One of the handy features of apt (the packaging system used by Ubuntu) is the use of metapackages. These packages do not contain actual software, they simply depend on other packages to be installed. This setup allows entire sets of software to be installed by selecting only the appropriate metapackage. For example, an Ubuntu user can install the Kubuntu environment (KDE and all its associated programs) by selecting "kubuntu-desktop."
gnome-desktop-environment: This installs the GNOME Desktop environment, a graphical interface to use on your Debian system. It includes a wide range of applications, including programs for email, messaging, word processing, financial accounting, conferencing, and more.
kde: This metapackage includes all the official modules released with KDE that are not specific to development. In addition to the core KDE modules, this includes multimedia, networking, personal information manager (PIM), graphics, education, games, web development, system administration tools, and other artwork and utilities.
kde-base: This metapackage includes the nucleus of KDE, namely the minimal package set necessary to run KDE as a desktop environment. This includes the window manager, taskbar, control center, a text editor, file manager, web browser, X terminal emulator, and many other programs and components.
xfce: This package is a meta-package; it depends on the core packages of the Xfce4 desktop environment and recommends some extra Xfce4 packages. If you intend to use Xfce4 and want the full experience then installing this package and the packages it Recommends is a great place to start. If you just want to pick and choose the core components then feel free to remove this package.
Ubuntu System Metapackages
edubuntu-desktop: This package depends on all of the packages in the edubuntu desktop system
edubuntu-server: This package depends on all of the packages in the edubuntu server system
kubuntu-desktop: Similar to ubuntu-desktop, but with KDE and related software instead of Gnome
ubuntu-desktop: In addition to ubuntu-minimal and ubuntu-standard, this package depends on all of the packages in the Ubuntu desktop system. It installs a desktop environment (GNOME) and lots of software for home and office use.
ubuntu-minimal: This package depends on all of the packages in the Ubuntu minimal system, that is a functional command-line system with the following capabilities: Boot, Detect hardware, Connect to a network, Install packages, and Perform basic diagnostics. It is also used to help ensure proper upgrades, so it is recommended that it not be removed.
ubuntu-restricted-extras: Introduced in Feisty, this package depends on some commonly used packages in the Ubuntu multiverse repository. It installs support for java, flash, microsoft truetype fonts, and many multimedia codecs.
ubuntu-standard: In addition to ubuntu-minimal, this package depends on all of the packages in the Ubuntu standard system. This set of packages provides a comfortable command-line Unix-like environment.
xubuntu-desktop: The XFCE desktop environment, and all the software distributed with Xubuntu
lubuntu-desktop: The LXDE desktop environment, and all the software distributed with Lubuntu
These metapackages install the latest linux kernel and modules through a series of dependencies. These make upgrading the kernel much easier, and safer, since they ensure that all required modules and headers are also installed.
linux-generic: Always depends on the latest generic Linux kernel available.
linux-headers-generic: This package always depends on the latest generic kernel headers available.
linux-image-generic: This package always depends on the latest generic kernel image available.
linux-restricted-modules-generic: This package always depends on the latest restricted modules available for generic kernels.
Obsolete kernel packages:
- linux-386, linux-686, linux-686-smp
- linux-k7, linux-k7-smp,
- linux-amd64-generic, linux-amd64-k8, linux-amd64-k8-smp, linux-amd64-xeon
- linux-powerpc, linux-powerpc-smp, linux-power3, linux-power3-smp, linux-power4, linux-power4-smp
language-support-*: Depends on all packages that provide native language support for applications in Ubuntu (like spell checkers, dictionaries, OpenOffice and Mozilla locale packages, etc.).
A metapackage, such as ubuntu-minimal or ubuntu-desktop, can have a long list of dependencies. So, when a metapackage is automatically removed by the removal or purging of any one, or more, of its underlying dependencies, all of the other packages that were in the metapackage's depends list are still installed on the system. If at a later time, there is an upgrade to the metapackage, the upgrade cannot occur, because the metapackage to be upgraded is no longer installed on the system. However when upgrading to new versions of Ubuntu the update-manager will check to see if you have the meta package installed before attempting to do an upgrade.
It may be possible to create a replacement metapackage to enable an upgrade, but some packages may then need to be removed or purged upon the upgrade of the metapackage. A metapackage which defines some Conflict or Replacement dependencies might be able to stop some of the unwanted packages from being reinstalled. Some trickery is needed.
To create a metapackage, the equivs package can be used. equivs-control creates a template, and after editing, equivs-build will create the deb file. A dpkg -i *.deb command can install the deb package, or you can create a Personal repository as in Personal Repositories to let the package managers like apt-get do the work.
Note: In the control_file template from equivs-control control_file, conditional-OR-dependencies in "Depends:" are separated by '|', not a comma. For example an ubuntu-minimal dependency statement would be:
Depends: adduser, apt, apt-utils, bzip2, console-setup, debconf, dhcp3-client, eject, gnupg, ifupdown, initramfs-tools, iproute, iputils-ping, kbd | kbd-compat, less, libc6-i686, locales, lsb-release, makedev, mawk, module-init-tools, net-tools, netbase, netcat | netcat-openbsd | netcat-traditional, ntpdate, passwd, procps, python, startup-tasks, sudo | sudo-ldap, sysklogd, system-services, tasksel, tzdata, ubuntu-keyring, udev, upstart, upstart-compat-sysv, upstart-logd, vim-tiny, whiptail
This is what you'd see from apt-cache show ubuntu-minimal.
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