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1. A Portage Introduction

Content:

1.a. Welcome to Portage

Portage is probably Gentoo's most notable innovation in software management. With its high flexibility and enormous amount of features it is frequently seen as the best software management tool available for Linux.

Portage is completely written in Python and Bash and therefore fully visible to the users as both are scripting languages.

Most users will work with Portage through the emerge tool. This chapter is not meant to duplicate the information available from the emerge man page. For a complete rundown of emerge's options, please consult the man page:

Code Listing 1.1: Reading the emerge man page

$ man emerge

1.b. The Portage Tree

Ebuilds

When we talk about packages, we often mean software titles that are available to the Gentoo users through the Portage tree. The Portage tree is a collection of ebuilds, files that contain all information Portage needs to maintain software (install, search, query, ...). These ebuilds reside in /usr/portage by default.

Whenever you ask Portage to perform some action regarding software titles, it will use the ebuilds on your system as a base. It is therefore important that you regularly update the ebuilds on your system so Portage knows about new software, security updates, etc.

Updating the Portage Tree

The Portage tree is usually updated with rsync, a fast incremental file transfer utility. Updating is fairly simple as the emerge command provides a front-end for rsync:

Code Listing 2.1: Updating the Portage tree

# emerge --sync

If you are unable to rsync due to firewall restrictions you can still update your Portage tree by using our daily generated Portage tree snapshots. The emerge-webrsync tool automatically fetches and installs the latest snapshot on your system:

Code Listing 2.2: Running emerge-webrsync

# emerge-webrsync

An additional advantage of using emerge-webrsync is that it allows the administrator to only pull in portage tree snapshots that are signed by the Gentoo release engineering GPG key. More information on this can be found in the Portage Features section on Fetching Validated Portage Tree Snapshots.

1.c. Maintaining Software

Searching for Software

To search through the Portage tree after software titles, you can use emerge built-in search capabilities. By default, emerge --search returns the names of packages whose title matches (either fully or partially) the given search term.

For instance, to search for all packages who have "pdf" in their name:

Code Listing 3.1: Searching for pdf-named packages

$ emerge --search pdf

If you want to search through the descriptions as well you can use the --searchdesc (or -S) switch:

Code Listing 3.2: Searching for pdf-related packages

$ emerge --searchdesc pdf

When you take a look at the output, you'll notice that it gives you a lot of information. The fields are clearly labelled so we won't go further into their meanings:

Code Listing 3.3: Example 'emerge --search' output

*  net-print/cups-pdf
      Latest version available: 1.5.2
      Latest version installed: [ Not Installed ]
      Size of downloaded files: 15 kB
      Homepage:    http://cip.physik.uni-wuerzburg.de/~vrbehr/cups-pdf/
      Description: Provides a virtual printer for CUPS to produce PDF files.
      License:     GPL-2

Installing Software

Once you've found a software title to your liking, you can easily install it with emerge: just add the package name. For instance, to install gnumeric:

Code Listing 3.4: Installing gnumeric

# emerge gnumeric

Since many applications depend on each other, any attempt to install a certain software package might result in the installation of several dependencies as well. Don't worry, Portage handles dependencies well. If you want to find out what Portage would install when you ask it to install a certain package, add the --pretend switch. For instance:

Code Listing 3.5: Pretend to install gnumeric

# emerge --pretend gnumeric

When you ask Portage to install a package, it will download the necessary source code from the internet (if necessary) and store it by default in /usr/portage/distfiles. After this it will unpack, compile and install the package. If you want Portage to only download the sources without installing them, add the --fetchonly option to the emerge command:

Code Listing 3.6: Download the sourcecode for gnumeric

# emerge --fetchonly gnumeric

Finding Installed Package Documentation

Many packages come with their own documentation. Sometimes, the doc USE flag determines whether the package documentation should be installed or not. You can check the existence of a doc USE flag with the emerge -vp <package name> command.

