Home » List packages on an apt based system by installation date

List packages on an apt based system by installation date


RPM-based distributions like Red Hat are easy:

rpm -qa --last

On Debian and other dpkg-based distributions, your specific problem is easy too:

grep install /var/log/dpkg.log

Unless the log file has been rotated, in which case you should try:

grep install /var/log/dpkg.log /var/log/dpkg.log.1

In general, dpkg and apt don’t seem to track the installation date, going by the lack of any such field in the dpkg-query man page.

And eventually old /var/log/dpkg.log.* files will be deleted by log rotation, so that way isn’t guaranteed to give you the entire history of your system.

One suggestion that appears a few times (e.g. this thread) is to look at the /var/lib/dpkg/info directory.
The files there suggest you might try something like:

ls -t /var/lib/dpkg/info/*.list | sed -e 's/.list$//' | head -n 50

To answer your question about selections, here’s a first pass.

build list of packages by dates

$ find /var/lib/dpkg/info -name "*.list" -exec stat -c $'%nt%y' {} ; | 
    sed -e 's,/var/lib/dpkg/info/,,' -e 's,.listt,t,' | 
    sort > ~/dpkglist.dates

build list of installed packages

$ dpkg --get-selections | sed -ne '/tinstall$/{s/[[:space:]].*//;p}' | 
    sort > ~/dpkglist.selections

join the 2 lists

$ join -1 1 -2 1 -t $'t' ~/dpkglist.selections ~/dpkglist.dates 
    > ~/dpkglist.selectiondates

For some reason it’s not printing very many differences for me, so there might be a bug or an invalid assumption about what --get-selections means.

You can obviously limit the packages either by using find . -mtime -<days> or head -n <lines>, and change the output format as you like, e.g.

$ find /var/lib/dpkg/info -name "*.list" -mtime -4 | 
    sed -e 's,/var/lib/dpkg/info/,,' -e 's,.list$,,' | 
    sort > ~/dpkglist.recent

$ join -1 1 -2 1 -t $'t' ~/dpkglist.selections ~/dpkglist.recent 
    > ~/dpkglist.recentselections

to list only the selections that were installed (changed?) in the past 4 days.

You could probably also remove the sort commands after verifying the sort order used by dpkg --get-selections and make the find command more efficient.

Mikel has shown how to do this at the dpkg level. In particular, /var/lib/dpkg/info/$packagename.list is created when the package is installed (and not modified afterwards).

If you used the APT tools (which you presumably did since you’re concerned about automatically vs manually installed packages), there’s a history in /var/log/apt/history.log. As long as it hasn’t rotated away, it keeps track of all APT installations, upgrades and removals, with an annotation for packages marked as automatically installed. This is a fairly recent feature, introduced in APT 0.7.26, so in Debian it appeared in squeeze. In Ubuntu, 10.04 has history.log but the automatically-installed annotation is not present until 10.10.

Here is the one-liner everyone wants and needs:

for x in $(ls -1t /var/log/dpkg.log*); do zcat -f $x |tac |grep -e " install " -e " upgrade "; done |awk -F ":a" '{print $1 " :a" $2}' |column -t

The result will show all (newly) installed and upgraded packages in chronological order.

The line explanation:

  • ls -1t – get all dpkg.log* file names in chronological order
  • zcat -fIF file is of gzip type then decompress it, ELSE just pass on the content.
  • tac – Reverse output of cat, line-by-line to makes sure we get the correct chronological order.
  • grep – Only check for installed or upgrade packages.
  • awk -F ':a' – Separate the architecture field from the package name
  • column -t – pretty print the columns separated by space

One would of course like to make an alias for this, but unfortunately it is not possible as awk depends on both single and double quotes. In that regard this is best put into a bash script and where the : separator is handled better for other architectures in the field column.

The output is:

2018-03-06  18:09:47  upgrade  libgomp1                     :armhf  6.3.0-18+rpi1                 6.3.0-18+rpi1+deb9u1
2018-03-05  15:56:23  install  mpg123                       :armhf  <none>                        1.23.8-1
2018-03-05  15:56:23  install  libout123-0                  :armhf  <none>                        1.23.8-1
2018-01-22  17:09:45  install  libmailtools-perl            :all    <none>                        2.18-1
2018-01-22  17:09:44  install  libnet-smtp-ssl-perl         :all    <none>                        1.04-1


  • As shown above, it only works on ARM architecture and need slight modification for the architecture field separator
  • Need to be put into a script for easy alias
  • Has not been tested across other *nix systems

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