Setting up unattended upgrades on Debian

Posted by Valentin Heidelberger on Saturday, August 25, 2018 Tags: Technology Linux   3 minute read


I have a Raspberry Pi running on Raspbian in my home network. It mainly provides a DNS server based on Pi Hole and runs some cronjobs for me. Of course you don’t want to login to such a system regularly and install package upgrades. That’s where unattended upgrades come into play. I’ll tell you how to set unattended upgrades up on Debian and walk you through some config parameters that I find very useful.


Firstly, you need to install the unattended-upgrades pkg:

apt install unattended-upgrades

unattended-upgrades is run automatically by the cronjob /etc/cron.daily/apt-compat.

The config file

Now let’s have a look at the config file:

vim /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/50unattended-upgrades

The config file might look a bit messy at first due to a LOT of comments and the (in my opinion) unaesthetic apt config syntax. The most interesting part to begin with is the “Origins-Pattern”:

Unattended-Upgrade::Origins-Pattern {

Defining package origins

The Origins-Pattern defines from where unattended-upgrades will install upgrades. If an origin is missing here, package upgrades from there will be ignored. Which origins to configure here is totally up to you of course. Maybe you have installed some exotic PPA, which you always want to upgrade manually? To find out how to configure the origins you want, you can have a look at apt’s lists:

val@pi:~ $ ls /var/lib/apt/lists/ | grep InRelease

These InRelease files provide the information you need. To find out their origin and suite (o= and a=), use the grep command:

val@pi:~ $ grep -E '(Origin|Suite)' /var/lib/apt/lists/archive.raspberrypi.org_debian_dists_stretch_InRelease
Origin: Raspberry Pi Foundation
Suite: stable

So the origin of this particular apt list is “Raspberry Pi Foundation” and it’s suite is “stable”. To configure this for unattended-upgrades, you’d adapt the config to look as follows:

Unattended-Upgrade::Origins-Pattern {
      "o=Raspberry Pi Foundation,a=stable";

Defining package blacklist

If you don’t want to upgrade certain packages from a defined origin automatically, you can put them in the blacklist, that should already be in the config file:

Unattended-Upgrade::Package-Blacklist {
//      "vim";
//      "libc6";
//      "libc6-dev";
//      "libc6-i686";

Automatically remove unused dependencies (autoremove)

To automatically remove unused dependencies, set the following config parameter to true:

Unattended-Upgrade::Remove-Unused-Dependencies "false";

Automatically reboot

Some packages require a reboot. You probably want to control when that happens. In my case the pi reboots at 2 AM, when everyone’s usually asleep, if needed.

Unattended-Upgrade::Automatic-Reboot-Time "02:00";


unattended-upgrades offers a debug parameter, that makes debugging very easy. With –apt-debug and –verbose you can get even more debug output. To debug previous runs of unattended-upgrades, check the log files: /var/log/unattended-upgrades/unattended-upgrades.log and /var/log/unattended-upgrades/unattended-upgrades-dpkg.log.

val@pi:~ $ sudo unattended-upgrades --dry-run --debug
sudo: unable to resolve host pi
Initial blacklisted packages:
Initial whitelisted packages:
Starting unattended upgrades script
Allowed origins are: ['o=Raspberry Pi Foundation,a=stable', 'o=Raspbian,a=stable', 'o=Debian,a=stable', 'o=Debian,a=stable-updates', 'o=Debian,a=proposed-updates', 'origin=Debian,codename=stretch,label=Debian-Security']