Update notifications in Debian Jessie

Piwik told me that people are still sharing my post about the state of GNOME-Software and update notifications in Debian Jessie.

So I thought it might be useful to publish a small update on that matter:

  • If you are using GNOME or KDE Plasma with Debian 8 (Jessie), everything is fine – you will receive update notifications through the GNOME-Shell/via g-s-d or Apper respectively. You can perform updates on GNOME with GNOME-PackageKit and with Apper on KDE Plasma.
  • If you are using a desktop-environment not supporting PackageKit directly – for example Xfce, which previously relied on external tools – you might want to try pk-update-icon from jessie-backports. The small GTK+ tool will notify about updates and install them via GNOME-PackageKit, basically doing what GNOME-PackageKit did by itself before the functionality was moved into GNOME-Software.
  • For Debian Stretch, the upcoming release of Debian, we will have gnome-software ready and fully working. However, one of the design decisions of upstream is to only allow offline-updates (= download updates in the background, install on request at next reboot) with GNOME-Software. In case you don’t want to use that, GNOME-PackageKit will still be available, and so are of course all the CLI tools.
  • For KDE Plasma 5 on Debian 9 (Stretch), a nice AppStream based software management solution with a user-friendly updater is also planned and being developed upstream. More information on that will come when there’s something ready to show ;-).

I hope that clarifies things a little. Have fun using Debian 8!


It appears that many people have problems with getting update notifications in GNOME on Jessie. If you are affected by this, please try the following:

  1. Open dconf-editor and navigate to org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.updates. Check if the key active is set to true
  2. If that doesn’t help, also check if at org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.updates the frequency-refresh-cache value is set to a sane value (e.g. 86400)
  3. Consider increasing the priority value (if it isn’t at 300 already)
  4. If all of that doesn’t help: I guess some internal logic in g-s-d is preventing a cache refresh then (e.g. because I thinks it is on a expensive network connection and therefore doesn’t refresh the cache automatically, or thinks it is running on battery). This is a bug. If that still happens on Debian Stretch with GNOME-Software, please report a bug against the gnome-software package. As a workaround for Jessie you can enable unconditional cache refreshing via the APT cronjob by installing apt-config-auto-update.

23 thoughts on “Update notifications in Debian Jessie

  1. I have a friend, for whom I installed Jessie with Gnome in February (so perhaps it being pre-release is why it’s not working, but if so some hints on how to fix things would be great).

    Having just logged into the machine, I see:

    root@solstice:~# ls -ltr /var/lib/apt/lists/ | tail -2
    -rw-r–r– 1 root root 45284 Aug 25 14:34 http://ftp.uk.debian.org_debian_dists_jessie-backports_non-free_binary-amd64_Packages
    drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Aug 25 14:34 partial

    So no apt-get updates since the last time I did it by hand, therefore no notifications, so what you claim to be true for all Jessie/Gnome installs is certainly not true for that one.

    Cheers, Phil.

  2. I do think something is wrong here :). I noticed the same problem, and I reproduced it in a VM used for install-testing. Dunno whether the sharing is related to that.

    It seems to be affecting at least one other person than me.

    https://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=678340#32 (Maybe Matthew missed the latest information I provided there, because I screwed up the email somehow?)

    I described why I suspect this bug has been missed: it only happens on fresh installs. (I also described a workaround, i.e. the old config that you can apply manually). https://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=702241#136

    The experience with this bug is a major reason that I’m favoring Ubuntu GNOME. (No conversions yet though :). I can understand a buggy release. What really concerns me is there’s only a few people who’ve reported it.

    Hopefully I’m wrong and it works on everyone else’s computer! I just can’t see what could have gone wrong with my VM test install. If I’m right, it suggests there aren’t many fresh Debian installs, or no-one sticks to the defaults (which means no newbie installs), or no-one noticed they’re not being updated, or people aren’t reporting bugs :(.

  3. I also highly appreciate you to explain how I can to check my system is configured correctly because I do not receive system notifications when updates are available

  4. Unfortunately, me too. No update notifications at all! Is there a way to configure (some? security) automatic updates from Gnome GUI as in old versions and to get notifications about the others? Could you provide some links/hints to track down the issue? Thank you.

  5. Hi all!
    I added some information about stuff you can try to get update-notifications working in GNOME3 to the post.
    Maybe try that and see if it solves the issue for you!

    1. Thanks for your work! Gnome update notifications arrive correctly if I convert to the current testing release, so it’s looking good for Debian 9.

    2. Hi again Matthias.

      I mention this as a point in discussions about Debian and encouraging new users. People respond by reminding me of the need to report bugs, so…

      Do you think it might be possible to get the apt-config-auto-update workaround into the distribution, for the next point release of Jessie? I think this would involve adding it as a recommendation of another package. E.g. task-gnome-desktop, if there isn’t a more specific package responsible for gnome update notifications.

      Reminder: this issue is reproducible in a clean VM. It was able to be overlooked because lots of people dist-upgrade from Squeeze, and inherit the equivalent of apt-config-auto-update in old conf-files.

  6. it seems to me that there’s still a bug here that needs to be fixed in Jessie, in order to protect our desktop users (who have become used to being prompted to install updates).

    The lack of such prompts strikes me as a security bug, since it’s causing our users to leave their systems with known vulnerabilities.

    I was contacted recently by another user who’d noticed the lack of updates. The only tweak of yours that was not already the case on their machine was setting the priority up to 300. I’ve done that, but to no effect yet (but perhaps I need to wait longer).

