Alpine Linux package management

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Because Alpine Linux is designed to run from RAM, package management involves two phases:

  • Installing / Upgrading / Deleting packages on a running system
  • Restoring a system to a previously configured state (e.g. after reboot), including all previously installed packages and locally modified configuration files. (RAM-Based Installs Only)

apk is the tool used to install, upgrade, or delete software on a running sytem.
lbu is the tool used to capture the data necessary to restore a system to a previously configured state.

This page documents the apk tool - See the Alpine Local Backup page for the lbu tool.


The apk tool has the following applets:

add Add new packages to the running system
del Delete packages from the running system
fix Attempt to repair or upgrade an installed package
update Update the index of available packages
info Prints information about installed or available packages
search Search for packages or descriptions with wildcard patterns
upgrade Upgrade the currently installed packages
cache Maintenance operations for locally cached package repository
version Compare version differences between installed and available packages
index create a repository index from a list of packages
fetch download (but not install) packages
audit List changes to the file system from pristine package install state
verify Verify a package signature

Packages and Repositories

Software packages for Alpine Linux are digitally signed tar.gz archives containing the programs, configuration files, and dependency metadata. They have the extension .apk, and are often called "a-packs"

The packages are stored in one or more repositories. A repository is simply a directory with a collection of *.apk files. The directory must include a special index file, named APKINDEX.tar.gz to be considered a repository.

The apk utility can install packages from multiple repositories. The list of repositories to check is stored in /etc/apk/repositories, one repository per line. If you booted from USB stick (/media/sda1) or CD-ROM (/media/cdrom), your repository file probably looks something like this:

Contents of /etc/apk/repositories


In addition to local repositories, the apk utility uses busybox wget to fetch packages using http:, https: or ftp: protocols. The following is a valid repository file:

Contents of /etc/apk/repositories

Note: Currently there are no public https or ftp repositories. The protocols are available for local repositories

Update the Package list

Remote repositories change as packages are added and upgraded. To get the latest list of available packages, use the update command. The command downloads the APKINDEX.tar.gz from each repository and stores it in the local cache, typically /var/lib/apk/ or /etc/apk/cache/.

apk update

Tip: If using remote repositories, it is a good idea to do an update just before doing an add or upgrade command. That way you know you are using the latest software available.

Add a Package

Use add to install packages from a repository. Any necessary dependencies are also installed. If you have multiple repositories, the add command installs the newest package.

apk add openssh apk add openssh openntp vim

If you only have the main repository enabled in your configuration, apk will not include packages from the other repositories. To install a package from the edge/testing repository without changing your repository configuration file, use the command below. This will tell apk to use that particular repository.

apk add cherokee --update-cache --repository --allow-untrusted

Note: Be careful when using third-party or the testing repository. Your system can go down.

Remove a Package

Use del to remove a package (and dependencies that are no longer needed.)

apk del openssh apk del openssh openntp vim

Upgrade a Running System

To upgrade all the packages of a running system, use upgrade:

apk update apk upgrade

To upgrade only a few packages, use the add command with the -u/--upgrade option:

apk update apk add --upgrade busybox

Note: Remember that when you reboot your machine, the remote repository will not be available until after networking is started. This means packages newer than your local boot media will likely not be installed after a reboot. To make an "upgrade" persist over a reboot, use a local cache.

Search for Packages

The search command searches the repository Index files for installable packages.


  • To list all packages available, along with their descriptions:

    apk search -v

  • To list all packages are part of the ACF system:

    apk search -v 'acf*'

  • To list all packages that list NTP as part of their description, use the -d/--description option:

    apk search -v --description 'NTP'

Info on Packages

The info command provides information on the contents of packages, their dependencies, and which files belong to a package.

For a given package, each element can be chosen (for example, -w to show just the webpage information); or all information is displayed with the -a command.


apk info -a zlib

zlib-1.2.5-r1 description:
A compression/decompression Library

zlib-1.2.5-r1 webpage:

zlib-1.2.5-r1 installed size:

zlib-1.2.5-r1 depends on:

zlib-1.2.5-r1 is required by:

zlib-1.2.5-r1 contains:

zlib-1.2.5-r1 triggers:

As shown in the example you can determine

  • The description of the package
  • The webpage where the application is hosted
  • The size the package will require once installed (in bytes)
  • What packages are required to use this one (depends)
  • What packages require this one to be installed (required by)
  • The contents of the package
  • Any triggers this package sets. Listed here are directories that are watched; if a change happens to the directory, then the trigger script is run at the end of the apk add/delete. For example, doing a depmod once after installing all packages that add kernel modules.
Tip: The info command is also useful to determine which package a file belongs to. For example:

apk info --who-owns /sbin/lbu

will display
/sbin/lbu is owned by alpine-conf-x.x-rx

Additional apk Commands

In progress...

