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apt-get and dpkg on your LFS

Uditha Atukorala's picture

AUTHOR: Ben Roberts

DATE: 2003-09-17

LICENSE: GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2

SYNOPSIS: Compiling apt-get and dpkg, and getting them to work

dpkg and apt-get are a pair of extremely powerful programs for managing
packages, (in)famous for their ability to easily upgrade an entire Linux
system. However, since these tools are designed for installing and
maintaining Debian GNU/Linux, they were never meant to be installed
"from scratch." This hint describes how you can fool these programs
into working.

This hint tries to aim to be as easy to understand as the LFS book
itself. Some of it, however, does actually require some understanding of
UNIX commands. While all sets of commands give an explanation as to why
they should be run, they do not usually include the background on how
they work.

[I first attempted this process in 2001 for the purpose of installing
Debian on top of Red Hat without rebooting and without install CD's. It
worked quite nicely, but my logs of how I did it were lost when that
computer's hard drive died. I have attempted to recreate the process
using a chrooted LFS install on my computer; I hope this works for you

First, download the dpkg and apt sources from
and (small link near bottom of the page). The
versions used to write this hint are dpkg-1.9.21 and 0.5.4.

$ tar xzvf dpkg_1.9.21.tar.gz
$ cd dpkg-1.9.21
$ ./configure --prefix=/usr --admindir=/var/lib/dpkg

Note that --with-admindir has a different default setting (/usr/lib/db)
than what apt and the rest of Debian use, so it's wise to use the
configure option to make it in the default location now, or make a
symlink until you download the binary as a dpkg.

If you just type 'make,' the compile will fail unless you have jade
and debiandoc2html (you probably don't have either of these things).
The best way around this is to change doc/Makefile; this requires
disabling doc/Makefile:

$ mv doc/Makefile doc/Makefile.bak
$ sed 's/^all: /&# /g; s/^install: /&# /g' doc/Makefile.bak > doc/Makefile

(this is further reason to just install the Debian version of the
package once apt works)

$ make
$ su
# make install

Next we'll install apt.

$ tar xzvf apt_0.5.4.tar.gz
$ cd apt-0.5.4
$ ./configure

There aren't any useful options here, not even --prefix is heeded.

$ make

apt doesn't have a 'make install' target, so apt must be installed
manually. Fortunately, almost all the relevant files to install are
located in the bin subdirectory. The exception is the dselect scripts.

Keep in mind apt probably will not work if these exact directories are
not used! I've tried. This is why no --prefix was given to
./configure; it doesn't pay attention to what you tell it.

$ su
# cd bin
# cp -a libapt-* /usr/lib
# ldconfig
# cp apt-cache apt-cdrom apt-config apt-get /usr/bin
# mkdir /usr/lib/apt
# cp -R methods /usr/lib/apt
# cd ..
# cp -R scripts/dselect /usr/lib/dpkg/methods/apt
# mkdir -p /etc/apt /var/state/apt/lists/partial \

Now, to get it working. First we need a /etc/apt/sources.list. Replace
the sites below with local mirrors, of course. You might also want
things like sources and security updates, but this is just a hint, after

# cat > /etc/apt/sources.list >> EOF
# Begin /etc/apt/sources.list

deb testing main contrib non-free
deb testing/non-US main contrib non-free

# end /etc/apt/sources.list

If you need to symlink /var/lib/dpkg to /usr/lib/db, do it now.

# ln -s /usr/lib/db /var/lib/dpkg

# touch /var/lib/dpkg/status

# dselect

In dselect, start with the [A]ccess menu and go down to choose apt.
Keep the config file that was already created above. Then choose
[U]pdate. Now dpkg's available database has been updated. (for some
reason, just using apt-get update didn't work for me, if you have
problems, try this dselect method)

That's pretty much it. A few things to watch out for: dpkg doens't like
installing from scratch like this. Many of the essential packages have
more complicated dependencies than they list. You may have problems
installing things because it thinks other things aren't installed (an
example is if you try to install libc6, it will complain that dpkg isn't
installed even though it's not a dependency) The solution to this is to
hack /var/lib/dpkg/status. To solve the example problem given with
libc6, put this in the database:

Package: dpkg
Essential: yes
Status: install ok installed
Priority: required
Section: base
Installed-Size: 2360
Maintainer: Wichert Akkerman
Version: 1.9.21
Replaces: dpkg-doc-ja
Pre-Depends: libc6.1 (>= 2.2.4-4), libncurses4 (>= 5.2.20020112a-1),
libstdc++2.10-glibc2.2 (>= 1:2.95.4-0.010810) <--- *PUT THIS ON ABOVE LINE!*
Description: Package maintenance system for Debian
This package contains the programs which handle the installation and
removal of packages on your system.
The primary interface for the dpkg suite is the `dselect' program;
a more low-level and less user-friendly interface is available in
the form of the `dpkg' command.
In order to unpack and build Debian source packages you will need to
install the developers' package `dpkg-dev' as well as this one.

One thing to note here is that the version on dpkg is the same as the
one we installed. If you want to reinstall dpkg from a package, the
best thing to do here is to decrement the version number by one, so it
thinks version 1.9.20 is installed. Then dpkg will automatically
"upgrade" itself.

You might even want to put all the packages installed so far by LFS into
this status database, and hold them all in dselect; that way, you only
have to worry about the binaries, and you've fooled dpkg into not
overwriting your pristine LFS installation.

That's it and good luck with your Debian From Scratch!
(DFS? DG/LFS perhaps?)

It should be noted that this procedure only works for dpkg 1.9.21
and apt 0.5.4, which were the versions this hint was developed against.
Newer versions (including dpkg 1.10 and later) have been tried and have
problems, including requiring as-of-yet unofficial ncurses
distributions. A procedure for compiling them has not been worked out,
so their compilations are not covered here. However, if anyone out there
wants to tell me how to do it I'll include the procedure here if you
want, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it so different that a new
hint would be warranted.

* Xavier Amado for discovering that
dpkg 1.10 doesn't work with these directions.

* Initial hint.
* Changed format to fit new guidelines, added disclaimer about dpkg