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".


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.

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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)
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  • 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 Oct 27 '15 at 15:09
  • On Debian, there is apt-mark showmanual which is equivalent to your last command. – maxschlepzig Jan 22 '17 at 15:55


and /var/adm/apt/history.log

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  • 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. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 28 '10 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. – Paul Hoffman Aug 29 '10 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.

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grep -i "Commandline" /var/log/apt/history.log

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

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

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

tail -n 25 /var/log/apt/history.log
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  • This doesn't differ sufficiently from @ℝaphink's answer and should be a comment to it. – Karl Richter Jun 17 '17 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. – Todd Walton Jul 6 '18 at 18:36

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.

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

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