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apt/dpkg package files (status, available)

Already browsed the apt* and dpkg* directories in /usr/share/docs, the
d-u archives and the web in general, but couldn't find the relevant

What is the difference between the status and the available files in
/var/lib/dpkg? And what is their relationship to the various *Packages
files downloaded by 'apt-get update'?

It would seem that the status file should contain info on packages that
are or once were on my system, but mine shows a lot of packages that I
can't remember ever having installed.

The available file, on the other hand, doesn't show all packages that
are available for install (but arepresent in the *Packages files). Does
this have to do with my system defaulting to 'testing' and said packages
being still in 'unstable'?

The reason I'm asking is that I'm writing a few scripts to provide
various kinds of overviews envolving all Debian packages in all
distributions, and parsing through the *Packages files takes a LONG time
(hours), so I'm searching for other sources of package info. The status
and available files seem promising, but I don't know enough about them
to trus them for the task.

Pointers to documentation I could use to sort out this mess would be
*most* welcome.

Carlos Sousa

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