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Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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6.3.4 Recover package selection data

If /var/lib/dpkg/status becomes corrupt for any reason, the Debian system loses package selection data and suffers severely. Look for the old /var/lib/dpkg/status file at /var/lib/dpkg/status-old or /var/backups/dpkg.status.*.

Keeping /var/backups/ in a separate partition may be a good idea since this directory contains lots of important system data.

If no old /var/lib/dpkg/status file is available, you can still recover information from directories in /usr/share/doc/.

     # ls /usr/share/doc | \
       grep -v [A-Z] | \
       grep -v '^texmf$' | \
       grep -v '^debian$' | \
       awk '{print $1 " install"}' | \
       dpkg --set-selections
     # dselect --expert # reinstall system, de-select as needed

Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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