Code Listing 3.7: Checking the existence of a doc USE flag

(alsa-lib is just an example, of course.)
# emerge -vp alsa-lib
[ebuild  N    ] media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.14_rc1  -debug +doc 698 kB

The best way of enabling the doc USE flag is doing it on a per-package basis via /etc/portage/package.use, so that you get documentation only for packages that you are interested in. Enabling this flag globally is known to cause problems with circular dependencies. For more information, please read the USE Flags chapter.

Once the package installed, its documentation is generally found in a subdirectory named after the package under the /usr/share/doc directory. You can also list all installed files with the equery tool which is part of the app-portage/gentoolkit package.

Code Listing 3.8: Locating package documentation

# ls -l /usr/share/doc/alsa-lib-1.0.14_rc1
total 28
-rw-r--r--  1 root root  669 May 17 21:54 ChangeLog.gz
-rw-r--r--  1 root root 9373 May 17 21:54 COPYING.gz
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 8560 May 17 21:54 html
-rw-r--r--  1 root root  196 May 17 21:54 TODO.gz

(Alternatively, use equery to locate interesting files:)
# equery files alsa-lib | less
media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.14_rc1
* Contents of media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.14_rc1:
/usr
/usr/bin
/usr/bin/alsalisp
(Output truncated)

Removing Software

When you want to remove a software package from your system, use emerge --unmerge. This will tell Portage to remove all files installed by that package from your system except the configuration files of that application if you have altered those after the installation. Leaving the configuration files allows you to continue working with the package if you ever decide to install it again.

However, a big warning applies: Portage will not check if the package you want to remove is required by another package. It will however warn you when you want to remove an important package that breaks your system if you unmerge it.

Code Listing 3.9: Removing gnumeric from the system

# emerge --unmerge gnumeric

When you remove a package from your system, the dependencies of that package that were installed automatically when you installed the software are left. To have Portage locate all dependencies that can now be removed, use emerge's --depclean functionality. We will talk about this later on.

Updating your System

To keep your system in perfect shape (and not to mention install the latest security updates) you need to update your system regularly. Since Portage only checks the ebuilds in your Portage tree you first have to update your Portage tree. When your Portage tree is updated, you can update your system with emerge --update @world. In the next example, we'll also use the --ask switch which will tell Portage to display the list of packages it wants to upgrade and ask you if you want to continue:

Code Listing 3.10: Updating your system

# emerge --update --ask @world

Portage will then search for newer version of the applications you have installed. However, it will only verify the versions for the applications you have explicitly installed (the applications listed in /var/lib/portage/world) - it does not thoroughly check their dependencies. If you want to update the dependencies of those packages as well, add the --deep argument:

Code Listing 3.11: Updating your system with dependencies

# emerge --update --deep @world

Still, this doesn't mean all packages: some packages on your system are needed during the compile and build process of packages, but once that package is installed, these dependencies are no longer required. Portage calls those build dependencies. To include those in an update cycle, add --with-bdeps=y:

Code Listing 3.12: Updating your entire system

# emerge --update --deep --with-bdeps=y @world

Since security updates also happen in packages you have not explicitly installed on your system (but that are pulled in as dependencies of other programs), it is recommended to run this command once in a while.

If you have altered any of your USE flags lately you might want to add --newuse as well. Portage will then verify if the change requires the installation of new packages or recompilation of existing ones:

Code Listing 3.13: Performing a full update

# emerge --update --deep --with-bdeps=y --newuse @world

Metapackages

Some packages in the Portage tree don't have any real content but are used to install a collection of packages. For instance, the kde-meta package will install a complete KDE environment on your system by pulling in various KDE-related packages as dependencies.

If you ever want to remove such a package from your system, running emerge --unmerge on the package won't have much effect as the dependencies remain on the system.

Portage has the functionality to remove orphaned dependencies as well, but since the availability of software is dynamically dependent you first need to update your entire system fully, including the new changes you applied when changing USE flags. After this you can run emerge --depclean to remove the orphaned dependencies. When this is done, you need to rebuild the applications that were dynamically linked to the now-removed software titles but don't require them anymore.

