/var/log/alternatives.log: Explanation & Insights

Contains changes made by update-alternatives

The /var/log/alternatives.log file is a log file in the Linux operating system that records the history of all the changes made by the update-alternatives command. The update-alternatives command is part of the Debian alternatives system, which is a mechanism for managing multiple versions of a file, or command on a Debian-based system like Ubuntu.

Importance of /var/log/alternatives.log

The /var/log/alternatives.log file is crucial because it allows system administrators to keep track of all changes made to system files via the update-alternatives command. This log file can be especially beneficial when troubleshooting issues related to system files, where a previous version of a file or command might need to be restored.

Understanding the /var/log/alternatives.log File Content

The /var/log/alternatives.log file contains entries that look something like this:

2022-01-01 12:34:56 update-alternatives 2022: /usr/bin/java: Manual mode link from /usr/bin/java to /usr/lib/jvm/java-11-openjdk-amd64/bin/java

Each entry indicates the date and time of the change, the name of the command (update-alternatives), the process ID of the command, the file that was changed, the mode of the change (manual or automatic), and the new link for the file.

Using the /var/log/alternatives.log File

You can use the cat, less, or tail commands to view the content of the /var/log/alternatives.log file. For example, you can use the following command to display the last 10 entries in the log file:

$ tail -n 10 /var/log/alternatives.log

Diagnosing Issues with /var/log/alternatives.log

If you are experiencing system problems and suspect that recent changes to system files might be the cause, you can use the /var/log/alternatives.log file to see what changes have been made. If necessary, you can then use the update-alternatives command to revert the changes.

Maintaining the /var/log/alternatives.log File

Like other log files, the /var/log/alternatives.log file can grow over time and consume a lot of disk space. Therefore, it is important to regularly archive or clear old entries from the log file. This can be done using logrotate, a utility for managing log files.


The /var/log/alternatives.log file is an essential tool for managing and troubleshooting system files on a Debian-based Linux system. By understanding what this file contains and how to use it, you can maintain the health of your system and diagnose problems more effectively.

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