Understanding the dselect Utility

The dpkg utility is useful if you've got a Debian package file in hand, ready to be installed. Another tool, which should be familiar to you if you've installed Debian, is dselect. This program is a text-mode utility that provides a list of available packages. The package list includes all those available from your chosen installation medium, and possibly from other sources as well, as described shortly.

When you first start dselect, it presents you with seven actions you can perform:

Access You can set the media on which dselect looks for packages. You can specify CD-ROM, hard disk, and other local and network media. You can also tell dselect to use the Advanced Package Tool (APT) configuration, as described in the upcoming section, "Maintaining Debian with APT."

Update This option tells dselect to check the packages available from the sources you specified using the Access option. If you select new sources or if they've been updated since your last run, you need to do this in order to update packages or install new packages.

Select This option leads to a text-mode package-selection tool, which you can use to locate and select packages for installation. Unfortunately, the list is very long, which can make finding a package difficult, particularly if you're unfamiliar with the keyboard navigation commands. Type a question mark (?) to get to the help system, which describes these commands.

Install This option installs any packages you've selected using the Select option. It also upgrades any packages that have been updated since they were installed, provided your installation source reflects those updates. The program provides you with a summary of upgrades before proceeding. On occasion, you may need to choose this option up to four times to install all the packages and their dependencies.

Config Some Debian packages include configuration scripts that run after they're installed. For instance, Debian asks you questions to help configure its mail server for your network. This option runs through any configuration scripts that haven't run.

Remove If you opted to remove packages, use this option to do so.

Quit This option exits from dselect.

If you want to select packages from the standard set of Debian options, dselect can be a useful tool. Because Debian includes so many packages (version 3.0 ships on seven CDs, not counting alternative first CDs for different countries), chances are you'll find what you need to install in the standard set of packages. If not, and if you can find a Debian package or create one using alien (as described in the upcoming section, "Converting Package Formats"), you should use dpkg to install the package. You might also prefer using dpkg to install isolated packages manually, because locating a package with dselect can be tedious. Yet another installation tool, APT, is described in the upcoming section, "Maintaining Debian with APT."

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