All this is handled with the following three commands:

Code Listing 3.14: Removing orphaned dependencies

# emerge --update --deep --newuse @world
# emerge --depclean
# revdep-rebuild

revdep-rebuild is provided by the gentoolkit package; don't forget to emerge it first:

Code Listing 3.15: Installing the gentoolkit package

# emerge gentoolkit

1.d. Licenses

Beginning with Portage version 2.1.7, you can accept or reject software installation based on its license. All packages in the tree contain a LICENSE entry in their ebuilds. Running emerge --search packagename will tell you the package's license.

By default, Portage permits all licenses, except End User License Agreements (EULAs) that require reading and signing an acceptance agreement.

The variable that controls permitted licenses is ACCEPT_LICENSE, which can be set in /etc/portage/make.conf. In the next example, this default value is shown:

Code Listing 4.1: Setting ACCEPT_LICENSE in /etc/portage/make.conf

ACCEPT_LICENSE="* -@EULA"

With this configuration, packages that require interaction during installation to approve their EULA will not be installable. Packages without an EULA will be installable.

You can set ACCEPT_LICENSE globally in /etc/portage/make.conf , or you can specify it on a per-package basis in /etc/portage/package.license.

For example, if you want to allow the truecrypt-2.7 license for app-crypt/truecrypt, add the following to /etc/portage/package.license:

Code Listing 4.2: Specifying a truecrypt license in package.license

app-crypt/truecrypt truecrypt-2.7

This permits installation of truecrypt versions that have the truecrypt-2.7 license, but not versions with the truecrypt-2.8 license.

Important: Licenses are stored in /usr/portage/licenses, and license groups are kept in /usr/portage/profiles/license_groups. The first entry of each line in CAPITAL letters is the name of the license group, and every entry after that is an individual license.

License groups defined in ACCEPT_LICENSE are prefixed with an @ sign. A commonly requested setting is to only allow the installation of free software and documentation. To accomplish this, we can remove all currently accepted licenses (using -*) and then only allow the licenses in the FREE group as follows:

Code Listing 4.3: Only allowing free software and documentation licenses in /etc/portage/make.conf

ACCEPT_LICENSE="-* @FREE"

In this case, "free" is mostly defined by the FSF and OSI. Any package whose license does not meet these requirements will not be installable on your system.

1.e. When Portage is Complaining...

About SLOTs, Virtuals, Branches, Architectures and Profiles

As we stated before, Portage is extremely powerful and supports many features that other software management tools lack. To understand this, we explain a few aspects of Portage without going into too much detail.

With Portage different versions of a single package can coexist on a system. While other distributions tend to name their package to those versions (like freetype and freetype2) Portage uses a technology called SLOTs. An ebuild declares a certain SLOT for its version. Ebuilds with different SLOTs can coexist on the same system. For instance, the freetype package has ebuilds with SLOT="1" and SLOT="2".

There are also packages that provide the same functionality but are implemented differently. For instance, metalogd, sysklogd and syslog-ng are all system loggers. Applications that rely on the availability of "a system logger" cannot depend on, for instance, metalogd, as the other system loggers are as good a choice as any. Portage allows for virtuals: each system logger is listed as an "exclusive" dependency of the logging service in the logger virtual package of the virtual category, so that applications can depend on the virtual/logger package. When installed, the package will pull in the first logging package mentioned in the package, unless a logging package was already installed (in which case the virtual is satisfied).

Software in the Portage tree can reside in different branches. By default your system only accepts packages that Gentoo deems stable. Most new software titles, when committed, are added to the testing branch, meaning more testing needs to be done before it is marked as stable. Although you will see the ebuilds for those software in the Portage tree, Portage will not update them before they are placed in the stable branch.

Some software is only available for a few architectures. Or the software doesn't work on the other architectures, or it needs more testing, or the developer that committed the software to the Portage tree is unable to verify if the package works on different architectures.

Each Gentoo installation adheres to a certain profile which contains, amongst other information, the list of packages that are required for a system to function normally.

