Using Meta-packages to Standardize Servers

Both Ubuntu and Red Hat offer meta-packages which have no files of their own, but depend on others – thus requiring a set of packages to be present. You can use these packages to require a set of software to be present on a server, especially those that are not normally installed by the vendor’s install process.

A meta-package can save you time – you don’t have to install each package one at a time. A meta-package can also be included as part of a Puppet environment, so that all servers will be kept up-to-date with the current set of packages. A meta-package can also be a part of an automatic install process, also bringing in all necessary software and simplifying the installation steps.

In Ubuntu, creating your own meta-packages is made easy by using the equivs package. With RPM, you’ll have to create a meta-package using rpm-build and the appropriate SPEC file.

The only way that using a meta-package will truly save time is if you are using a program like APT or YUM to do installations because they will automatically compute the dependencies required and install them automatically when the meta-package is installed.

With a meta-package, you can require a set of packages that should be on every server – as well as force some packages to be removed. You can create a meta-packages that includes all packages that should be on a server, but aren’t usually installed (like gawk, logrotate, sysstate, ntp, logwatch, make, and m4 for instance). When the package server-main is then installed, all of its dependencies will also be installed. Any packages that are listed as conflicting packages will also be removed: packages like unattended-upgrades and command-not-found for instance.

Meta-packages could be created for packages that are from the Ubuntu Main repository, and for those packages that are in the Ubuntu Universe repository. This makes it simple to only include software from the Main repository and preclude those packages that are from the Universe repository.

These meta-packages could then be added to a local repository and added to a system during installation; this simplifies the package installation part of the install process and allows you to update any currently installed systems simply.

As an example, here’s my list for requirements (put into server-main) from the Ubuntu Main Repository:

  • lvm2
  • byobu
  • ruby
  • vim
  • snmpd
  • snmp
  • mlocate
  • postfix
  • ltrace
  • strace
  • wget
  • ntp
  • m4
  • make
  • ifenslave
  • dnsutils
  • procps
  • sysstat
  • logrotate
  • logwatch
  • sharutils
  • pdksh
  • dc
  • bsd-mailx
  • nut
  • finger
  • xfsdump
  • xfsprogs

And from the Universe repository, these are my suggested requirements (used as dependencies for server-universe):

  • iperf
  • jwhois
  • apt-file
  • chkconfig
  • atop
  • dstat
  • maatkit

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