Install many third-party .deb packages on Ubuntu – even mainstream, high-quality software like Google Chrome and Skype – and you will see an error saying the package is of bad quality. We will explain what this scary-looking error actually means.

This error is usually a false alarm. You can generally go ahead and install “bad quality” packages in spite of the error message. The message only indicates that the package files don’t strictly comply with Debian packaging policy.

Is the Package Actually Dangerous?

This error is rather scary – it says the package “violates the quality standards” and “could cause serious problems on your computer.” However, this is usually a false alarm. While the package doesn’t meet the package quality guidelines completely, it’s probably safe to install. If you are installing something like Google Chrome or Skype, you can go ahead and click the Ignore and Install button to continue. For most packages, this won’t cause your computer to blow up. You won’t even notice anything wrong.

What’s the Actual Problem?

You don’t have to guess whether the package is okay to install, however. You can expand the Details section to see the exact problem with the package.

For Google Chrome, we can see that the Google Chrome package includes a cron job in the /etc/ directory. However, this file isn’t marked as a configuration file in the package. This is a rather nitpicky error – while Google should probably fix this problem so we don’t see this error message, you won’t experience any problems on your computer because you installed this package.

What is Lintian?

You will notice that the details section says that the package had errors during a “Lintian check.” You might be wondering what this means and why you should care.

Ubuntu is based on Debian and uses Debian packages (.deb packages). Most Debian packages don’t come from third-party websites – they are contained in your distribution’s software repositories. Ubuntu pulls most of the packages in its software packages right from the Debian’s software repositories. To ensure these packages are of high-quality, Debian has a detailed packaging policy.

Lintian is an automated tool that checks Debian packages to ensure they comply with this policy. Lintian’s manual indicates that it was designed for use by package maintainers – they can use it to check their packages for problems before uploading them. Someone could even run Lintian on the entire package repository to identify problems.

The Ubuntu Software Center uses Lintian to check .deb packages before you install them. It determines if they meet Debian’s strict packaging guidelines. A package that is “of bad quality” is just one that doesn’t meet these guidelines. Ubuntu actually ignores a lot of Lintian errors – but it highlights some Lintian errors that usually aren’t a concern.

For the average user user, this message doesn’t necessarily mean much. You can usually go ahead and install the .deb file anyway, although you should ensure you trust the package’s source.

While it’s probably a good idea to check unknown, third-party .deb files before installing them and alert users to any problems, Ubuntu’s checks are too strict. This error only serves to train users to click “Ignore and Install” whenever they see such an error.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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