Ubuntu devs look at making apt index files smaller

Apt index files could become much smaller in Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

Ubuntu devs are currently discussing whether to enable compressed apt index files for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

But what benefits would this bring?

Apt Index Files

They’re not glamorous or particularly interesting but apt index files are an integral part of the package update mechanic as they contain details on the packages provided in the repositories you use. These index files are stored in the /var/lib/apt/lists directory by default.

Each time you check for new software using Software Updaters or, from the command line, apt update you download new versions of these files.

If you have a lot of PPAs, repositories and software sources in use it’s not uncommon for the apt files folder to swell in size. This is because apt index files are stored as uncompressed text files.

Admittedly, for most of us, the apt list folder is unlikely to become big enough to cause an issue. On my Ubuntu 17.10 install, which only has two extra PPAs enabled, these index files total a smidgen under 158MB in size.

Reducing the size of this folder would, clearly, be of use for those whom disk space is an issue — which many bug reports over the years have pointed out.

But even if disk space isn’t an issue there’s the question of whether Ubuntu needs to be so tardy with its index files; does it really need to keep these files uncompressed when, these days, there aren’t many¹ drawbacks to using compressed index files over uncompressed ones?

Some don’t think so.

Julian Andres Klode, an Ubuntu developer, proposes “…using LZ4 compressed index files in /var/lib/apt/lists for 18.04, starting from the beginning of the development period with apt 1.6~alpha1.”

While the discussion isn’t a cast iron guarantee that Ubuntu 18.04 will use compressed apt index files, it has been meet with some enthusiasm — a sign that developers want to explore the idea further.

So long as this switch has no major drawbacks I’m all for it — what about you?

¹Though there are a few package issues, but nothing that can’t be fixed

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