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Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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2.2.4 Preservation of local configuration

Files that are intended to be changeable by the local administrator are kept in /etc/. Debian policy dictates that all changes to locally configurable files be preserved across package upgrades.

If a default version of a locally configurable file is shipped in the package itself then the file is listed as a "conffile". The package management system does not upgrade conffiles that have been changed by the administrator since the package was last installed without getting the administrator's permission. On the other hand, if the conffile has not been changed by the administrator then the conffile will be upgraded along with the rest of the package. This is almost always desirable and so it is advantageous to minimize changes to conffiles.

To list the conffiles belonging to a package run the following command:

     dpkg --status package

The list follows the "Conffiles:" line.

For more information about conffiles you can read the section of the Debian Policy Manual entitled "Configuration files". (See References, Section 15.1).

Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire