I'm on Debian and I want to re-partition my drive and reinstall. Is there an easy way to restore all currently installed packages after a fresh installation?

I'm thinking of doing it by making a backup app list:

#generate list of installed packages
dpkg -l | awk '{ print $2 }' ORS="\n" | tail -n +6 > reinstallList.txt

and then after doing a fresh install I should be able to do:

#install from backup at reinstallList.txt
sudo apt-get  install $(< reinstallList.txt)

Is there a better way of doing this?

  • 1
    Don't forget to make a backup of /etc so you can easily restore configuration settings for those packages.
    – Anthon
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 9:26

2 Answers 2


According to the Debian wiki, you should run this command before the reinstall:

dpkg --get-selections > /backup/installed-software.log

Then, after reinstall, run this:

dpkg --set-selections < /backup/installed-software.log
apt-get dselect-upgrade

Obviously, you should replace /backup/installed-software.log with the name of some file that you can keep during the reinstall process. Putting it on a thumb drive would be good.

For more information, see the wiki: https://wiki.debian.org/ListInstalledPackages

  • I've used this method many times.
    – bahamat
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 8:30
  • Perfect! This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks! Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 9:14

dpkg -l lists all installed packages (at list when you filter it right). You can get the same list with dpkg --get-selections (which requires no further filtering).

This loses information about manually vs. automatically-installed packages. It's very convenient to have libraries and other packages marked as only indirectly-needed. Packages marked as automatically installed can be removed or replaced by different packages without fuss. Dpkg doesn't know about automatically-installed packages, only apt does.

To list the manually-installed packages, you can use aptitude:

aptitude search -F %p '~i !~M' >reinstallList.txt

Without aptitude, it's a bit more complicated.

dpkg --get-selections | awk '$2 == "install" {print $1}' >installed.txt
apt-mark showauto >automatic.txt
comm -32 installed.txt automatic.txt >reinstallList.txt

To install all the packages that were formerly installed:

apt-get install $(cat reinstallList.txt)

Alternatively, you can use the more roundabout method of copying the list of installed packages, and then restoring the list of packages marked as automatic. To back up:

dpkg --get-selections >selections.txt
apt-mark showauto >automatic.txt

To restore:

dpkg --set-selections <selections.txt
apt-get dselect-upgrade
apt-mark markauto $(cat automatic.txt)

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