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I know Ubuntu/Kubuntu has several programs that can be used to install packages, such as apt-get, aptitude, and synaptic (and perhaps others). What are the differences between them, and which one is the recommended choice for normal day-to-day package management?

This is a basic question, but I think it'd be good information to have on the site, and besides I am relatively new to Ubuntu so I could use an expert explanation.

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I have also seen people recommending tasksel. Maybe someone could explain what this one is good for too? –  silvo Jul 28 '10 at 20:06
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tasksel is for selecting specific tasks, not for installing J. Random Package. –  lfaraone Jul 28 '10 at 20:08

9 Answers 9

up vote 91 down vote accepted

Probably the most popular package managers are apt-get, aptitude, synaptic, and Software Center. There are others (Linux Mint has its own, and there are some designed for KDE), but these are the ones you'll run into most often.

apt-get is a simple command-line tool. It's handy if you know the exact package name of what you want to install and don't want to spend time clicking through a GUI to get it.

aptitude is very similar to apt-get, and I've heard that it deals better with crazy dependency situations. Which one is really better is debatable.

synaptic is a low-level GUI. This is a good choice if you are a fairly advanced user but are not comfortable with command-line utilities.

Software Center is a very high-level, new-user-friendly GUI. Software is nicely categorized so that, if you're not exactly sure what app you want, you can find what you need quickly. The Software Center also stands out in that it is the only package manager in this list that allows you to purchase commercial applications.

dpkg is a lesser-used, low-level package manager standard for most Debian-based systems. In reality, apt-get, aptitude, synaptic, and the Ubuntu Software Center are all just front-ends to either dpkg or apt, which is in itself a front-end to dpkg.

In answer to your question, "which one is the recommended choice for normal day-to-day package management", I would say that Software Center is recommended for most uses. But as you gain more experience, you will find some of the features of lower-level package managers useful.

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I have to wonder what the point is of Synaptic at this point. People who want libs use the command line, and people that want programs use Software Center? –  mlissner Aug 3 '10 at 20:33
    
To be honest, I rarely use Synaptic any more, and at the moment I can't think of any particular reason I would use Synaptic over one of the other tools (though I do from time to time). Good question. –  mac9416 Aug 3 '10 at 21:39
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aptitude vs apt-get is not debatable, aptitude is an improvement over apt-get, and perfectly compatible with it. –  Mircea Chirea Aug 4 '10 at 21:20
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I don't have the knowledge to debate it, but I've seen others debate it. So to the best of my knowledge it's debatable. As for compatibility, I've heard that it's best not to use both. But again, I don't know. I'll leave that for another question. :-) –  mac9416 Aug 5 '10 at 2:26
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aptitude allows advanced package management features such as package holding which apt-get lacks. –  scottl Oct 18 '10 at 9:59

The Debian FAQ has a pretty good explanation of the different package managers. (dpkg, apt-get, aptitude, tasksel, synaptic)

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As an addition to mac9416's excellent answer, Kubuntu offers the same command-line tools as Ubuntu, namely dpkg, apt-get, and aptitude. There are also two graphical package managers:

Adept is a straightforward GUI for apt-get, which lets you edit the source lists, browse packages by category or by name, see their status, and install/uninstall them.

KPackageKit is a simple GUI for PackageKit, which is a newer, cross-distribution package management system that uses apt-get behind the scenes. It lets you search for programs by various criteria, install and uninstall programs, make routine upgrades, and edit the source lists.

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I personally prefer apt-get because it's a command-line program. And the syntax for installing packages is very simple:

sudo apt-get install packagename

I use apt-get on a day to day basis for installing and removing packages.

Synaptic is GUI-based and aptitude is text-based.

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aptitude can also be used interactively, and for a long time had features most of the other libapt clients lacked. sudo aptitude install works just as well as sudo apt-get install. sudo apitude search works just as well as sudo apt-cache search. Aptitude is, however, slated for removal in the future. –  Broam Jul 29 '10 at 1:13
    
@Broam can you provide a source for the claim that Aptitude is slated for removal? Googling around I couldn't find anything about that. –  itsadok Aug 5 '10 at 7:22
    
It's slated for removal in default install, like GIMP. –  Broam Aug 5 '10 at 14:58
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An excellent comparison of apt-get and aptitude, with a special mention of my favourite front-end, wajig.

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Basically, they only differ in how low-level they are.

dpkg: not even a proper package manager, apt uses it

apt-get: command-line, only if you know the package name

aptitude: text-based, but user friendly

synaptic: equivalent of aptitude in GUI

Software Center: for everyday users

BTW, these are all front-ends of apt (except dpkg), which is the only package manager on Ubuntu.

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For a more detailed comparison of apt-get and aptitude see another question on this site - Is aptitude really better than apt-get?

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One key difference between aptitude and apt-get which has escaped notice above is that aptitude, unlike apt-get, will offer you different options in case there is a dependency clash. apt-get will simply fail. aptitude is much more flexible and versatile for that reason. Having never used a GUI package manager, I don't know how Synaptic and others handle such situations.

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One other tool that has hardly received mention is tasksel. It's used for selecting specific tasks, mark them for installation, and then installing them (possibly using aptitude -- not sure).

Run tasksel --list-tasks to have a look at what tasks are available.

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That actually was mentioned in the comments on the question. –  David Z Jan 18 '11 at 18:12
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@david I saw that mention, but comments are 2nd class citizens. –  Tshepang Jan 22 '11 at 19:14

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