Linux Software Installation


These notes provide guidelines on different approaches to installing software on Linux. Due to the increasing popularity of Debian/APT derived distributions including Ubuntu the package management examples show use of apt-get and dpkg commands. Users of Red Hat derived distributions including Fedora, Mandriva and Novell/Suse will need to study use of the equivalent rpm commands and options.

Use of Administration (root) Account

While compatible binaries can sometimes be installed on a per user-account basis, most non trivial programs on Linux require administrator or root user access. This is considered to make Linux a more secure system. To run a series of root commands a root shell can be obtained using the sudo bash command. Otherwise (more securely if you make mistakes ?) precede each root command using sudo . On Debian, a root shell can be obtained using the su command. It is probably best not to run a graphics desktop as the root user, as the more software run by root, the greater the risk of security compromise.

When to Install from Source Code

Installing from source enables the software being installed to be studied. Also for many programs, pre-compiled binaries may not be available. If you use the Gentoo Linux distribution, this is designed so that all software is installed using source packages.

For some closed source proprietary software programs, installation from source is not an option - you have to either trust the binary provided or live without it.

If you want to choose any compile time options to control how the software is compiled, either to patch or to optimise it, you have to install from source. And you will need compilers to do this, for any compiled programming languages used. On Ubuntu use the following command to install the build-essential package, which contains the compilers likely to be needed:

aptitude install build-essential

If you want to use the latest version provided by the developers of the program in question you will have to install it from source using the developer's instructions. Most of the time you are better off going through your Linux distribution's package repository, as this gives you the ability to manage all the software used with this distribution in a more coherent manner.

A "half-way house" giving you the advantages of source installation combined with some of the benefits of package management is to use the package management commands for your distribution to install from the source package from which the binary package was built.

Benefits of package management

Installing from source (tarballs) independently of the distribution

Sometimes, for reasons stated above, you have to bypass the package management system. If this is the case it is a good idea to install within the /usr/local heirarchy. Binary executables are normally installed in /usr/local/bin . While GUI archiving tools can usually unpack the compressed software archive file, it is worth knowing the commands needed.

If a program arrives with a .tgz extension, this will be a compressed tar archive using GNU Zip. Create a folder for it within the user home directory and copy the .tgz file into this folder. As user (not root), change to this folder and unpack it as follows:

mkdir myprog  # whatever the name of the program
cp ~/downloads/myprog.tgz myprog  # copies compressed tarball into myprog folder
cd myprog  # changes to myprog folder
tar xzvf myprog.tgz # unpacks it

To uncompress it without unpacking it you could have used the command:

gzip -d myprog.tgz

which would have created the file myprog.tar

To untar the .tar file you could extract it with:
tar xvf myprog.tar

The source code should now be unpacked within a folder within the folder you created. The reason you created the folder was in case the packer decided to create the archive locally to where they were working, without creating a folder. This would have caused you a problem of spattering files all over the folder you were working in. When you discovered how to solve jigsaw puzzles you learned to put all the pieces back into the box before emptying pieces from another puzzle onto the floor for a similar reason.

If you have another folder, change down into it and look for readable text files containing further instructions, e.g. README.TXT or INSTALL.TXT . If nothing useful can be displayed, you may have to read source code files using a file browser, e.g. program.c or or Makefile .

If the program has a Makefile it is possible that this file is generated using a ./configure script or command, in which event it is best not to edit the Makefile. In some cases, the Makefile can be edited to decide where to install parts of the program and choose other build/installation time options.

make is the name of a program used to control how a program comprising many source files is compiled, built, installed and removed. The Makefile script is created manually or automatically to configure and control this process. It is a mixture of shell script commands and directives particular to make, e.g. to specify dependencies between an executable and compiled object files, or between source files and object files.

Use of the apt-get command

The full manpage is obtained using:

man apt-get

Below is most of this, with less frequently used options and facilities cut to improve clarity.

