Working with the Alpine Package Keeper (apk)

apk is the Alpine Package Keeper - the distribution’s package manager. It is used to manage the packages (software and otherwise) of the system. It is the primary method for installing additional software, and is available in the apk-tools package.

Normal Usage

Repositories and Mirrors

apk fetches information about available packages, as well as the packages themselves from various mirrors, which contain various repositories. Sometimes, those terms are used interchangeably. Here is a summary of relevant definitions:

Mirror

A website that hosts repositories.

Release

A collection of snapshots of various repositories.

Repository

A category of packages, tied together by some attribute.

Currently, three repositories exist:

main

Officially supported packages that are reasonable to expect to be in a basic system. Support cycles are 2 years long.

community

Packages from testing that have been tested. Support cycles are 6 months long.

testing

New, broken, or outdated packages that need testing. No support for this repository is implied. It is not present in release snapshots.

Releases are versioned using a versioning scheme somewhat reminiscent of semantic versioning. However, one special release exists called "edge" - this is a "rolling" release. "Edge" is not officially supported - if you choose to run it, you are on your own. "Edge" is also the only release that contains the "testing" repository.

Repositories are configurable in the /etc/apk/repositories file. Each line corresponds to a repository. The format is as follows:

[@tag] [protocol][/path][/release]/repository
# comments look like so. valid examples below
http://dl-cdn.alpinelinux.org/alpine/edge/main (1)
@testing http://dl-cdn.alpinelinux.org/alpine/edge/testing (2)
/var/apk/my-packages (3)
1 In this case, http:// is the protocol, dl-cdn.alpinelinux.org/alpine is the path, edge is the release and main is the repository.
2 In this case, @testing is the tag. More on this in Installing Packages.
3 In this case, the repository is a personal one, available on the filesystem of the machine.
This example uses the http:// protocol. ftp:// and https:// protocols are also supported.
This file should already have been been partially populated when you installed alpine.

Searching for Packages

In order to know what package to install, one must be able to find packages. Alpine has a specialized web interface dedicated to looking through various available packages. However, apk also provides a built-in searching mechanism. You invoke it by using the apk search subcommand. You can potentially search for anything in the package index, which, among other things, includes provided binaries and libraries). Further, globbing is supported. As such, here are a few examples of searching:

apk search libsqlite3.so (1)
apk search consul (2)
apk search -e vim (3)
apk search -e so:libsqlite3.so.* (4)
1 You can search for partial library names.
2 You can also search for binary names.
3 You can exclude partial matches using -e.
4 You can specify that what you’re searching for is a library using the so: prefix (or the cmd: prefix for commands, and pc: prefix for pkg-config files) - it will work with -e (in fact, the prefix is required for this use-case if -e is used).

Installing Packages

Once you know what package you want to install, you must know how to do that. Apk’s add command is more strict than the search command - wildcards are not available, for instance. However, the cmd:, so: and pc: prefixes are still available.

While the so: prefix is still available for apk add, it is recommended that you avoid using it. This is because the provided library SONAME version can increase (for example, libmpack.so.0 may get updated, and become libmpack.so.1), in which case this will not update libmpack next time you run apk upgrade, and will instead fail. This is because so:libmpack.so.0 directly refers to that specific version of the library, and is typically used by packages, rather than users directly.

While the cmd: and pc: prefix is still available for apk add, you should know that it does not guarantee getting you the exact package you are looking for. Multiple packages can contain the same executable command or pkg-config definition, but only one will be selected - not necessarily the one you want.

Here are a few examples of adding packages:

apk add busybox-extras (1)
apk add bash zsh (2)
apk add cmd:bash cmd:zsh (3)
apk add so:libmpack.so.0 (4)
apk add pc:msgpack (5)
1 You must specify the exact package name.
2 You may add multiple packages at once.
3 This should be equivalent to the previous example, but specifies the command you are interested in.
4 It is possible, but discouraged, to specify specific desired libraries.
5 Finally, it is possible to specify pkg-config dependencies.
If apk add finds multiple matching packages (for example multiple cmd: matches), it will select the one with the highest version number.

Upgrading Packages

Updating the system using apk is very simple. One need only run apk upgrade. Technically, this is two steps: apk update, followed by apk upgrade proper. The first step will download an updated package index from the repositories, while the second step will update all packages in World, as well as their dependencies.

apk will avoid overwriting files you may have changed. These will usually be in the /etc directory. Whenever apk wants to install a file, but realizes a potentially edited one is already present, it will write its file to that filename with .apk-new appended. You may handle these by hand, but a utility called update-conf exists. Simply invoking it normally with present you with the difference between the two files, and offer various choices for dealing with the conflicts.

apk update is only ran once your cache is invalidated, which by default happens every 4 hours.

Querying Package Information

In some cases, it may be useful to inspect packages or files to see various details. For this use, the info subcommand exists. It may be used on any package, installed or not, though the information on the latter will be more limited. It may also be used with specific flags on files. By default, info will list the package description, webpage and installed size. For more details (such as a list of flags the subcommand supports), you can use the apk info -h output’s "Info options" section or see the manual page.

Removing Packages

Often, it is desirable to remove a package. This can be done using the del subcommand, with a base syntax that is identical to the add subcommand.

If you added a package using the cmd:, so: or pc: virtual, you must specify the same virtual to remove them. NOTE: Removing a package will automatically remove all of its dependencies that are otherwise not used.

The del subcommand also supports the -r flag, which will remove all packages that depend on the package being removed as well, rather than error out due to the package being needed.

Cleanup

Many package managers have specific features to "clean up". A common one is apt, which has an autoremove subcommand. Apk does this by default when removing packages.

It is also possible to clear out the apk cache, assuming it is enabled. You can do this using apk cache clean.

Advanced Usage

World

The packages you want to have explicitly installed are listed in the "world file", available in /etc/apk/world. It is safe to edit it by hand. If you’ve edited it by hand, you may run apk add with no arguments to bring the package selection to a consistent state.

Virtuals like cmd:, so: and pc: will appear as such in your world file - this is why using so: is discouraged - the soname might get bumped!

Virtuals

While cmd:, so: and pc: packages are automatically created virtuals, you can create your own as well. These allow for quick removal of purpose-specific packages. See the following examples for details:

apk add a b c -t abc (1)
apk del abc (2)
apk add a b c --virtual abc (3)
1 This will add the packages "a", "b" and "c" as the dependencies of a virtual package "abc".
2 This will remove "abc" and all of its components ("a", "b" and "c"), unless they are required elsewhere.
3 This is equivalent to the first example.

Swapping Repositories

When alpine has a new release, the repository path will change. Assuming you are going forward in time (e.g from 3.8 to 3.9), you can simply edit /etc/apk/repositories and run apk upgrade --available.

Downgrading packages/versions is currently not supported. While it is technically possible, you are on your own.

This is why it is not recommended to use edge repositories, unless you know what you’re doing, or are tagging all those packages.