiar with rather than digging around in the man file of a program I never use. – Steven D Oct 30 '10 at 16:38
You kind of destroy my hope, I thought there was some standard easy way :( – phunehehe Nov 2 '10 at 1:31
This almost works, but still isn't correct. There are multiple packages and libraries that I certainly didn't install manually contained in the resulting list. I used http://releases.ubuntu.com/releases/trusty/ubuntu-14.04-desktop-amd64.manifest and the additional | sed "s/ *$//" but still no dice. – jmiserez Jul 6 '14 at 14:14
The first step that gets a list of packages not installed as dependencies can be replaced with apt-mark showmanual | sort -u, as shown in other answers. Simpler, and does not rely on aptitude which is not installed by default. – skagedal May 3 '15 at 6:44

You can use either of these two one-liners. Both yield the exact same output on my machine and are more precise than all solutions proposed up until now (July 2014) in this question. They are a combination of the two answers (1) and (2). Note that I originally posted this answer here.

Using apt-mark:

comm -23 <(apt-mark showmanual | sort -u) <(gzip -dc /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz | sed -n 's/^Package: //p' | sort -u)

Using aptitude:

comm -23 <(aptitude search '~i !~M' -F '%p' | sed "s/ *$//" | sort -u) <(gzip -dc /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz | sed -n 's/^Package: //p' | sort -u)

Very few packages still fall through the cracks, although I suspect these are actually installed by the user, either right after the installation through the language localization setup or e.g. through the Totem codec installer. Also, the linux-header versions also seem to accumulate, even though I've only installed the non version-specific metapackage. Examples:


How does it work

  1. Get the list of manually installed packages. For aptitude, the additional sed strips out remaining whitespace at the end of the line.
  2. Get the list of packages installed right after a fresh install.
  3. Compare the files, only output the lines in file 1 that are not present in file 2.

Other possibilities don't work as well:

  • Using the ubuntu-14.04-desktop-amd64.manifest file (here for Ubuntu 14.04) instead of /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz. More packages are shown as manually installed even though they are not.
  • Using apt-mark showauto instead of /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz. apt-mark for example doesn't include the xserver-xorg package, while the other file does.

Both list more packages than the above solution.

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If you have upgraded your system since your initial install (which is the case for most people I think), is better to use the manifest file of your current Ubuntu release version. – Diego V Feb 13 '15 at 11:20
If you've upgraded, I think you would need to use both files, not just the manifest file. You can easily do that by just adding another comparison. The manifest file unfortunately does not contain everything that the initial_status.gz file does (I checked). – jmiserez Feb 24 '15 at 13:00
I'm impressed! I found a missing piece however. What about packages that were initially installed but then explicitly manually removed, however, later explicitly manually reinstalled? I found this in a working system. – n611x007 Aug 25 '15 at 9:22
I've made a question unix.SE/225330: List explicitly removed packages (apt) to address the bulk of the job. – n611x007 Aug 25 '15 at 10:33
This is better than the accepted solution, since the mirror.pnl.gov/releases/precise/… URL in the accepted solution is now a 404. – rmunn Jan 11 at 2:07

Here's some sample output of cat /var/log/apt/history.log:

Start-Date: 2011-01-22  00:43:38
Commandline: apt-get --target-release experimental install libdbus-1-dev
Upgrade: libdbus-1-3:i386 (1.4.0-1, 1.4.1-1), libdbus-1-dev:i386 (1.4.0-1, 1.4.1-1)
End-Date: 2011-01-22  00:43:48

Start-Date: 2011-01-23  01:16:13
Commandline: apt-get --auto-remove purge webcheck
Purge: python-utidylib:i386 (0.2-6), python-beautifulsoup:i386 (, libtidy-0.99-0:i386 (20091223cvs-1), webcheck:i386 (1.10.3)
End-Date: 2011-01-23  01:16:31

As for your question, filter the stuff with grep (cat /var/log/apt/history.log | grep Commandline).

Note that these files are rotated, so check for others so you don't miss anything:

$ ls /var/log/apt/history.log*
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 69120 2011-01-23 18:58 /var/log/apt/history.log
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 19594 2011-01-01 02:48 /var/log/apt/history.log.1.gz


  • I've checked both aptitude and synaptic (versions 0.70 and 0.6.3 respectively), and they both log their activities on that log file. The one setback with them is that they don't have the line starting with Commandline, so the grep trick won't work with them.
share|improve this answer
Interesting solution. You'll need to adjust the grep command a bit to just get a list of packages and to account for packages installed by aptitude and other package managers. If your logs have rotated away, well then you are out of luck. – Steven D Jan 23 '11 at 22:27
@steven Updated. My grep-fu is of a novice, so I'll leave that to the reader. Also, I don't know if the thing rotates away. I only have to files in there myself. – Tshepang Jan 23 '11 at 23:03
Whether they rotate away will depend on your logrotate setup and how long your system has been around. I'm unsure of Ubuntu defaults since it has been a long time since I changed them. – Steven D Jan 24 '11 at 3:40

According to man apt-mark:

apt-mark showauto
apt-mark showmanual
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showmanual is showing things like xserver-xorg-video-vesa, which I swear I didn't install manually. – phunehehe Sep 22 '12 at 3:18

i came across this beautiful oneliner while i was searching for this query

the one liner is

comm -13 \
  <(gzip -dc /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz | sed -n 's/^Package: //p' | sort) \
  <(comm -23 \
    <(dpkg-query -W -f='${Package}\n' | sed 1d | sort) \
    <(apt-mark showauto | sort) \

this oneliner filters packages installed by system using logs from /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz

i will post the link to the orig thread when i find it as this oneliner is not mine and and i cant seem to remember where i saw it

hope this helps someone

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You would want to have a look at this article.

At the end of the article, there is a python script that should do what you want.

It was written for (k)ubuntu. but should work for Ubuntu aswell.

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the link no longer seems to work. – rog Jul 16 '13 at 8:13
Broken links like these are why it's important to include the relevant information in your answer. – whitehat101 Nov 14 '15 at 0:52

Below is an addition to Steven D's answer.

The following line appears to be truncating package names at 32 characters:

aptitude search '~i !~M' | cut -d" " -f4 | sort -u > currentlyinstalled.txt

This seems to work:

aptitude search '~i !~M' -F "%p" > sort -u > currentlyinstalled.txt

see this answer

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Check out /var/log/apt/term.log

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that's a rather painful way to do things, and there is no distinction between packages I install myself, and those pulled in by dependencies – phunehehe Oct 29 '10 at 7:18
I agree, but I didn't know that apt keeps track of those :/ Now I know, thanks to Stefan :) – Joril Oct 29 '10 at 14:00

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