APT-GET(8)                                                          APT-GET(8)

       apt-get - APT package handling utility -- command-line interface

       apt-get [-hvs] [-o=config string] [-c=file] {[update] | [upgrade] |
               [dselect-upgrade] | [install pkg...] | [remove pkg...] |
               [purge pkg...] | [source pkg...] | [build-dep pkg...] | [check]
               | [clean] | [autoclean] | [autoremove]}

       apt-get is the command-line tool for handling packages, and may be
       considered the user's "back-end" to other tools using the APT library.
       Several "front-end" interfaces exist, such as dselect(8), aptitude,
       synaptic, gnome-apt and wajig.

       Unless the -h, or --help option is given, one of the commands below
       must be present.

           update is used to resynchronize the package index files from their
           sources. The indexes of available packages are fetched from the
           location(s) specified in /etc/apt/sources.list. For example, when
           using a Debian archive, this command retrieves and scans the
           Packages.gz files, so that information about new and updated
           packages is available. An update should always be performed before
           an upgrade or dist-upgrade. Please be aware that the overall
           progress meter will be incorrect as the size of the package files
           cannot be known in advance.

           upgrade is used to install the newest versions of all packages
           currently installed on the system from the sources enumerated in
           /etc/apt/sources.list. Packages currently installed with new
           versions available are retrieved and upgraded; under no
           circumstances are currently installed packages removed, or packages
           not already installed retrieved and installed. New versions of
           currently installed packages that cannot be upgraded without
           changing the install status of another package will be left at
           their current version. An update must be performed first so that
           apt-get knows that new versions of packages are available.

           dselect-upgrade is used in conjunction with the traditional Debian
           packaging front-end, dselect(8).  dselect-upgrade follows the
           changes made by dselect(8) to the Status field of available
           packages, and performs the actions necessary to realize that state
           (for instance, the removal of old and the installation of new

           dist-upgrade in addition to performing the function of upgrade,
           also intelligently handles changing dependencies with new versions
           of packages; apt-get has a "smart" conflict resolution system, and
           it will attempt to upgrade the most important packages at the
           expense of less important ones if necessary. The
           /etc/apt/sources.list file contains a list of locations from which
           to retrieve desired package files. See also apt_preferences(5) for
           a mechanism for overriding the general settings for individual

           install is followed by one or more packages desired for
           installation. Each package is a package name, not a fully qualified
           filename (for instance, in a Debian GNU/Linux system, libc6 would
           be the argument provided, not libc6_1.9.6-2.deb) All packages
           required by the package(s) specified for installation will also be
           retrieved and installed. The /etc/apt/sources.list file is used to
           locate the desired packages. If a hyphen is appended to the package
           name (with no intervening space), the identified package will be
           removed if it is installed. Similarly a plus sign can be used to
           designate a package to install. These latter features may be used
           to override decisions made by apt-get's conflict resolution system.

           A specific version of a package can be selected for installation by
           following the package name with an equals and the version of the
           package to select. This will cause that version to be located and
           selected for install. Alternatively a specific distribution can be
           selected by following the package name with a slash and the version
           of the distribution or the Archive name (stable, testing,

           Both of the version selection mechanisms can downgrade packages and
           must be used with care.

           Finally, the apt_preferences(5) mechanism allows you to create an
           alternative installation policy for individual packages.

           remove is identical to install except that packages are removed
           instead of installed.

           purge is identical to remove except that packages are removed and
           purged. (note by RK: purging means removal of configuration files)

           source causes apt-get to fetch source packages. APT will examine
           the available packages to decide which source package to fetch. It
           will then find and download into the current directory the newest
           available version of that source package. Source packages are
           tracked separately from binary packages via deb-src type lines in
           the sources.list(5) file. This probably will mean that you will not
           get the same source as the package you have installed or as you
           could install. If the --compile options is specified then the
           package will be compiled to a binary .deb using dpkg-buildpackage,
           if --download-only is specified then the source package will not be

           Note that source packages are not tracked like binary packages,
           they exist only in the current directory and are similar to
           downloading source tar balls.

           build-dep causes apt-get to install/remove packages in an attempt
           to satisfy the build dependencies for a source package.

           check is a diagnostic tool; it updates the package cache and checks
           for broken dependencies.

           clean clears out the local repository of retrieved package files.
           It removes everything but the lock file from
           /var/cache/apt/archives/ and /var/cache/apt/archives/partial/. When
           APT is used as a dselect(8) method, clean is run automatically.
           Those who do not use dselect will likely want to run apt-get clean
           from time to time to free up disk space.

