command-not-found tells you what package to install when
you try to run a program you don't have. I find this helpful, but it takes a
long time to maintain its index for lookups. This post tells the meandering
story of how I first optimized
command-not-found, then replaced it with a
script that doesn't use an index at all.
update-command-not-found is slow
I noticed recently that
apt update stalls on my computer after fetching new
Get:139 http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian unstable/non-free amd64 Contents (deb) T-2021-01-15-0800.20-F-2021-01-14-0800.15.pdiff [2,707 B] Fetched 1,504 kB in 39s (38.5 kB/s)
...stall for about 15 seconds...
Reading package lists... Done Building dependency tree Reading state information... Done 10 packages can be upgraded. Run 'apt list --upgradable' to see them.
I found the culprit to be
update-command-not-found from the
That package provides a useful error message when you attempt to run a command
you don't have installed. It searches through the APT cache for Debian (or
Ubuntu or whatever) packages that would install an executable with the same
name. Here's an example:
~$ python2 Command 'python2' not found, but can be installed with: sudo apt install python2-minimal
To make this search efficient,
update-command-not-found builds a lookup table
apt update runs. This table is stored in in
/var/lib/command-not-found/. Unfortunately, building this lookup table and
maintaining it is slow, at least for me.
The code is written in Python. It's maintained
upstream by Ubuntu
but is modified by Debian (in
a reversal from their typical roles). The relevant code for me is all from
Debian's changes that read through package Contents files. The changes are kept
in a series of patches inside the
and the relevant patch is
My computer seems to spend all its time in the method
pyinstrument and plenty of
trial-and- error, I was able to speed it up by about 40% (again, on my
computer) with a minor change. The patch itself is quite small:
def _parse_single_contents_file(self, con, f, fp): # read header suite=None # FIXME + pattern = re.compile(b'usr/sbin|usr/bin|sbin|bin') for l in fp: - l = l.decode("utf-8") - if not (l.startswith('usr/sbin') or l.startswith('usr/bin') or - l.startswith('bin') or l.startswith('sbin')): + if not pattern.match(l): continue + l = l.decode("utf-8") try: command, pkgnames = l.split(None, 1) except ValueError:
l in the file stream
fp comes from a Contents file, which looks
usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs usr/bin/parallel utils/moreutils,utils/parallel usr/share/cvs/contrib/README vcs/cvs
The contents files are kept in
/var/lib/apt/lists/ and have names like
ftp.us.debian.org_debian_dists_unstable_non-free_Contents-amd64.lz4. They can
be decompressed with
lz4 -d < FILE or
/usr/lib/apt/apt-helper cat-file FILE.
Update (2021-03-29): You might not have the contents files on your system.
If you don't, install the
apt-file package and then run
Before, the code would check if each line started with four separate strings. I optimized that to use a pre-compiled regular expression, which is more efficient. I also deferred decoding the line from an array of bytes into a Unicode string. Many lines don't have the ASCII prefixes we're looking for, so we don't need to spend time decoding those.
I submitted this change to Debian in bug #980076.
That improvement got the updates down from about 16 seconds to about 10 seconds
for me. I looked for more opportunities to speed up
but nothing major jumped out at me. One approach would be to parallelize the
work so multiple files can be searched at once. Another would be to rewrite the
tool in a faster language; there's lots of discussion about this in
Debian bug #881692.
Skip the index
Then I started wondering whether the index that
builds is even worth building. If I'm typing a command in my terminal and it
doesn't exist, I'm OK with waiting a second or so to be told what packages to
install. Can we search the Contents files quickly enough to make this
interactive without an index?
There's a package called
command-not-found depends on and
does just this. It's written in Perl. This is equivalent to what
apt-file search --regex "^(usr/)?s?bin/$PACKAGE$"
It's slower than I'd like (times shown are with warm caches):
~$ /bin/time -p apt-file search --regex "^(usr/)?s?bin/cvs$" cvs: /usr/bin/cvs real 3.35 user 4.44 sys 1.08
The man page
warns users that the
--regexp option is slow. That turns out to be true. This
next invocation is equivalent but significantly faster:
~$ /bin/time -p apt-file search "bin/cvs" | grep -P ": /(usr/)?s?bin/cvs$" cvs: /usr/bin/cvs real 1.22 user 1.57 sys 0.52
Honestly, that's fast enough, and I probably should have stopped there. Spoiler: I didn't.
