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I have an Ubuntu server with the default package list installed. I'd like to uninstall everything that isn’t nginx, its dependencies, and any other packages required to boot to a tty and run nginx.

Is there a way to do this without manually discerning which packages to remove?

Aside: my reason to do this is so the system has as few tools installed as possible in case of exploits in nginx etc.

Edit: I will also need sshd, and sudo… maybe a good answer will point out other things I will likely need.

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The system wouldn't allow you to remove sudo without a fight, just like it wouldn't let you remove your kernel or the apt tools themselves. One problem is that your question mixes two problems: (1) what is the set of packages that are minimally required for nginx as apt dependencies and (2) what is a sane minimal set of packages for a healthy working system.

As an example, nginx probably may not depend in any libapt sense on sshd, but you don't want to remove ssh from a remote server. I actually think @tigran's answer is safest and quickest. You can install a minimal system in minutes, and this question has already been here a half-hour.

Other than that, I would suggest that aptitude has very powerful search and matching options. You could probably craft a command line like this:

aptitude purge $(aptitude search <not-depended-on-by-nginx> and <not-essential>)

But again, getting such a command just right might very well take longer than installing a minimal system and setting it running.

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