Linux Tutorial on Packaging, Updating, and Installing

Your package-management system defines the installation process

The core Linux distribution extends through the use of packages presented through online catalogs. Different distributions rely on architectural builds geared toward specific package-management systems. The package manager you use determines how you'll install or update new packages.

A package in the Synaptic Package Manager being installed
Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

What's a Package?

Packages are software applications for Linux. Just as Apple's App Store and Google Play offer curated apps for iOS and Android, and the Microsoft Store does the same for Windows 10, a package manager accesses a library of programs designed to work with your distribution's architectural standards.

What's a Package Manager?

A package manager serves as the onboard tool for accessing online software catalogs and installing, updating and removing packages from your Linux environment.

There's more than one package manager on the market, and their packages aren't easily cross-compatible. Furthermore, not all packages exist in every package manager's catalog.

Common package management systems include:

  • dkpg: Used by Debian and Ubuntu, and supported by tools like apt, aptitude, and the Synaptic Package Manager
  • Pacman: Used by Arch Linux
  • Portage: Used by Gentoo Linux
  • Snappy: A relatively new, self-contained package format developed by Ubuntu's parent company
  • RPM Package Manager: Developed by Red Hat and supported by tools like YUM and zypper

How Do I Install or Update Packages?

Novice Linux users should use the onboard package management tool included with your distribution. You'll find it in the windowing system. Each tool is configured differently and offers different options, but they're all graphical-based and require an administrative password to work.

Within the point-and-click tool, you can search for new packages, delete existing packages or find updates for installed packages.

Manual Package Management

Power users rarely rely on the graphical tools included with the distribution, preferring instead to issue package-management commands directly from the shell. In some cases, e.g., Linux server administration, there's no desktop at all, so shell access is the only way to update packages.

Each package manager supports different shell commands, but in general, each requires that you specify root-level credentials (the root password or the account password of a user empowered to manage packages) to change the operating system.

For example, to install the popular text editor Nano, you'd use the following shell commands:


apt install nano


pacman -S nano


zypper install nano


emerge nano 


dnf install nano

Check the documentation for the shell-based package management tool for specific instructions, including relevant command flags that modify how the base tool works.

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