The Complete Guide to the Synaptic Package Manager

Use a more complete graphical package manager on Ubuntu

Synaptic Package Manager

Users of Ubuntu will be very aware of the Ubuntu Software Center and its shortcomings. Indeed, as from Ubuntu 16.04, the Software Center is due to be retired altogether.

A great alternative to the Software Center is the Synaptic Package Manager

The Synaptic Package Manager has many benefits over the Ubuntu Software Center such as the fact that there are no adverts for paid-for software and the fact that you will always see the results from all the repositories within your sources.list.

Another benefit of Synaptic is that it is a common tool used by many other Debian based Linux distributions. If you get used to it using Ubuntu then should you decide to switch to a different distribution later on you will have a tool that you are already familiar with to aid with the installation of other applications.

How to Install Synaptic

If you are using Ubuntu you can use the Software Center to search for and install Synaptic.

Alternatively, if you prefer to use the command line or you are using another Debian based distribution you can 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 is a list of categories in the left pane and in the right pane a list of applications within that category.

Synaptic package manager on Ubuntu

In the bottom left corner is a set of buttons and in the bottom right corner a panel to show 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 brings up a search box which lets you 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

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

Without going through them all 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 brings up a list of repositories. Selecting a repository shows a list of applications within that repository in the right panel.

The custom filters button has various 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 one category will appear in the left panel, "all."

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

Press Apply to complete the install or upgrade.

Linux Synaptic list of packages for install

You can, of course, mark a number of applications at once and press the apply button when you have finished making selections.

Application Description

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

Linux Synaptic package description

As well as a description of the application there are also buttons and links as follows:


If you click on an application and then the properties button a new window appears with the following tabs.

  • Common
  • Dependencies
  • Installed Files
  • Versions
  • Description

The common tab highlights whether the application is already installed, show the package maintainer, the priority, the repository, the installed version number, the latest version available, the file type and the download size.

Linux Synaptic package properties

The dependencies tab list the other applications that need to be installed for the selected package to work.

The installed files show 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.


The Search on the toolbar brings up a little window with a box where you enter a keyword to search for and a dropdown to filter what you are searching on.

Linux Synaptic search

The dropdown list contains the following options:

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

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

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

The Menu

The menu has five top-level options:

  • File
  • Edit
  • Package
  • Settings
  • Help

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.

You don't want to lose the selections and have to re-select them later. Click File and Save Markings As and enter a filename.

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

There is a generate package download script option available on the file menu. This will save your marked applications in a script which you can simply run from the terminal without having to reload Synaptic.

The Edit menu basically 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 has options for marking applications for installation, reinstallation, upgrade, removal and complete removal. 

You can also lock an application at a particular version to prevent it upgrading especially if you need certain features removed from newer versions or if you know the newer version has a serious bug.

The Settings menu has an option called "Repositories" which brings up the Software and Updates screen where you can choose to add extra repositories.

Finally, the Help menu has a comprehensive help guide showing anything that is missing from this guide.