As part of regular operating system hygiene, I run a cron job which updates package metadata and looks for obsolete packages and configuration files.

While there is already some easily available information on how to purge unneeded or obsolete packages and how to clean up config files properly in maintainer scripts, the guidance on how to delete obsolete config files is not easy to find and somewhat incomplete.

These are the obsolete conffiles I started with:

$ dpkg-query -W -f='${Conffiles}\n' | grep 'obsolete$'
 /etc/apparmor.d/abstractions/evince ae2a1e8cf5a7577239e89435a6ceb469 obsolete
 /etc/apparmor.d/tunables/ntpd 5519e4c01535818cb26f2ef9e527f191 obsolete
 /etc/apparmor.d/usr.bin.evince 08a12a7e468e1a70a86555e0070a7167 obsolete
 /etc/apparmor.d/usr.sbin.ntpd a00aa055d1a5feff414bacc89b8c9f6e obsolete
 /etc/bash_completion.d/initramfs-tools 7eeb7184772f3658e7cf446945c096b1 obsolete
 /etc/bash_completion.d/insserv 32975fe14795d6fce1408d5fd22747fd obsolete
 /etc/dbus-1/system.d/com.redhat.NewPrinterNotification.conf 8df3896101328880517f530c11fff877 obsolete
 /etc/dbus-1/system.d/com.redhat.PrinterDriversInstaller.conf d81013f5bfeece9858706aed938e16bb obsolete

To get rid of the /etc/bash_completion.d/ files, I first determined what packages they were registered to:

$ dpkg -S /etc/bash_completion.d/initramfs-tools
initramfs-tools: /etc/bash_completion.d/initramfs-tools
$ dpkg -S /etc/bash_completion.d/insserv
initramfs-tools: /etc/bash_completion.d/insserv

and then followed Paul Wise's instructions:

$ rm /etc/bash_completion.d/initramfs-tools /etc/bash_completion.d/insserv
$ apt install --reinstall initramfs-tools insserv

For some reason that didn't work for the /etc/dbus-1/system.d/ files and I had to purge and reinstall the relevant package:

$ dpkg -S /etc/dbus-1/system.d/com.redhat.NewPrinterNotification.conf
system-config-printer-common: /etc/dbus-1/system.d/com.redhat.NewPrinterNotification.conf
$ dpkg -S /etc/dbus-1/system.d/com.redhat.PrinterDriversInstaller.conf
system-config-printer-common: /etc/dbus-1/system.d/com.redhat.PrinterDriversInstaller.conf

$ apt purge system-config-printer-common
$ apt install system-config-printer

The files in /etc/apparmor.d/ were even more complicated to deal with because purging the packages that they come from didn't help:

$ dpkg -S /etc/apparmor.d/abstractions/evince
evince: /etc/apparmor.d/abstractions/evince
$ apt purge evince
$ dpkg-query -W -f='${Conffiles}\n' | grep 'obsolete$'
 /etc/apparmor.d/abstractions/evince ae2a1e8cf5a7577239e89435a6ceb469 obsolete
 /etc/apparmor.d/usr.bin.evince 08a12a7e468e1a70a86555e0070a7167 obsolete

I was however able to get rid of them by also purging the apparmor profile packages that are installed on my machine:

$ apt purge apparmor-profiles apparmor-profiles-extra evince ntp
$ apt install apparmor-profiles apparmor-profiles-extra evince ntp

Not sure why I had to do this but I suspect that these files used to be shipped by one of the apparmor packages and then eventually migrated to the evince and ntp packages directly and dpkg got confused.

If you're in a similar circumstance, you want want to search for the file you're trying to get rid of on Google and then you might end up on which could lead you to the old package that used to own this file.