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· 6 min read
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Whilst pondering a thought-experiment related to installing Ubuntu packages (more on that in another post), I was looking to understand the output of the apt-cache depends command. However, while doing a quick Google search, I found that the top two results were wrong - one subtly (though sort-of right), the other blatently wrong. So, I did a little digging to figure it out for myself.

Before we get to the right answer, let's start with those top two results. The first search result says:

As you guessed the | indicates "or". The control line normally shows foo | bar, but apt-cache depends appears to reformat it by showing each alternative on its own line and prefixing the first with the |. In other words, the pipe flags the preferred option and the next line is the alternative.

(emphasis mine)

This is actually pretty close, but not quite true, as we'll soon see.