Blocked Packages

Code Listing 5.1: Portage warning about blocked packages (with --pretend)

[blocks B     ] mail-mta/ssmtp (is blocking mail-mta/postfix-2.2.2-r1)

Code Listing 5.2: Portage warning about blocked packages (without --pretend)

!!! Error: the mail-mta/postfix package conflicts with another package.
!!!        both can't be installed on the same system together.
!!!        Please use 'emerge --pretend' to determine blockers. 

Ebuilds contain specific fields that inform Portage about its dependencies. There are two possible dependencies: build dependencies, declared in DEPEND and run-time dependencies, declared in RDEPEND. When one of these dependencies explicitly marks a package or virtual as being not compatible, it triggers a blockage.

While recent versions of Portage are smart enough to work around minor blockages without user intervention, occasionally you will need to fix it yourself, as explained below.

To fix a blockage, you can choose to not install the package or unmerge the conflicting package first. In the given example, you can opt not to install postfix or to remove ssmtp first.

You may also see blocking packages with specific atoms, such as <media-video/mplayer-1.0_rc1-r2. In this case, updating to a more recent version of the blocking package would remove the block.

It is also possible that two packages that are yet to be installed are blocking each other. In this rare case, you should find out why you need to install both. In most cases you can do with one of the packages alone. If not, please file a bug on Gentoo's bugtracking system.

Masked Packages

Code Listing 5.3: Portage warning about masked packages

!!! all ebuilds that could satisfy "bootsplash" have been masked. 

Code Listing 5.4: Portage warning about masked packages - reason

!!! possible candidates are:

- gnome-base/gnome-2.8.0_pre1 (masked by: ~x86 keyword)
- lm-sensors/lm-sensors-2.8.7 (masked by: -sparc keyword)
- sys-libs/glibc-2.3.4.20040808 (masked by: -* keyword)
- dev-util/cvsd-1.0.2 (masked by: missing keyword)
- games-fps/unreal-tournament-451 (masked by: package.mask)
- sys-libs/glibc-2.3.2-r11 (masked by: profile)
- net-im/skype-2.1.0.81 (masked by: skype-eula license(s))

When you want to install a package that isn't available for your system, you will receive this masking error. You should try installing a different application that is available for your system or wait until the package is put available. There is always a reason why a package is masked:

  • ~arch keyword means that the application is not tested sufficiently to be put in the stable branch. Wait a few days or weeks and try again.
  • -arch keyword or -* keyword means that the application does not work on your architecture. If you believe the package does work file a bug at our bugzilla website.
  • missing keyword means that the application has not been tested on your architecture yet. Ask the architecture porting team to test the package or test it for them and report your findings on our bugzilla website.
  • package.mask means that the package has been found corrupt, unstable or worse and has been deliberately marked as do-not-use.
  • profile means that the package has been found not suitable for your profile. The application might break your system if you installed it or is just not compatible with the profile you use.
  • license means that the package's license is not compatible with your ACCEPT_LICENSE setting. You must explicitly permit its license or license group by setting it in /etc/portage/make.conf or in /etc/portage/package.license. Refer to Licenses to learn how licenses work.

Necessary USE Flag Changes

Code Listing 5.5: Portage warning about USE flag change requirement

The following USE changes are necessary to proceed:
#required by app-text/happypackage-2.0, required by happypackage (argument)
>=app-text/feelings-1.0.0 test

The error message might also be displayed as follows, if --autounmask isn't set:

Code Listing 5.6: Portage error about USE flag change requirement

emerge: there are no ebuilds built with USE flags to satisfy "app-text/feelings[test]".
!!! One of the following packages is required to complete your request:
- app-text/feelings-1.0.0 (Change USE: +test)
(dependency required by "app-text/happypackage-2.0" [ebuild])
(dependency required by "happypackage" [argument])

Such warning or error occurs when you want to install a package which not only depends on another package, but also requires that that package is built with a particular USE flag (or set of USE flags). In the given example, the package app-text/feelings needs to be built with USE="test", but this USE flag is not set on the system.

To resolve this, either add the requested USE flag to your global USE flags in /etc/portage/make.conf, or set it for the specific package in /etc/portage/package.use.