Local Cache

Alpine Linux needs to be able to pull packages from local media on boot. (You can't download packages from the net before you have a network connection.) Using remote repositories presents a problem. If the config files have been modified for a newer version of a package, and the older package is on local media, all sorts of fun can result.

The solution is a local cache of updated packages. This cache can be stored on any r/w media, typically the same location as the apkovl.

Enabling Local Cache

The cache is enabled by creating a symlink named /etc/apk/cache that points to the cache directory. Note that apk will ignore any cache residing on a tmpfs volume. If you want this for some reason, see section below on tmpfs caches.

To enable local cache run:


To enable Local Cache on releases prior v2.3

Alpine Linux version prior to v2.3 does not have the setup-apkcache tool so the symlink needs to be set up manually.

To manually enable Local Cache on HDD install

If you've installed Alpine to your hard drive (as 'sys'), then create a cache dir and then an /etc/apk/cache symlink pointing to that dir:

mkdir -p /var/cache/apk ln -s /var/cache/apk /etc/apk/cache

You normally don't need apk cache on HDD 'sys' installs but it might be handy if you re-install from net to have the packages cached.

To manually enable Local Cache on run-from-RAM installs

  1. Create a cache directory on the device you store your lbu backups (typically, /dev/sda1.)

    mkdir /media/sda1/cache

Tip: If you get an error that says "mkdir: can't create directory '/media/usbdisk/cache': Read-only file system", then you probably need to remount your disk read-write temporarily. Try

mount -o remount,rw /media/sda1

and then don't forget to run

mount -o remount,ro /media/sda1

when you are done with the following commands
  1. Create a symlink to this directory from /etc/apk/cache.

    ln -s /media/sda1/cache /etc/apk/cache

  2. Run an lbu commit to save the change (/etc/apk/cache is in /etc and is automatically backed up.)

    lbu commit

  3. Done. Now whenever you run an apk command that pulls a new package from a remote repository, the package is stored on your local media. On startup, Alpine Linux will check the local cache for new packages, and will install them if available.

Cache maintenance

Over time, newer packages will replace older ones; the cache directory will contain all older versions of packages.

Delete old packages

To clean out older versions of packages, run the clean command.

apk cache clean

or to see what is deleted

apk -v cache clean

Download missing packages

If you accidentally delete packages from the cache directory, you can make sure they are there with the download command,

apk cache download

Delete and download in one step

You can combine the two steps into one with the sync command - this cleans out old packages and downloads missing packages.

apk cache -v sync

Automatically Cleaning Cache on Reboot

To automatically attempt to validate your cache on reboot, you can add the above command to a /etc/local.d/*.stop file:

Contents of /etc/local.d/cache.stop

#!/bin/sh # verify the local cache on shutdown apk cache -v sync # We should always return 0 return 0
Tip: Usually the only time you need to reboot is when things have gone horribly wrong; so this is a "best effort" to cover forgetting to sync the cache; It is much better to run sync immediately after adding or upgrading packages.
Note: Custom shutdown commands were formerly added to a /etc/conf.d/local; but that method is now deprecated.

Using the Local Cache with tmpfs volumes

In some circumstances it might be useful to have the cache reside on tmpfs, for example if you only wish for it to last as long as the system is up.

NOTE: apk is coded to ignore tmpfs caches, and this is correct behaviour in most instances. Using tmpfs as a package cache can consume large amounts of system memory if you install a lot of packages, possibly resulting in a crashed system. You can limit this by restricting the size of your cache to a small number (128M in the example below).

To do it, you need to create an image inside which your cache can live. We do this by creating an image file, formatting it with ext2, and mounting it at /etc/apk/cache.

  • apk add e2fsprogs
  • dd if=/dev/zero of=/apkcache.img bs=1M count=128
  • mkfs.ext2 -F /apkcache.img
  • mkdir -p /etc/apk/cache
  • mount -t ext2 /apkcache.img /etc/apk/cache
  • apk update

As per usual, if you want to download currently installed packages into the cache, use apk cache sync.

Advanced APK Usage

Holding a specific package back

In certain cases, you may want to upgrade a system, but keep a specific package at a back level. It is possible to add "sticky" or versioned dependencies. For instance, to hold the asterisk package to the 1.6.2 level or lower:

apk add asterisk=


apk add 'asterisk<1.6.1'

after which a

apk upgrade

will upgrade the entire system, keeping the asterisk package at the 1.6.0 or lower level

To later upgrade to the current version,

apk add 'asterisk>1.6.1'