An awkward confession and what we should do about it

March 28, 2016

I have an awkward confession.

At this point, we have been running Ubuntu machines for at least nine years or so, starting with Ubuntu 6.06 and moving forward from there. In all of that time, one of the things I haven't done (and I don't think we've done generally) is really dive in and learn about Debian packaging and package management. Oh sure, we can fiddle around with apt-get and a number of other superficial things, we've built modified preseeded install environments, and I've learned enough to modify existing Debian packages and rebuild them. But that's all. That leaves vast oceans of both dpkg and APT usage that we have barely touched, plus all of the additional tools and scripts around the Debian package ecosystem (some of which have been mentioned here by commentators).

I don't have a good explanation for why this has happened, and in particular why I haven't dug into Debian package (because diving into things is one of the things that I do). I can put together theories (including me not being entirely fond of Ubuntu even from the start), but it's all just speculation and if I'm honest it's post-facto excuses and rationalization.

But what it definitely is embarrassing and, in the long run, harmful. There are clearly things in the whole Debian package ecology that would improve our lives if we knew them (for example, I only recently discovered apt-get's --with-new-pkgs option). Yet what I can only describe as my stubborn refusal to dig into Debian packaging is keeping me from this stuff. I need to fix that. I don't necessarily need to know all of the advanced stuff (I may never create a Debian package from scratch), but I should at least understand the big picture and the details that matter to us.

(It should not be the case that I still know much more about RPM and yum/dnf than I do about the Debian equivalents.)

My goal is to be not necessarily an expert but at least honestly knowledgeable, both about the practical nuts and bolts operation of the system and about how everything works conceptually (including such perennial hot topics for me as the principles of the debconf system).

With all of that said, I have to admit that as yet I haven't figured out where I should start reading. Debian has a lot of documentation, but in the past my experience has been that much of it assumes a certain amount of initial context that I don't have yet. Possibly I should start by just reading through all of the APT and dpkg related manpages, trying to sort everything out, and keeping notes about things that I don't understand. Then I can seek further information.

(As is traditional on Wandering Thoughts, I'm writing this partly to spur myself into action.)

Written on 28 March 2016.
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Last modified: Mon Mar 28 22:30:18 2016
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