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How To Remove Programs Installed From Source Using GNU Stow In Linux

By sk
Published: Last Updated on 8.5K views

This guide explains what is GNU Stow, how to install GNU Stow in Linux, and how to remove programs installed from source using GNU Stow.

What is GNU Stow?

Some times, you have to install some programs by manually compiling from source. Because, they may not available in the official or third-party repositories, so you can't install them using the regular package managers.

As you may already know, when you install programs from source, the package files will be copied to multiple locations, such as /usr/local/bin, /usr/local/etc/, on the filesystem.

If the installed program from source doesn't have a built-in uninstaller, it is going to be a tedious task to remove the packages when you don't need it anymore.

You may need to spend couple (or several) minutes to find those package files and remove them manually. This is what I have been doing up until I stumbled upon a utility named "GNU Stow". Thankfully, Stow has a easy way to easily manage programs installed from source.

To quote the official website,

GNU Stow is a symlink farm manager which takes distinct packages of software and/or data located in separate directories on the filesystem, and makes them appear to be installed in the same place.

To put this simply, Stow helps you to keep the package files organized in a way to easily manageable. In this method, the files will not be copied to multiple locations. Instead, all files are saved in a specific folder, usually under the program name itself, and Stow creates symbolic links to all the programs' files into the appropriate places.

For example, /usr/local/bin could contain symlinks to files within /usr/local/stow/vim/bin, /usr/local/stow/python/bin etc., and likewise recursively for any other subdirectories such as .../share, .../man, and so on.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to easily manage programs installed from source using Stow with a practical example. Read on.

Install GNU Stow in Linux

GNU Stow is available in the default repositories of popular Linux operating systems.

On Arch Linux and its variants, run the following command to install Stow.

$ sudo pacman -S stow

On Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Pop OS:

$ sudo apt install stow

On Fedora:

$ sudo dnf install stow

On RHEL/CentOS, AlmaLinux, and Rocky Linux:

$ sudo dnf install epel-release
$ sudo dnf install stow

Remove programs installed from source using Stow in Linux

As I already mentioned earlier, all program files of a package will be saved in a root folder located in /usr/local/stow/. Under this root or parent directory, each package will be saved in its own private sub-directory.

For example, if we install Vim editor from source, all program files and directories related to Vim will be saved under /usr/local/stow/vim folder. If you install python from source, all files related to python will be kept under /usr/local/stow/python and so on.

Let me install a program, for example hello, from source.

First download the ‘hello’ program’s tarball.

$ wget http://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/hello/hello-2.10.tar.gz

Extract the downloaded tarball using command:

$ tar -zxvf hello-2.10.tar.gz

The above command will create a directory named 'hello-2.10' in the current working directory and extract all contents in it.

Switch to the extracted directory:

$ cd hello-2.10/

Run the following command with --prefix option.

$ ./configure --prefix=/usr/local/stow/hello

The above command will save the build files in the specified location i.e /usr/local/stow/hello in our case.

Finally, build and install the hello program using the following commands:

$ make
$ sudo make install

That's it. The hello program has been installed in /usr/local/stow/hello/ location. You can verify it with 'ls' command as shown below.

$ ls /usr/local/stow/hello/
bin share

Finally, go to the /usr/local/stow/ directory and run the following command to generate the necessary symlinks.

$ cd /usr/local/stow/
$ sudo stow hello

All done!

What just happened is all the files and directories contained in the hello package have been symlinked to the directory /usr/local/. In other words, /usr/local/stow/hello/bin has been symlinked to /usr/local/bin and /usr/local/stow/hello/share has been symlinked to /usr/local/share and /usr/local/stow/hello/share/man has been symlinked to /usr/local/share/man and so on.

You can verify them using 'ls' command:

$ ls /usr/local/bin/

Let us check if the hello program is working or not using command:

$ hello
Hello, world!

Yeah, it is working!!

Similarly, you can install programs as described above under its own sub-directory.

Here is the contents of the Stow root directory:

$ tree /usr/local/stow/
List contents of Stow root directory
List contents of Stow root directory

See? The hello program is installed in "/usr/local/stow/hello/" location. Like wise, all packages will be kept under their own directory.

Here comes the main part. Let us remove the hello program. To do so, go to /usr/local/stow/ directory:

$ cd /usr/local/stow/

..and run the following command:

$ sudo stow --delete hello
Remove program using Stow
Remove program using Stow

The hello program has just been removed. You can verify if it is really removed or not with command:

$ hello
-bash: /usr/local/bin/hello: No such file or directory
hello world
Run hello world program

See? Hello program is removed!

Please note that Stow has removed the symlinks only. All program files and directories related to hello program are still available in /usr/local/stow/hello folder. So, you can install the hello program again without having to download the actual source file.

If you don't want the hello program anymore, simply delete its folder.

$ sudo rm -fr /usr/local/stow/hello/

To know more details about Stow, refer the man pages.

$ man stow


GNU Stow helps you to uninstall the programs as easily as you install them. If you are wondering how to effectively manage a lot of programs installed from source, GNU Stow is one such program to make this task a lot easier. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.


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jigslinx001 December 28, 2018 - 6:53 pm

As who have built the entire OS from source (LFS), I’m too familiar with this problem. However, with the recent introduction of BTRFS, I just use it’s snapshotting feature combined with a hacked-up bash script, I can install and uninstall these programs very easily.

sk December 29, 2018 - 11:13 am

Thanks. I never knew about this feature in BTRFS. I will look into it.


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