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This page is supposed to show people coming from or going to a different distribution how some things compare with gentoo. It's a pragmatic comparison and doesn't judge which one is better.

This is very incomplete. Please add anything you know about any distro you think is important. Please note, some distros are using another distro's CLI interface (for example, the same package manager), in that case, please use the name of the distribution which was the first to use it.

Package management

Where Gentoo has portage and emerge, Debian has, among others, apt. This is to show you how you use either to handle updates, installs, and so forth. Debian has mainly two package management tools: apt and aptitude ( the first with supercow powers, checkout apt-get moo; the second unfortunately not ). This TIP will show commands with both tools for the sake of clarity.

Note: Be careful with the pacman commands for Arch Linux. The option -S means it'll try to synchronize, so every time the option -S is given, pacman will try to contact with the Arch repository servers.

Updating package database on your system


emerge --sync


apt-get update
aptitude update

Note: The use of aptitude is recommended over apt-get due to more intelligent dependency handling

Arch Linux

pacman -Sy

Updating packages on your system

Updating all packages, only pretending the operation:


emerge --deep --update --pretend world


emerge -Dupv world

To keep the consistency of your system (with clean), it's better to type :

emerge -DNauv world
emerge --depclean -av


apt-get upgrade --simulate
aptitude upgrade --simulate

Arch Linux

pacman -Qu

Update a particular package


emerge --update package1 package2


emerge -u package1 package2


apt-get upgrade package1 package2
aptitude upgrade package1 package2

Arch Linux

pacman -S package1 package2

Installing packages


emerge package1 package2


apt-get install package1 package2
aptitude install package1 package2

Debian source compile:

apt-get build-dep package1
apt-get source package1

(optional: customize the build by modifying the debian/rules makefile) (or set environmental variables like DEB_BUILD_OPTIONS) (note that this will make your bug reports invalid to the maintainer)

dpkg-buildpackage -rfakeroot -uc -b
dpkg -i generatedpackagename

Simplified source compile:

apt-get build-dep package1
apt-get -b source package1
(the packages are automatically generated using the -b switch above)

Apt-Build, clean and easy way ( install the package apt-build )

apt-build install package1 package2
Note: This process can be used to backport packages from testing and unstable by simply adding their respective source repositories to sources.list, which is similar to adding ~x86 to package.keywords in Gentoo. This is explored further in "arch and repositories" below.

Arch Linux

pacman -S package1 package2

Reinstall a particular package


emerge --oneshot package1 package2


apt-get install --reinstall package1 package2
aptitude reinstall package1 package2
Note: You rarely need to reinstall a package on Debian

for those of us who tinker with things we should not, reinstalling does not always work, for those occasions we can use

dpkg --purge --force-depends apache2-common

and then

apt-get install apache2-common

Arch Linux

pacman -Sf package1 package2

Searching package database


To search the package names and descriptions:

emerge --searchdesc searchword

On Gentoo, it's actually much better to install and use either the esearch package or the eix package to do a search. You use them like this:

eix searchword


esearch searchword


apt-cache search searchword
aptitude search searchword

Both emerge, aptitude and apt-cache search support regular expressions. To get the long package information on Debian (searching only in package names):

aptitude show searchword

Arch Linux

pacman -Ss searchword

To get more information about a package in Arch Linux, run

pacman -Si packagename

List of Packages Installed


equery list

equery is part of the gentoolkit package. If you don't have it, emerge that first:

emerge gentoolkit


dpkg -l

Arch Linux

pacman -Qs  #This will list all packages with their descriptions
pacman -Q   #This lists all packages with their versions
pacman -Qq  #This lists just the package names

Removing packages


emerge --unmerge package1 package2


emerge -C package1 package2


apt-get remove package1 package2
aptitude remove package1 package2

or to remove along with all configuration files

apt-get remove --purge package1 package2
aptitude purge package1 package2

Arch Linux

pacman -R package1 package2

Only downloading packages

This can be useful e.g. if you're on a dial-up connection and want to download everything first and install later.


emerge --fetchonly package1 package2


emerge -f package1 package2


apt-get install --download-only package1 package2
aptitude install --download-only package1 package2

Arch Linux

pacman -Sw package1 package2

Cleaning up downloaded packages

Compressed packages that were downloaded for installation can easily consume gigs of hdd space.


rm -rf /usr/portage/distfiles/*

To only remove outdated packages you will need to install the gentoolkit package and use eclean:

eclean distfiles

Cleaning temporary files from emerging packages:

rm -rf /var/tmp/portage/*


apt-get clean
aptitude clean

Only remove outdated packages:

apt-get autoclean
aptitude autoclean

Arch Linux

pacman -Scc #Removes ALL packages
pacman -Sc  #Only removes the packages that are not installed on the system and/or not the latest version of the package

GUI frontends for package management


himerge, kuroo, portato, porthole


aptitude, dselect (both ncurses based and a bit cryptic), synaptic (gtk), adept (qt)

Arch Linux

jacman, gtkpacman, alunn, guzuta, pacmon-svn, pacmanager-svn, kpacupdate, YAPG, shaman

Reverse dependencies


Reverse dependencies are a major drawback of Gentoo's current portage implementation: It does not take care of them at all at the moment. This means that you can uninstall packages needed by others without being warned about it. E.g. you can remove the x server package without portage warning you that kde (which you have installed as well) depends on it. This way you can actually break your entire system (e.g. by removing glibc).

revdep-rebuild can fix broken dependencies broken by emerge --depclean.