Missing Dependencies

Code Listing 5.7: Portage warning about missing dependency

emerge: there are no ebuilds to satisfy ">=sys-devel/gcc-3.4.2-r4".

!!! Problem with ebuild sys-devel/gcc-3.4.2-r2
!!! Possibly a DEPEND/*DEPEND problem. 

The application you are trying to install depends on another package that is not available for your system. Please check bugzilla if the issue is known and if not, please report it. Unless you are mixing branches this should not occur and is therefore a bug.

Ambiguous Ebuild Name

Code Listing 5.8: Portage warning about ambiguous ebuild names

[ Results for search key : listen ]
[ Applications found : 2 ]

*  dev-tinyos/listen [ Masked ]
      Latest version available: 1.1.15
      Latest version installed: [ Not Installed ]
      Size of files: 10,032 kB
      Homepage:      http://www.tinyos.net/
      Description:   Raw listen for TinyOS
      License:       BSD

*  media-sound/listen [ Masked ]
      Latest version available: 0.6.3
      Latest version installed: [ Not Installed ]
      Size of files: 859 kB
      Homepage:      http://www.listen-project.org
      Description:   A Music player and management for GNOME
      License:       GPL-2

!!! The short ebuild name "listen" is ambiguous. Please specify
!!! one of the above fully-qualified ebuild names instead.

The application you want to install has a name that corresponds with more than one package. You need to supply the category name as well. Portage will inform you of possible matches to choose from.

Circular Dependencies

Code Listing 5.9: Portage warning about circular dependencies

!!! Error: circular dependencies: 

ebuild / net-print/cups-1.1.15-r2 depends on ebuild / app-text/ghostscript-7.05.3-r1
ebuild / app-text/ghostscript-7.05.3-r1 depends on ebuild / net-print/cups-1.1.15-r2 

Two (or more) packages you want to install depend on each other and can therefore not be installed. This is most likely a bug in the Portage tree. Please resync after a while and try again. You can also check bugzilla if the issue is known and if not, report it.

Fetch failed

Code Listing 5.10: Portage warning about fetch failed

!!! Fetch failed for sys-libs/ncurses-5.4-r5, continuing...
(...)
!!! Some fetch errors were encountered.  Please see above for details.

Portage was unable to download the sources for the given application and will try to continue installing the other applications (if applicable). This failure can be due to a mirror that has not synchronised correctly or because the ebuild points to an incorrect location. The server where the sources reside can also be down for some reason.

Retry after one hour to see if the issue still persists.

System Profile Protection

Code Listing 5.11: Portage warning about profile-protected package

!!! Trying to unmerge package(s) in system profile. 'sys-apps/portage'
!!! This could be damaging to your system.

You have asked to remove a package that is part of your system's core packages. It is listed in your profile as required and should therefore not be removed from the system.

Digest Verification Failures

Sometimes, when you attempt to emerge a package, it will fail with the message:

Code Listing 5.12: Digest verification failure

>>> checking ebuild checksums
!!! Digest verification failed:

This is a sign that something is wrong with the Portage tree -- often, it is because a developer may have made a mistake when committing a package to the tree.

When the digest verification fails, do not try to re-digest the package yourself. Running ebuild foo manifest will not fix the problem; it will almost certainly make it worse!

Instead, wait an hour or two for the tree to settle down. It's likely that the error was noticed right away, but it can take a little time for the fix to trickle down the Portage tree. While you're waiting, check Bugzilla and see if anyone has reported the problem yet. If not, go ahead and file a bug for the broken package.

Once you see that the bug has been fixed, you may want to re-sync to pick up the fixed digest.

Important: This does not mean that you can re-sync your tree multiple times! As stated in the rsync policy (when you run emerge --sync), users who sync too often will be banned! In fact, it's better to just wait until your next scheduled sync, so that you don't overload the rsync servers.


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Page updated December 17, 2013

Summary: This chapter explains the "simple" steps a user definitely needs to know to maintain the software on his system.

Sven Vermeulen
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Grant Goodyear
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Roy Marples
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Daniel Robbins
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