The Complete Guide to the Synaptic Package Manager

Use a more complete graphical package manager on Ubuntu

An alternative to the Ubuntu Software Center is the Synaptic Package Manager. The Synaptic Package Manager has benefits over the Ubuntu Software Center, such as no advertisements for paid-for software and results display from all the repositories in your sources.list. Synaptic is also a common tool used by other Debian-based Linux distributions. So, if you switch distributions, you can use this familiar tool to install applications.

How to Install Synaptic

On Ubuntu, use the Software Center to search for and install Synaptic. Alternatively, if you prefer to use the command line or you use another Debian based distribution, open a terminal window and type the following:

sudo apt install synaptic

The User Interface

The user interface has a menu at the top with a toolbar underneath. There's a list of categories in the left pane. The right pane lists applications in that category.

Synaptic package manager on Ubuntu

The lower-left corner contains a set of buttons. The lower-right corner has a panel that shows the description of a selected application.

The Toolbar

The toolbar contains the following items:

  • Reload: The Reload button reloads the list of applications from each of the repositories held on your system.
  • Mark All Upgrades: Mark all Upgrades marks all the applications that have available upgrades.
  • Apply: The Apply button applies changes to marked applications.
  • Properties: Properties provides information about selected applications.
  • Search: The Search button opens a search box where you can search the repositories for an application.

The Left Panel

The buttons at the bottom of the left panel change the view of the list at the top of the left panel. The buttons are as follows:

  • Sections
  • Status
  • Origin
  • Custom Filters
  • Search Results
  • Architecture

Sections shows a list of categories in the left panel. The available categories outweigh the number in other package managers, such as Ubuntu Software. 

You can expect to see categories such as Amateur Radio, Databases, Graphics, GNOME Desktop, KDE Desktop, Email, Editors, Fonts, Multimedia, Networking, System Administration, and Utilities.

Status changes the list to show the applications by status. The available statuses are as follows:

  • Installed
  • Installed (auto removable)
  • Installed (local or obsolete)
  • Installed (manually)
  • Installed (upgradeable)
  • Not Installed
  • Not Installed (residual config)
Linux Synaptic package manager status

Origin displays a list of repositories. Selecting a repository shows a list of applications in that repository in the right panel.

Custom Filters has other categories, as follows:

  • All
  • Broken
  • Community Maintained
  • Marked Changes
  • Missing Recommended Packages
  • Packages with Debconf
  • Search Filter
  • Upgradeable (upstream)

Search Results shows a list of search results in the right panel. Only the All category appears in the left panel.

Linux Synaptic package manager origin

Architecture lists categories by architecture, as follows:

  • All
  • Arch: all
  • Arch: amd64
  • Arch: i386
Linux Synaptic package manager architecture

The Applications Panel

Clicking on a category in the left panel or searching for an application by keyword brings up a list of applications in the top right panel.

The applications panel has the following headings:

  • S (for selected)
  • Package (name)
  • Installed Version
  • Latest Version
  • Description

To install or upgrade an application, place a check in the box next to the application name. 

Linux Synaptic package manger install

Then, select Apply to complete the install or upgrade.

Linux Synaptic list of packages for install

You can mark several applications at once and press the Apply button when you finish making selections.

Application Description

Selecting a package name shows a description of the application in the lower-right panel.

Linux Synaptic package description

As well as a description of the application, there are buttons and links for Screenshot, Changelog, and Visit Homepage.

Properties

If you click an application and then click the Properties button, a new window appears with these tabs: Common, Dependencies, Installed Files, Versions, and Description.

The Common tab highlights whether the application is installed. It also shows the package maintainer, priority, repository, installed version number, the latest version available, file type, and download size.

Linux Synaptic package properties

The Dependencies tab lists the other applications that need to be installed for the selected package to work.

The Installed Files tab shows the files that are installed as part of a package.

The Versions tab shows the available versions of the package.

The Description tab shows the same information as the Application Description panel.

Search

The Search on the toolbar displays a window with a box where you enter a keyword to search for and a drop-down list to filter what you are searching on.

Linux Synaptic search

The drop-down list contains the following options:

  • Name
  • Description and name
  • Maintainer
  • Version
  • Dependencies
  • Provided Packages

Generally, you search by description and name, which is the default option. 

If, after searching, the results list is too long, use the quick filter option to filter the search results further.

The Menu

The menu has five top-level options: File, Edit, Package, Settings, and Help.

The File Menu

The File menu has options for saving marked changes in the file system. This is useful if you have marked a number of packages for installation, but you don't have the time to install them at the moment. So that you don't lose the selections and have to re-select them later, click File > Save Markings As, then enter a filename.

To read the file back in later, select File > Read Markings. Choose the saved file and open it.

There is a generate package download script option available on the File menu. This saves your marked applications in a script that you can run from the terminal without having to reload Synaptic.

The Edit Menu

The Edit menu has similar options to the toolbar, such as reload, apply, and mark all applications for upgrade. The best option is to fix broken packages, which attempts to do exactly that.

The Package Menu

The Package menu has options that mark applications for installation, reinstall apps, upgrade apps, and remove and completely remove apps. You can also lock an application at a particular version to prevent it from upgrading. This is useful if you need certain features that have been removed from newer versions or if you know the newer version has a bug.

The Setting Menu

The Settings menu has an option called Repositories. This option displays the Software and Updates screen where you can choose to add extra repositories.

The Help Menu

The Help menu has a comprehensive help guide where you can learn more about the Synaptic Package Manager.