Update the metadata database

$ sudo apt update

Search for packages that contain the specified file or path
$ apt-file [search|find] [partial_path/to/file]

List the contents of a specific package
$ apt-file [show|list] [package]

Search for packages that match the regular_expression
$ apt-file [search|find] --regexp [regular_expression]


apt-file [options] search pattern

apt-file [options] show package


apt-file is a command line tool for searching files in packages for the APT package management system.

Some actions are required to run the search:


Alias for search.


List the contents of a package. This action is very close to the dpkg -L command except the package does not need to be installed or fetched. By default, the list action interprets its pattern as if --fixed-string was specified.


List the known Content indices and their status in a human readable format. These indices can be searched via the -I option (when enabled and after fetching the indices). The output is subject to change without notice and is therefore unsuited for script usage / automation. For a machine-readable formats (e.g. automation), please use apt-config dump (search for options starting with Acquire::IndexTargets) and apt-get indextargets for checking the cache (Look for entries with an Identifier field starting with Contents-). Note that individual sources.list entries can override the global default. Please consult sources.list (5) for more information on advanced configuration of the sources.list files.


Search in which package a file is included. A list of all packages containing the pattern pattern is returned. Since Contents files does not contain directories, the pattern must match (part of a) file name. By default, the search action interprets its pattern as if --substring-match was specified.


Alias for list.


This action that just calls apt update or apt-get update (depending on whether a tty is available). The only advantage using this over a regular apt update or apt-get update directly is for the case where you have configured an apt-file specific configuration (via the Dir::Etc::apt-file-main configuration option). In that case, said configuration will be included automatically.


The following options are available:

-a, --architecture architecture[,...]

This option is useful if you search a package for a different architecture from the one installed on your system. It can be a comma-separated list for searching on multiple architectures.

-c, --config-file APT config-file

Configuration File; Specify a configuration file to use. The program will read the default configuration file and then this configuration file. If configuration settings need to be set before the default configuration files are parsed specify a file with the APT_CONFIG environment variable. See apt.conf (5) for syntax information. The configuration file will be read relative to when it appears on the command line and can overwrite options that appear before it. Note that the config file will also be passed to all APT tools called by apt-file.

-D, --from-deb

Use contents of the given .deb archives(s) as patterns. Useful for searching for file conflicts with other packages. Implies -F.

-f, --from-file

Read patterns from the given file(s), one per line. Use - as filename for stdin. If no files are given, then the list will be read from stdin. This is much faster than invoking apt-file many times.

--filter-origins origin[,...]

Only search indices from the listed origins (e.g. Debian). This filter matches against the name listed in the Origin field from the Release file. If set to '*', this filter will be disabled (mostly useful for overriding the setting in a configuration file) Alias of the APT config option: apt-file::Search-Filter::Origin

--filter-suites suite[,...]

Only search indices from the listed suites or codenames (e.g. unstable). This filter matches against the name listed in the Codename and Suite fields from the Release file. This means that either unstable or sid will match Debian's unstable suite. If set to '*', this filter will be disabled (mostly useful for overriding the setting in a configuration file) Alias of the APT config option: apt-file::Search-Filter::Suite

-F, --fixed-string

Do not expand search pattern with generic characters at pattern's start and end. This is default for show and list actions.

--index-names type[,...], -I type[,...]

Only search indexes of the given name(s). If set to the special value ALL (case-sensitive), then all apt-file indices are searched. The name(s) must match one or more of the identifiers used in the APT configuration (minus leading Contents-). Example if the configuration has the following snippets: Acquire::IndexTargets::deb::Contents-deb { ... }; Acquire::IndexTargets::deb-src::Contents-dsc { ... }; Acquire::IndexTargets::deb::Contents-udeb { ... }; Acquire::IndexTargets::deb::Contents-deb-legacy { # Explicitly named to "Contents-deb" Identifier "Contents-deb"; ...; }; Then, apt-file will recognise deb, dsc and udeb as index names. This option defaults to the value of the apt-file::Index-Names apt config option (or deb if omitted).

-i, --ignore-case

Ignore case when searching for pattern.

-l, --package-only

Only display package name; do not display file names.

-o, --option APT::Option=Value

Set a Configuration Option; This will set an arbitrary configuration option. The syntax is -o APT::Option=Value. -o and --option can be used multiple times to set different options. This option can be used to overwrite other command line options (e.g. -o apt-file::Search-Filter::Origin=Debian is effectively the same as --filter-origins Debian). Note that the config options passed via this option will also be passed to all APT tools called by apt-file.


Match if the given search pattern is a substring of a path or package. This is default for search and find actions.

-v, --verbose

Run apt-file in verbose/debug mode.

-x, --regexp

Treat pattern as a (perl) regular expression. See perlreref (1) for details. Without this option, pattern is treated as a literal string to search for. Be advised that this option can be rather slow. If performance is an issue, consider giving apt-file non-regex pattern matching too much and pipe the output to perl -ne '/<pattern-here>/'. This enables apt-file to use more optimizations and leaves less work to the slower regex.

-h, --help

Display a short help screen.


The apt-file command relies on the APT configuration. Notably, the default configuration makes apt fetch Contents files by default during a call to apt update.

For information on how to configure APT to fetch more or fewer Contents files, please refer to /usr/share/doc/apt-file/

The following files are notably interesting:


Note this path is actually configurable by changing the value of the APT configuration called Dir::Etc::apt-file-main. The listed value is merely the default value of that option. If this file is present, apt-file will read this file after all default APT configuration files. Any config file -c or option (-o) will be evaluated before this file (and can override options set in it). The file will also be passed on to all APT tools called by apt-file.


Chooses which Contents files to download. Note that apt-file recognises only Acquire targets that starts with Contents-.

Special configurations similar to apt-file 2

Here are some apt-file 2 related work flows and how to (almost) emulate them with apt-file 3. They are documented as a starting point for people, who are attached to these.

The emulation may not be perfect for you out of the box. Patches are welcome to keep the examples updated as long as the examples remain trivial.


There are some known issues or quirks that are good to keep in mind.


apt-file has the following defined exit codes, which can be used for scripting purposes.

  1. apt-file returned successfully. If the command was a search, there was at least one result.

  2. apt-file completed a search successfully, but it had no results.

  3. An error occurred (including invalid/conflicting user options).

  4. apt-file could not complete the command because the cache was empty. Please ensure there are indices enabled in the APT config and run apt update to fetch them.

  5. apt-file could not complete the command because the cache does not have any files matching the restrictions. Either change the restrictions (e.g. --index-names) or configure apt to fetch the relevant files and run apt update.

  6. There was an internal errors / uncaught exception in apt-file. Please file a bug against apt-file.

Any other exit code is reserved for future use.


apt (1), apt-cache (8), apt.conf (5) The APT users guide in /usr/share/doc/apt/ The example config in /usr/share/doc/apt-file/examples The README at /usr/share/doc/apt-file/

Copied to clipboard