Of course, any sensible packaging format needs a hook mechanism of some kind; just unpacking a filesystem tarball isn’t going to cut it. But part of the point of Click packages is to make packages easier to audit by removing their ability to run code at installation time. How do we resolve this? For most application packages, the code that needs to be run is to integrate with some system package; for instance, a package that provides an icon may need to update icon caches. Thus, the best way to achieve both these goals at once is to make sure the code for this is always in the integrated-with package.

dpkg triggers are useful prior art for this approach. In general they get a lot of things right. The code to process a trigger runs in the postinst, which encourages an approach where trigger processing is a subset of full package configuration and shares code with it. Furthermore, the express inability to pass any user data through the trigger activation mechanism itself ensures that triggers must operate in a “catch up” style, ensuring that whatever data store they manage is up to date with the state of the parts of the file system they use as input. This naturally results in a system where the user can install integrating and integrated-with packages in either order and get the same result, a valuable property which developers are nevertheless unlikely to test explicitly in every case and which must therefore be encouraged by design.

There are two principal problems with dpkg triggers (aside from the point that not all integrated-with packages use them, which is irrelevant because they don’t support any hypothetical future hook mechanisms either). The first is that the inability to pass user data through trigger activation means that there is no way to indicate where an integrating package is installed, which matters when the hook files it provides cannot be in a single location under /usr/ but might be under /opt/ or even in per-user directories. The second is that processing dpkg triggers requires operating on the system dpkg database, which is large and therefore slow.

Let us consider an example of the sort that might in future be delivered as a Click package, and one which is simple but not too simple. Our example package (com.ubuntu.example) delivers an AppArmor profile and two .desktop files. These are consumed by apparmor and desktop-integration (TBD) respectively, and each lists the corresponding directory looking for files to consume.

We must assume that in the general case it will be at least inconvenient to cause the integrated-with packages to look in multiple directories, especially when the list of possible directories is not fixed, so we need a way to cause files to exist in those directories. On the other hand, we cannot unpack directly into those directories, because that takes us back to using dpkg itself, and is incompatible with system image updates where the root file system is read-only. What we can do with reasonable safety is populate symlink farms.


  • Only system packages (i.e. .debs) may declare hooks. Click packages must be declarative in that they may not include code executed outside AppArmor confinement, which precludes declaring hooks.

  • “System-level hooks” are those which operate on the full set of installed package/version combinations. They may run as any (system) user. (Example: AppArmor profile handling.)

  • “User-level hooks” are those which operate on the set of packages registered by a given user. They run as that user, and thus would generally be expected to keep their state in the user’s home directory or some similar user-owned file system location. (Example: desktop file handling.)

  • System-level and user-level hooks share a namespace.

  • A Click package may contain one or more applications (the common case will be only one). Each application has a name.

  • An “application ID” is a string unique to each application instance: it is made up of the Click package name, the application name (must consist only of characters for a Debian source package name, Debian version and [A-Z]), and the Click package version joined by underscores, e.g. com.ubuntu.clock_alarm_0.1.

  • A “short application ID” is a string unique to each application, but not necessarily to each instance of it: it is made up of the Click package name and the application name (must consist only of characters for a Debian source package name, Debian version and [A-Z]) joined by an underscore, e.g. com.ubuntu.clock_alarm. It is only valid in user-level hooks, or in system-level hooks with Single-Version: yes.

  • An integrated-with system package may add *.hook files to /usr/share/click/hooks/. These are standard Debian-style control files with the following keys:

    User-Level: yes (optional)

    If the User-Level key is present with the value yes, the hook is a user-level hook.

    Pattern: <file-pattern> (required)

    The value of Pattern is a string containing one or more substitution placeholders, as follows:


    The application ID.


    The short application ID (user-level or single-version hooks only).


    The user name (user-level hooks only).


    The user’s home directory (user-level hooks only).


    The character ‘$‘.

    At least one ${id} or ${short-id} substitution is required. For user-level hooks, at least one of ${user} and ${home} must be present.

    On install, the package manager creates the target path as a symlink to a path provided by the Click package; on upgrade, it changes the target path to be a symlink to the path in the new version of the Click package; on removal, it unlinks the target path.

    The terms “install”, “upgrade”, and “removal” are taken to refer to the status of the hook rather than of the package. That is, when upgrading between two versions of a package, if the old version uses a given hook but the new version does not, then that is a removal; if the old version does not use a given hook but the new version does, then that is an install; if both versions use a given hook, then that is an upgrade.

    For system-level hooks, one target path exists for each unpacked version, unless “Single-Version: yes” is used (see below). For user-level hooks, a target path exists only for the current version registered by each user for each package.

    Upgrades of user-level hooks may leave the symlink pointed at the same target (since the target will itself be via a current symlink in the user registration directory). Exec commands in hooks should take care to check the modification timestamp of the target.

    Exec: <program> (optional)

    If the Exec key is present, its value is executed as if passed to the shell after the above symlink is modified. A non-zero exit status is an error; hook implementors must be careful to make commands in Exec fields robust. Note that this command intentionally takes no arguments, and will be run on install, upgrade, and removal; it must be written such that it causes the system to catch up with the current state of all installed hooks. Exec commands must be idempotent.

    Trigger: yes (optional)

    It will often be valuable to execute a dpkg trigger after installing a Click package to avoid code duplication between system and Click package handling, although we must do so asynchronously and any errors must not block the installation of Click packages. If “Trigger: yes” is set in a *.hook file, then “click install” will activate an asynchronous D-Bus service at the end of installation, passing the names of all the changed paths resulting from Pattern key expansions; this will activate any file triggers matching those paths, and process all the packages that enter the triggers-pending state as a result.

    User: <username> (required, system-level hooks only)

    System-level hooks are run as the user whose name is specified as the value of User. There is intentionally no default for this key, to encourage hook authors to run their hooks with the least appropriate privilege.

    Single-Version: yes (optional, system-level hooks only)

    By default, system-level hooks support multiple versions of packages, so target paths may exist at multiple versions. “Single-Version: yes” causes only the current version of each package to have a target path.

    Hook-Name: <name> (optional)

    The value of Hook-Name is the name that Click packages may use to attach to this hook. By default, this is the base name of the *.hook file, with the .hook extension removed.

    Multiple hooks may use the same hook-name, in which case all those hooks will be run when installing, upgrading, or removing a Click package that attaches to that name.

  • A Click package may attach to zero or more hooks, by including a “hooks” entry in its manifest. If present, this must be a dictionary mapping application names to hook sets; each hook set is itself a dictionary mapping hook names to paths. The hook names are used to look up *.hook files with matching hook-names (see Hook-Name above). The paths are relative to the directory where the Click package is unpacked, and are used as symlink targets by the package manager when creating symlinks according to the Pattern field in *.hook files.

  • There is a dh_click program which installs the *.hook files in system packages and adds maintainer script fragments to cause click to catch up with any newly-provided hooks. It may be invoked using dh $@ --with click.


  Pattern: /var/lib/apparmor/clicks/${id}.json
  Exec: /usr/bin/aa-clickhook
  User: root

  User-Level: yes
  Pattern: /opt/click.ubuntu.com/.click/desktop-files/${user}_${id}.desktop
  Exec: click desktophook
  Hook-Name: desktop

  "hooks": {
    "example-app": {
      "apparmor": "apparmor/example-app.json",
      "desktop": "example-app.desktop"

TODO: copy rather than symlink, for additional robustness?