Linux app distribution methods are explained here

Linux is still quite fragmented as an ecosystem. Not only are there countless distros or distros out there, but there are also a number of different ways to get apps installed on your system.

In this post, we are going to look at some of the most popular ways to install and get apps on your Linux system and talk about the pros and cons to educate you better.

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What is remarkable is that you can easily install any of these app distribution methods on your Linux regardless of your distribution.

PPAs

This method is perhaps one of the oldest ways to install apps on your Linux. It involves adding the app developer’s repository to one of your system’s app sources. This way, you can then install apps directly from the said sources and even get app updates from the same.

This was a fairly straightforward way of installing apps as it took away the guesswork involved in completing the code for yourself and installing the app on your system, something that many, geeks and noobs alike, might not be very used to are.

Of course, the biggest downside to PPAs is trust. Adding a random developer repository as a source for apps on your system can be risky as these developers have not been properly vetted and nothing prevents them from adding malicious code to their software.

As such, most Linux apps require a few packages to be present on a system in order for them to function smoothly. These packages or libraries are called dependencies. These can often be shared between different apps if your operating system doesn’t already have them.

The lack of one or more dependencies required by an app means it simply won’t work. Luckily, there are pretty easy ways to fix this sudo apt-get install -f. When Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, saw this problem, they decided to do something about it back in 2016.

Snap solves this dependency problem by building the necessary dependencies directly into the app, rather than pulling those dependencies into the underlying operating system through a traditional application installation process like apt-get.

Of course, the benefit of this method is that the apps are less likely to break during installation, since they’re built to come with everything they need to run.


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This strength is also their greatest offense. This is because snaps take up a lot of space on your system as they come with everything they need and may not need your system’s libraries. They also tend to launch a bit slower compared to apps installed using other methods.

Also, the fact that a company is on the front lines means they may not be given a warm welcome. Linuxers are massively anti-establishment.

DEBs

DEBs are files managed by the Debian package management system. Think of these files as executables, similar to .exe or .msi on Windows, or .DMG for Mac users. These are easy to install and work like those other mainstream operating systems. Just download the file, double click on it and accept the terms and it’s installed.

The disadvantage of this method is that you have to download the packages and install them manually. Nobody guarantees that the source you use for this app is safe. To be fair, this is also the argument against the other operating system using these installers.

AppImage

AppImage is a format for distributing portable software on Linux without requiring superuser privileges to install the application. Essentially, you download the AppImage and it contains everything it needs and doesn’t leave its “container”.

This might be the ideal way to distribute apps, but they are a bit tricky to integrate into the system. As a result, they often stand out visually. They don’t follow the system theme, design language, or font, so they often look out of place.

Flatpaks, perhaps every Linux user’s favorite of the moment, borrow some of the strengths of these other Linux app distribution methods while minimizing the downsides that everyone hates about those other methods.

Flatpaks provide a kind of sandbox environment in which users can run application software isolated from the rest of the system.

This method also allows the developer to package their application once and make it available across different distributions, rather than having to build and optimize for each flavor of Linux. This also makes troubleshooting much easier.

As such, Flatpaks often have the latest versions of apps, a problem that has dogged Linux distributions and their distribution methods for some time.

However, the Flatpak sandboxes are not as closed as the other methods. Flatpaks are able to reference the system runtimes and this allows them to ship with only the dependencies they need that are too old or too new for the application to use.

There are also concerns about the security of these apps as they are also precompiled binaries.

Conclusion

This type of fragmentation in Linux app distribution can be confusing, even intimidating at times, for anyone trying to break into the entire Linux ecosystem. However, a more helpful way of looking at it is that you always have to look for your apps somewhere.

This is because these methods are usually interoperable across different distributions. The most popular apps are also available through different distribution methods, so it often doesn’t matter which method you prefer.

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