    Since they do not have backports enabled apt-config-auto-update is not actually available to them, and I’d suggest is not really a valid work-around becuase of that.

    Your comment about “If that still happens on Debian Stretch …”, and the apparent inactivity on #678340 seems to imply that you’re not planning to fix this in jessie — is that right?

    Would it not be worthwhile to apply the patch that is mentioned in the bug, or are you unsure that that fixes the issue? If that is the problem, I’m happy to try out a patched package on the system I mentioned, but I wasn’t going to go to the bother of building it if you’re planning on ignoring the bug. I could of course just drop a crontab entry on the machine, but that does nothing to fix the actual bug.

  7. Hi! I’ve installed pk-update-icon, but I don’t receive any update notification unless I run apt-get update and I open the update manager. Same issue on stretch Xfce and Jessie Lxde. Any way to solve it? Thanks in advance!

  8. Update process is broken on all my four machines running Debian 8 with GNOME. None of the workarounds suggested under „Update“ works, so I now follow DSA and trigger updates manually.

    I’d love to see this essential functionality fixed.

  9. I am using Debian 9.0 “Stretch” and it seems update notifications still do not work. I have not got any update notification. I am using Gnome desktop. I have both Gnome Software and Gnome Package Kit installed. It would be really important to have working update notifications.

  10. I hope that Gnome Software / Gnome Package Kit does not have some stupid logic which prevents automatic update notifications because it thinks it is too expensive to use internet. If there is something like that then it should be possible to switch that off. Internet connections, including 4G mobile broad band, are so cheap here in Finland that logic like that really does not make sence. E.g most of the 4G mobile broadbands here have cheap fixed monthly costs, have no data limits and have no costs based on amount of data transferred. So downloading update information and updates when using e.g mobile broad band really is not any problem here.

  11. I do not really understand that Gnome designg decisicion of only allowing update installs during the next reboot. E.g I do not really reboot my computers unless I really have to. My desktop computer is 24/7 connected to internet using 4G mobile broad band. On my laptop I use suspend and hibernate, I do not reboot it unless I have to or run out of battery. Ofcourse it is sometimes a good idea to reboot the computer AFTER installing updates, but it is stupid to have to reboot just to be able to install updates and then maybe reboot again after installing those.

    Fortunately there is Synaptic, apt-get and aptitude.

  12. Hi Mika! G-S absolutely tries to avoid downloading updates on mobile data. Or specifically, “metered” connections.


    I don’t know if the GUI provides a way to mark a connection as not metered (AFAICT there is an API for this in NetworkManager).

    There is a very recent G-S fix to allow manual configuration which re-enables refreshing on metered connections. I suspect it’s not in Stretch.



    This is not a great place to discuss this, please try to stay polite if there’s anything more you want to say.

  13. So this means I will never get notified by Gnome Sofoftware, and I also can not use it for updating packages? Just great… 😛 It really should be possible to switch that behaviour off. I use almost always only my 4G mobile broadband connection, if I e.g go to pub I use it then too instead of the public wifi. Itwas something like 2010 I had a wired ADSL connection last time etc…

  14. By the way, it does not seem to help if I share the 4G mobile broadband from my phone as a wifi to my laptop and desktop compute. I still get no update notifications if my computers are connected to that wifi.

  15. Do you happen to know a workaround for this new update notification problem? Freshly upgraded to Debian 9. How do I make my system notify me of normal (non security) updates once a day? Software and Updates’ option “When there are other updates” is grayed out and that dconf setting org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.updates is gone, so I’m lost.

      1. Updates on Debian GNOME are broken (still after 4 years!). Even if one sets automatic daily security updates in settings, one is not notified of them nor they are installed, plus non-security update option in settings is grayed out. I tested this on a freshly installed Debian 9 GNOME netinstall, almost nothing done on it. There was a systemd security issue discovered, it’s still not installed on this machine nor was I notified, few days have passed. It’s actually two versions behind (it’s on 232-25+deb9u6, while 232-25+deb9u8 is current), I guess there were two patches (BTW debian.org didn’t mention the second one and I’d be still vulnerable on other machines that I update manually if I didn’t do apt update out of boredom).

        I remember that I’ve gotten an update notification a few times on my other machine, but even then, clicking Install either resulted in a message ‘no new updates’ (apt update disagreed) or installing a few, requiring a restart and then when I do apt update, I see a bunch of updates that weren’t installed.

        Something doesn’t work right here. Either Debian should focus a bit more on GUI users or GNOME has to rethink their strategy, because every update it’s changed and it doesn’t work again and needs another fix. I like Debian, because I have to figure this stuff out only once every 2 years, but I don’t like it, because I’m not using only servers with CLI interfaces, neither do my non tech-savvy parents.

  16. I have a friend, for whom I installed Jessie with Gnome in February (so perhaps it being pre-release is why it’s not working, but if so some hints on how to fix things would be great).
    Having just logged into the machine, I see:
    root@solstice:~# ls -ltr /var/lib/apt/lists/ | tail -2
    -rw-r–r– 1 root root 45284 Aug 25 14:34 http://ftp.uk.debian.org_debian_dists_jessie-backports_non-free_binary-amd64_Packages
    drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Aug 25 14:34 partial
    So no apt-get updates since the last time I did it by hand, therefore no notifications, so what you claim to be true for all Jessie/Gnome installs is certainly not true for that one.
    Cheers, Phil.

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