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If I run the command ps aux or pstree I get a list of services, processes or applications. For example, I have an application (am unsure if it is a process or a service) called wnck-applet listed when I run the command pstree. I run the command apt-cache showpkg however it does not list wnck-applet as an available package. How can I lookup the description of a particular service, process or application without having to resort to the web? I attempted a search for wnck-applet however it did not yield a result that explains what it is.


The current distributions of use at the moment are Debian and Linux Mint.

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Which operating system? (I mean "Debian", "Gentoo", "Ubuntu" and such, not "Linux" which is overly broad). I see that it is APT based and thus probably related to Debian in some way, but others might not know. – Daniel Andersson Apr 13 '12 at 8:08
@Daniel Andersson - I apologize. I have include the additional details. – PeanutsMonkey Apr 13 '12 at 8:18
up vote 4 down vote accepted

For a system using APT (which it seems to be), you can use apt-file like this:

apt-file search wnck-applet

to get information on which package the binary is related to and then you can e.g.

  • look at the package documentation in /usr/share/docs if it exists,
  • look for man pages (and extended info pages where applicable) if they exist,
  • open the executable file in a text editor to see if it is text based, or
  • try -h or --h

in descending order. Not all steps are applicable in every case. In these times the web is often a preferred shortcut if one has the possibility, though.

apt-file gives me that wnck-applet turns out to be related to gnome-panel. More documentation could then be hunted with that new information.

The Debian manual indicates that apt-file is the best way. It also mentions dpkg -S which works similarly, but only on installed packages (which is OK in this case, but apt-file has a large general use, and I'd recommend to have it in handy anyway).

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Thanks Daniel. It appears that I need to install apt-file. Is there a way I could achieve the same results without installing apt-file? – PeanutsMonkey Apr 13 '12 at 8:20
@PeanutsMonkey: updated answer with mention of dpkg -S. – Daniel Andersson Apr 13 '12 at 8:45
Thanks. I did however notice that there is no auto complete feature. Is there a reason why that is? – PeanutsMonkey Apr 13 '12 at 19:09
@PeanutsMonkey: It can't preemptively know what you want to search for, and it's more of a search utility for generic terms than anything else (just like grep/sed/find does not auto-complete the search terms). At least I guess that is how the reasoning went during the design of the tool. – Daniel Andersson Apr 14 '12 at 11:16
Thanks Daniel however should it preemptively know if I have entered a partial name e.g. wnck – PeanutsMonkey Apr 14 '12 at 23:21

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