How to Fix Broken Packages in Ubuntu

While package management in Linux is usually pretty straightforward, sometimes things go awry. Here’s to to fix broken packages in Ubuntu.

Ubuntu has a strong software management system in place, but sometimes, you might still need to know how to fix broken packages. Software management in Linux has come a long way, though. When I first began running Linux three decades ago, installing new software was much more challenging.

Today, most Linux distributions (including Ubuntu) use package management systems like apt or snap for installing additional software. While this makes the process much easier, things do still occasionally break. Luckily, there are several easy methods you can use to fix broken packages in Ubuntu.

4 Ways to Repair Broken Packages in Ubuntu

If you run into a piece of software that’s misbehaving or not launching at all in Ubuntu, there’s a good chance a broken package is to blame. Packages are compressed archives that include all of the executable binaries and other files needed to run a particular piece of software.

If things go sideways, though, there are four methods you should try, one after the other, to fix the issue.

  1. Check for updates
  2. Force apt to correct missing dependencies or broken packages.
  3. Force a reconfiguration or removal of broken packages with dpkg.
  4. Resolve dpkg lock issues.

Let’s explore how to take these steps.

Fixing Broken Packages in Ubuntu by Updating Apt

More often than not, you can fix broken packages using the apt package management system’s built-in update routine.

  1. On your Ubuntu computer, launch Terminal.
  2. Enter the following command at the prompt:
    sudo apt update —fix-missing
  3. When your PC asks for your password, enter it. Ubuntu will rebuild its list of dependencies for all installed software and fix whatever is missing.
    fix missing packages in ubuntu
  4. If you see a message like “XX packages can be upgraded,” you should also do that. From Terminal, type:
    sudo apt upgrade

Force Apt to Correct Missing Dependencies

Sometimes, the update process doesn’t help, and you need to use a bigger hammer. This could happen after downgrading your kernel in Ubuntu, as one example. Here’s how to force apt to install what’s breaking your packages.

  1. From Terminal, tell apt to locate and install missing dependencies and other packages with the following command:
    sudo apt install -f

    ubuntu apt install to fix broken packages

  2. Apt will list what packages are missing. Press Y and then Enter/Return to begin the installation.

Force Reconfigure or Remove Broken Packages with Dpkg

If the first two steps fail, it might be an apt configuration problem. You can check that as follows:

  1. Reconfigure the base package management system, dpkg, with this command in Terminal:
    sudo dpkg —configure -a
  2. Dpkg may mark some packages as needing to be reinstalled. Find out by typing the following command:
    sudo dpkg -l | grep ^..R
  3. If the above command lists one or more packages, you can attempt to remove them with this command:
    sudo dpkg —purge --force-all (package-name)
  4. Use the above command very carefully. It will remove a package even if that causes more issues, so pay attention to what you’ve uninstalled and be prepared to reinstall it.
  5. Once troubleshooting is done, you need to clean up the package manager:
    sudo apt clean
  6. Finally, update your repositories:
    sudo apt update

Dealing With Lock Issues in Dpkg

Your package manager will fail if you try to run two instances of it at a time. If this happens, apt returns a message that it is “Unable to lock the administration directory.” If the lock file isn’t deleted, you might have to do it manually.

  1. From Terminal, type:
    sudo rm /var/lib/apt/lists/lock
  2. You also need to remove the lock in the cache directory:
    sudo rm /var/cache/apt/archives/lock

Once done, you should be able to run either apt or dpkg without any further trouble.

Preventing Broken Packages From Happening Again

Preventing the occurrence of broken packages in Ubuntu is an essential step to avoid potential problems that might crop up during package management. Although it’s not always feasible to avoid every problem, there are several things you can do to minimize the risk.

Keep All Software Updated

One of the most prevalent culprits for broken packages in Ubuntu is the use of outdated software. To counter this, you need to not only keep your system up-to-date but also make sure all your installed applications remain current.

You can accomplish this by periodically checking manually for new releases or employing the user-friendly assistance of tools like Aptitude or the Synaptic Package Manager.

Reduce (or Eliminate) Reliance on Third-Party Repositories

Next, it’s imperative to consistently install software exclusively from the official Ubuntu repositories. While third-party repositories may seem like a tempting gateway to additional software not found in the official Ubuntu repositories, they come with a caveat.

These repositories can occasionally cause more trouble than they’re worth. From time to time, third-party repositories end up leading to conflicts with existing packages on your system, ultimately resulting in the dreaded broken packages.

To navigate this minefield, exercise caution by exclusively installing applications from trustworthy third-party sources, ensuring they are explicitly designed for use with Ubuntu.

Make Sure Unneeded Software is Removed the Right Way

Improper removal of installed applications also ranks high among the usual suspects when it comes to broken packages in Ubuntu.

When the time comes to bid adieu to software in Ubuntu, adhere to the golden rule – use the standard package management tools such as Synaptic Package Manager or the Terminal.

Under almost no circumstances should you wander down the perilous path of manually deleting files from your file system.

Keep Your Ubuntu Computer Running Smoothly

Broken packages can cause a lot of grief for you, the Ubuntu user. The good news is that by using the right tools, you can not only recover from a broken package but also prevent it in the future. If your Ubuntu usage grows more complex, you may also need to know how to change which user or group owns a folder or subfolders. We’ve got a handy walkthrough for that, too.




    January 15, 2024 at 11:56 am

    Your commands don’t work in linux, missing this or missing that.

    • Jeff Butts

      January 15, 2024 at 12:35 pm

      Those commands were literally tested in Ubuntu Linux and worked fine. If you’re getting errors, I need more specifics to help troubleshoot it for you.

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