           Like clean, autoclean clears out the local repository of retrieved
           package files. The difference is that it only removes package files
           that can no longer be downloaded, and are largely useless. This
           allows a cache to be maintained over a long period without it
           growing out of control. 

           autoremove is used to remove packages that were automatically
           installed to satisfy dependencies for some package and that are no
           more needed.

       All command line options may be set using the configuration file, the
       descriptions indicate the configuration option to set. For boolean
       options you can override the config file by using something like
       -f-,--no-f, -f=no or several other variations.

       -d, --download-only
           Download only; package files are only retrieved, not unpacked or
           installed. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Download-Only.

       -f, --fix-broken
           Fix; attempt to correct a system with broken dependencies in place.
           This option, when used with install/remove, can omit any packages
           to permit APT to deduce a likely solution. Any Package that are
           specified must completely correct the problem. The option is
           sometimes necessary when running APT for the first time; APT itself
           does not allow broken package dependencies to exist on a system. It
           is possible that a systemÂŽs dependency structure can be so corrupt
           as to require manual intervention (which usually means using
           dselect(8) or dpkg --remove to eliminate some of the offending
           packages). Use of this option together with -m may produce an error
           in some situations. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Fix-Broken.

       -m, --ignore-missing, --fix-missing
           Ignore missing packages; If packages cannot be retrieved or fail
           the integrity check after retrieval (corrupted package files), hold
           back those packages and handle the result. Use of this option
           together with -f may produce an error in some situations. If a
           package is selected for installation (particularly if it is
           mentioned on the command line) and it could not be downloaded then
           it will be silently held back. Configuration Item:

           Disables downloading of packages. This is best used with
           --ignore-missing to force APT to use only the .debs it has already
           downloaded. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Download.

       -s, --simulate, --just-print, --dry-run, --recon, --no-act
           No action; perform a simulation of events that would occur but do
           not actually change the system. Configuration Item:

           Simulate prints out a series of lines each one representing a dpkg
           operation, Configure (Conf), Remove (Remv), Unpack (Inst). Square
           brackets indicate broken packages with and empty set of square
           brackets meaning breaks that are of no consequence (rare).

       -y, --yes, --assume-yes
           Automatic yes to prompts; assume "yes" as answer to all prompts and
           run non-interactively. If an undesirable situation, such as
           changing a held package, trying to install a unauthenticated
           package or removing an essential package occurs then apt-get will
           abort. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Assume-Yes.

       -u, --show-upgraded
           Show upgraded packages; Print out a list of all packages that are
           to be upgraded. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Show-Upgraded.

       -V, --verbose-versions
           Show full versions for upgraded and installed packages.
           Configuration Item: APT::Get::Show-Versions.

       -b, --compile, --build
           Compile source packages after downloading them. Configuration Item:

           Ignore package Holds; This causes apt-get to ignore a hold placed
           on a package. This may be useful in conjunction with dist-upgrade
           to override a large number of undesired holds. Configuration Item:

           Do not upgrade packages; When used in conjunction with install,
           no-upgrade will prevent packages on the command line from being
           upgraded if they are already installed. Configuration Item:

           Force yes; This is a dangerous option that will cause apt to
           continue without prompting if it is doing something potentially
           harmful. It should not be used except in very special situations.
           Using force-yes can potentially destroy your system! Configuration
           Item: APT::Get::force-yes.

           Instead of fetching the files to install their URIs are printed.
           Each URI will have the path, the destination file name, the size
           and the expected md5 hash. Note that the file name to write to will
           not always match the file name on the remote site! This also works
           with the source and update commands. When used with the update
           command the MD5 and size are not included, and it is up to the user
           to decompress any compressed files. Configuration Item:

           Use purge instead of remove for anything that would be removed. An
           asterisk ("*") will be displayed next to packages which are
           scheduled to be purged. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Purge.

           Re-Install packages that are already installed and at the newest
           version. Configuration Item: APT::Get::ReInstall.

