I am about do move a server from one Ubuntu box to another. I'm not cloning the old box to the new; I'm creating a new system and will move data as needed. I want to install all the software that I have on the old box on the new one.

Is there a simple way to find the history of all the "sudo apt-get install" commands I have given over time? That is, dpkg -l shows me all the packages that have been installed, but not which top-level package installed them. If there is a way for dpkg to give me the installing package, I can find the unique ones there; otherwise, I want something else to say "you installed these 24 packages".


9 Answers 9


The apt history is in /var/log/apt/history.log as said in a comment above. That said, this will not list packages that were installed manually, using dpkg or GUIs such as gdebi. To see all the packages that went through dpkg, you can look at /var/log/dpkg.log.

  • 1
    On my Ubuntu 18.04 install, the log only goes back to the beginning of the current month.
    – MrMas
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 17:55
  • Ubuntu typically rotates logs every month. To see rotated logs from the prior month, try: gzip -c -d /var/log/apt/history.log.1.gz and try increasing the number for successively older months. Commented Jan 2 at 19:32

You can list packages whose installation has been explicitly requested with apt-mark.

apt-mark showmanual

In case you're running an ancient release of Debian, here's a manual way.

The following command gives the list of packages whose installation was requested, whether manually or automatically. Unless you're in the middle of (de)installing packages, this is the list of installed packages.

dpkg --get-selections | sed -n 's/\t\+install$//p'

The following command gives a superset of automatically installed packages:

</var/lib/apt/extended_states awk -v RS= '/\nAuto-Installed: *1/{print$2}'

Putting it all together, the following command lists manually installed packages:

comm -23 <(dpkg --get-selections | sed -n 's/\t\+install$//p') \
         <(</var/lib/apt/extended_states \
           awk -v RS= '/\nAuto-Installed: *1/{print$2}' |sort)
  • 1
    --- very different result from comm -23 <(apt-mark showmanual | sort -u) <(gzip -dc /var/log/installer/initial-status.gz | sed -n 's/^Package: //p' | sort -u)
    – Cbhihe
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:09
  • On Debian, there is apt-mark showmanual which is equivalent to your last command. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 15:55


and /var/adm/apt/history.log

  • 5
    The procedure in the first link doesn't distinguish between automatically-installed packages and manually-installed packages. /var/log/apt/history.log (you got the location wrong btw) will have rotated away after a few months. Commented Aug 28, 2010 at 7:55
  • Gilles is right on both counts. I only have about of month's worth of those logs, and I can't even see how the log deletion rate is set (it's done with 'newsyslog' on FreeBSD). So I still don't have a solution, but I have some pointers. I can at least grep the output from the command in the cloning article, look for "high-level" names, install them on the new one, do the same thing on the new box, diff the two results, and repeat until satisfied. I would still ove to hear more ideas. Commented Aug 29, 2010 at 15:42

I'm also "greping" tar.gz-ed history files this way:

zgrep -E "Commandline: apt(|-get) install" /var/log/apt/history.log*

If you need timestamp too, just add an extra parameter -B1.

  • zgrep -B1 -E "Commandline: apt(|-get) install" /var/log/apt/history.log* Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 7:14

Instead of tac / head combination, it is better to use tail (for last 25 lines):

tail -n 25 /var/log/apt/history.log
  • This doesn't differ sufficiently from @ℝaphink's answer and should be a comment to it. Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 16:16
  • Also, it's not the same. tail will list the last lines in the file, in the order in which they're in the file. tac will reverse the order so that the last line is now first, second to last is second, etc. Also again, seems you kind of risk being wrong when you say something is "better" without explaining why. I mean, "better" according to whom? For what requirement? Seems kinda over-confident. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 18:36
grep -i "Commandline" /var/log/apt/history.log

Shows all the packages you've installed using: sudo apt-get install xxxxx

  • This doesn't differ sufficiently from @ℝaphink's answer and should be a comment to it. Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 16:16

The other answers helped but gave me too much output. To cut down on the output, I started with apt-mark showmanual as in this answer, and then filtered out packages originally installed (see this answer for how to get a list of packages originally installed; I'm using ubuntu 18.04.2 hence the link below).

paste  <( apt-mark showmanual ) <( apt-mark showmanual | sed -r "s/$REMOVE_VERSIONS_REGEX//g" ) |
    grep -vf <( curl $BASE_PACKAGES_MANIFEST | cut -f1 | sed -r "s/$REMOVE_VERSIONS_REGEX|:amd//g" ) |
    cut -f1 |
    sort |

The script filters out packages that were in the original manifest by doing a version-independent comparison, so that upgraded packages don't appear in the list. I ended up with a list of about 60 packages.

The other way I like is this answer that searches all the apt logs.


Getting an uncluttered list turned out to be a fair bit more complicated than I imagined. In the end, I have wrapped it up in a bash script (export-custom-packages). Have a look and use it if you wish. It

  • scans the Apt history.log as well as the archived logs
  • lists only those packages which have been installed manually
  • excludes packages which have been installed, then uninstalled
  • creates and updates a separate log file for these packages, which prevents them from dropping off the radar once the archived Apt logs are purged.


sudo curl -o /usr/local/bin/export-custom-packages https://gist.githubusercontent.com/hashchange/7ec8185b2fce93b5ac490f4ae0809bda/raw/21b0646475da7cfeb5b7c7703b2238b336dfa3d7/export-custom-packages
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/export-custom-packages

Usage: See export-custom-packages --help.

The annotated code is on Github.


To get the list of most recent installed packages in descending order, I like using (e.g. 25 lines):

tac /var/log/apt/history.log |head --lines=25
  • 2
    More efficient (and alliterative) would be: tail -25 /var/log/apt/history.log | tac
    – agc
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 13:35
  • This doesn't differ sufficiently from @ℝaphink's answer and should be a comment to it. Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 16:17

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