In Debian, reverse dependencies are taken care of by dpkg.

Arch Linux

Also automatically removed when needed.

Runlevel & Initscripts

Runlevels work pretty conventionally on Debian. On Gentoo, they are a bit different.

Directories and files

In Debian runlevels are named conventionally (0-6 and S). They are represented by directories in /etc/ called rc*.d (when the default sysv-rc boot loader package is installed; file-rc can be installed instead, and then the relevant file is runlevel.conf).

In Gentoo, runlevels have the same names, but these are mapped to more self explanatory ones (in /etc/inittab): "boot", "default", "nonetwork", with the option to add more. The directories that represent them are in /etc/runlevels/:

In Gentoo, if a service is not explicitly started in a runlevel, it is stopped when switching to that runlevel! There is no explicit stopping of runlevels as in Debian (/etc/rc?.d/K??service).

In both Debian and Gentoo, which things are started (and stopped) in which runlevels is controlled by links in the runlevel directories to scripts in /etc/init.d/, e.g.:

Code: gentoo $ ls -l /etc/runlevels/boot/hostname
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root 20 Mar 25  2004 /etc/runlevels/boot/hostname -> /etc/init.d/hostname
Code: debian $ ls -l rcS.d/
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root 21 2004-11-07 00:19 rcS.d/ -> ../init.d/

Runlevel management: rc-update, update-rc.d

To manage which things to start in which runlevels, use the following commands:


rc-status --all  (To see the current status and other runlevels)

To add the cupsd to the default runlevel, do:

rc-update add cupsd default

To remove alsasound from the boot runlevel, do:

rc-update del alsasound boot

Also see this wiki page about gentoo runlevel management with rc-update



Configure cupsd to be started in runlevels 2, 3, 4, 5, and stopped in 0, 1, 6, with sequence code 20:

update-rc.d cupsd start 20 2 3 4 5 . stop 20 0 1 6 . 

or simply:

update-rc.d cupsd defaults 

Remove cupsd from all runlevels:

update-rc.d -f cupsd remove

Config Files

/etc/make.conf and use flags

While in gentoo there are a large number of configuration files which exist to control the behaviour of the package management system, there are comparatively fewer in Debian, as there is no need to dictate how to compile software which is downloaded and tweak/alter this purpose. In gentoo, the file /etc/make.conf is used for much configuration; this includes USE flags, which influence which elements of packages are compiled, and which libraries to build support for - common USE flags (USE or -USE to specifically negate support) include 'gtk gnome' for gnome users (and a corresponding -qt -kde -arts) and 'qt kde arts' for kde users. A gentoo user's complete set of use flags may look something like this:

USE="-kde -arts -qt xv truetype bluetooth crypt slang readline gpm berkdb mmx gdbm tcpd pam libwww ssl nls ethereal perl python esd gif imlib sdl oggvorbis mpeg gnome gtk X motif opengl avi png tiff nptl pcmcia nptl ldap eds"

arch and repositories


Also in /etc/make.conf is the ACCEPT_KEYWORDS setting, with (for an X86-based processor) two settings, x86 for stabler packages, and ~x86 for bleeding edge packages. It is however not recommended to make this change in /etc/make.conf. Rather configure this per-package in /etc/portage/package.keywords. It's enough to put a line into that file naming the package. That file might look like this:


The last line says, that only version 4.3-r1 should be unmasked. Older and newer versions will still be ignored.


Setting this in Debian is slightly more complicated, and is accomplished by setting different 'repositories' in /etc/apt/sources.list - along with which 'tree' to use for packages; in debian, these are stable, testing, and unstable. An /etc/apt/sources.list file for a debian testing user may look something like this:

 deb testing main non-free contrib
 deb testing main
 deb testing/updates main contrib non-free

Alternatively, /etc/apt/sources.list can contain any number of repositories for any trees, and a default tree (this can be overridden using the -t switch on the command line) in /etc/apt/apt.conf:

  APT::Default-Release "testing";

Per-package settings go in /etc/apt/preferences, somewhat like Gentoo's /etc/portage/package.keywords.


To configure your ethernet interfaces, take a look at:


File: /etc/conf.d/net
config_eth0=( " netmask"
              " netmask" )
routes_eth0=( "default via" )

Note that this has changed recently. For more information please refer to


File: /etc/network/interfaces
 auto eth0
 iface eth0 inet static

 auto eth0:0
 iface eth0:0 inet static
 # etc.


To configure your X server, take a look at:


As root:

X --configure
cp /root/ /etc/X11/xorg.conf


To get a basic X configuration at /etc/X11/xorg.conf in Debian Stable (codenamed Etch) and unstable (codenamed sid):

dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

In the older stable release (codenamed sarge) used XFree86 4.3, which uses /etc/X11/XF86Config-4:

dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xfree86


other configuration files;

External Links

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Last modified: Wed, 10 Sep 2008 06:16:00 +0000 Hits: 51,991