Searching through multiple Contents files is trivially parallelizable, or at
least it should be. I don't know Perl, so I didn't want to make major changes
What I wanted to do was a parallel execution of
apt-helper cat-file piped
grep. In shell scripts, you can do this using tools like
or the conflicting program from
I came across this 2012
rant on GNU parallel
by Joey Hess, the developer of
moreutils, and that's enough reason for
me to avoid it. The whole mess of not knowing which parallel might be installed
/usr/bin/parallel, if any, was also off-putting.
Instead, I switched to using ripgrep.
rg) is parallel by default. It can decode compressed files with the
-z flag if
lz4 and similar programs are available.
This initial test was promising:
~$ /bin/time -p rg -z --no-filename "^(usr/)?s?bin/cvs\s" /var/lib/apt/lists/*Contents* | cat usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs usr/bin/cvs vcs/cvs real 0.39 user 1.42 sys 2.12
The pipe into
cat is there to disable ripgrep's "nice" output for interactive
So, this is definitely fast enough for interactive use. Even after I drop my caches, the same command only takes about 0.46 seconds on this machine.
My actual script, which you can find at the end of this post, has some more bells and whistles:
- It falls back to a regular
- It doesn't scan through the small files in
Extracting the package names
The next challenge was formatting the data. If you remember from the earlier example, some of the lines in the Contents files have a comma-separated list of packages. I don't know of a great way to deal with that in shell script. I ended up with this:
sed 's/^.* +//; s/,/\n/g; s/^.*\///'
The input looks like:
The first regular expression strips out the path, leaving:
The second regular expression breaks it into lines by comma, leaving:
The third regular expression strips off the section names, leaving:
Finally, that gets piped through
sort -u to remove the duplicates from
multiple architectures or distributions.
Printing relevant information
I could just print the package names and call it a day, but it's helpful to
print more information. The best way I know to do this is with
~$ apt search --names-only '^(moreutils|parallel)$' Sorting... Done Full Text Search... Done moreutils/stable 0.62-1 amd64 additional Unix utilities parallel/stable,stable,testing,testing,unstable,unstable,now 20161222-1.1 all build and execute command lines from standard input in parallel
Sadly, this takes about 1 second, but I think it's valuable enough to be worth the delay.
You're not really supposed to use
apt in a script like this because its
output may change. I'm not really bothered by that, though, since my script is
intended for human consumption. The
apt man page
says to use
instead. However, I don't see a way to get
apt-cache to format the results in
a similar way.
Building that regular expression from the list of packages is also not obvious in a shell script. I ended up with this ugly thing:
PACKAGES_DISJUNCTION=$(echo $PACKAGES | sed 's/ /|/g') apt search --names-only "^($PACKAGES_DISJUNCTION)$"
Putting it all together
I've assembled all this into a script called
in my configs repo, along with how to enable it for
(look for the calls to
If you're removing
command-not-found from your system, use
apt purge command-not-found to get rid of its index, too.
Update (2021-03-29): Note that you'll want to keep the
installed, since that package registers hooks with apt to download the package
I hope this was useful or that you learned a trick or two. I found it to be a
frustrating exercise. I'm a professional software engineer that's comfortable
with several programming languages and different models for parallel
programming, yet for "simple" scripts like this, I'm sort of forced into
ancient UNIX tooling. In this environment, simple parallelism problems and
simple string manipulation can actually be pretty difficult. I'd normally use
Python for a language that's universally available with no setup, but it's not
well-suited to parallel or high-performance code. Go or Rust would have been
better choices, but they might not be set up everywhere. I think I settled on
an OK compromise here with
ripgrep falling back to
grep and a bunch of
regular expressions; I just feel like this should have been easier.