I am curious if there is a script friendly way to compute the equivalent of apt list --upgradeable. That produces a nice output with exactly one upgrade candidate per line, very parseable. BUT, apt also warns:

WARNING: apt does not have a stable CLI interface. Use with caution in scripts.

So I feel I should use venerable apt-get instead. Unfortunately, the output for that looks something like:

apt-get -s --no-download dist-upgrade
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
Calculating upgrade... Done
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  dbus libdbus-1-3
The following packages will be upgraded:
  bash gcc-8-base gpgv libedit2 libgcc1 libprocps7 libpsl5 libselinux1 libsemanage-common libsemanage1 libsepol1 libsqlite3-0 libstdc++6 perl-base
  procps publicsuffix rsyslog twigpilot-core
18 upgraded, 2 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.

Which is much less parseable. So I was hoping for some way to get apt-get update to print a more succinct list like apt would.

2 Answers 2


I don't use Ubuntu regularly but how about this:

$ apt-get -s --no-download dist-upgrade -V | grep '=>' | awk '{print$1}'

It prints one package per line. As described in man apt-get:

   -V, --verbose-versions
       Show full versions for upgraded and installed packages. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Show-Versions.
  • 1
    Yes, this helps. If I wanted to do it entirely from command line, I think I could use apt-get -V --no-download -s dist-upgrade | grep "^ .*" | cut -d"(" -f1 Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:13
  • But I'll have python so just getting the -V, and noting that all new/updated packages are preceded by unique whitespace, is enough to make them easily parseable. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:13
  • I needed to add --fix-missing to the apt-get -s --no-download dist-upgrade -V part for it to work.
    – horsey_guy
    Commented Apr 10 at 23:37

Is apt-show-versions -u what you are looking for? From its manpage:

-u, --upgradeable

    Print only upgradeable packages

List all packages available for upgrade in a text file and display them in column format:

apt-show-versions -u | column -t > debupdlist-$(date '+%Y%m%d').txt

List the names of upgradeable packages:

apt-show-versions -u | cut -d: -f1 
  • Does this always produce the same list of package that would actually get upgraded? What if there's a newer version of a package but it can't be installed due to missing dependencies or conflicts? What about pins? What about held packages? Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 19:26
  • I don't even have an apt-show command on my current install. Must be an extra/optional package that provides that? Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:09
  • @TravisGriggs The command is apt-show-versions, from the package of the same name.
    – Spooky
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 5:35
  • what you are looking for? He explicitly asked for apt-get, but one can infer that he was just evading apt's inconsistent output by any other solution
    – kqvanity
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 22:24

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