           This option defaults to on, use --no-list-cleanup to turn it off.
           When on apt-get will automatically manage the contents of
           /var/lib/apt/lists to ensure that obsolete files are erased. The
           only reason to turn it off is if you frequently change your source
           list. Configuration Item: APT::Get::List-Cleanup.

       -t, --target-release, --default-release
           This option controls the default input to the policy engine, it
           creates a default pin at priority 990 using the specified release
           string. The preferences file may further override this setting. In
           short, this option lets you have simple control over which
           distribution packages will be retrieved from. Some common examples
           might be -t ÂÂŽ2.1*ÂÂŽ or -t unstable. Configuration Item:
           APT::Default-Release; see also the apt_preferences(5) manual page.

           Only has meaning for the source and build-dep commands. Indicates
           that the given source names are not to be mapped through the binary
           table. This means that if this option is specified, these commands
           will only accept source package names as arguments, rather than
           accepting binary package names and looking up the corresponding
           source package. Configuration Item: APT::Get::Only-Source.

       --diff-only, --dsc-only, --tar-only
           Download only the diff, dsc, or tar file of a source archive.
           Configuration Item: APT::Get::Diff-Only, APT::Get::Dsc-Only, and

           Only process architecture-dependent build-dependencies.
           Configuration Item: APT::Get::Arch-Only.

           Ignore if packages can't be authenticated and don't prompt about
           it. This is usefull for tools like pbuilder. Configuration Item:

       -h, --help
           Show a short usage summary.

       -v, --version
           Show the program version.

       -c, --config-file
           Configuration File; Specify a configuration file to use. The
           program will read the default configuration file and then this
           configuration file. See apt.conf(5) for syntax information.

       -o, --option
           Set a Configuration Option; This will set an arbitary configuration
           option. The syntax is -o Foo::Bar=bar.

           Locations to fetch packages from. Configuration Item:

           APT configuration file. Configuration Item: Dir::Etc::Main.

           APT configuration file fragments Configuration Item:

           Version preferences file. This is where you would specify
           "pinning", i.e. a preference to get certain packages from a
           separate source or from a different version of a distribution.
           Configuration Item: Dir::Etc::Preferences.

           Storage area for retrieved package files. Configuration Item:

           Storage area for package files in transit. Configuration Item:
           Dir::Cache::Archives (implicit partial).

           Storage area for state information for each package resource
           specified in sources.list(5) Configuration Item: Dir::State::Lists.

           Storage area for state information in transit. Configuration Item:
           Dir::State::Lists (implicit partial).

       apt-cache(8), apt-cdrom(8), dpkg(8), dselect(8), sources.list(5),
       apt.conf(5), apt-config(8), apt-secure(8), The APT User's guide in
       /usr/share/doc/apt-doc/, apt_preferences(5), the APT Howto.

       apt-get returns zero on normal operation, decimal 100 on error.

       APT bug page[1]. If you wish to report a bug in APT, please see
       /usr/share/doc/debian/bug-reporting.txt or the reportbug(1) command.

       Jason Gunthorpe

       APT team


        1. APT bug page

Linux                          29 February 2004                     APT-GET(8)


How can I get a list all packages installed ?

dpkg -l

||/ Name                                       Version
ii  acl                                        2.2.45-1
         Access control list utilities
ii  acpi                                       0.09-3ubuntu1
         displays information on ACPI devices
ii  acpi-support                               0.109-0hardy2
         a collection of useful events for acpi
ii  acpid                                      1.0.4-5ubuntu9.3
         Utilities for using ACPI power management
ii  adduser                                    3.105ubuntu1
         add and remove users and groups
ii  adobe-flashplugin                
         Adobe Flash Player plugin version 10
ii  alacarte                                   0.11.5-0ubuntu1.1
         easy GNOME menu editing tool

Details of 1000's of other packages cut. Pipe output through grep, e.g.

dpkg -l | grep -i sound
for more specific packages.

Once I have installed a package, how can I reconfigure it ?

Use dpkg-reconfigure <package-name> e.g:

dpkg-reconfigure msmtp

I'm running Intrepid Ibex. How do I upgrade to Jaunty Jackalope ?

If you boot off the Jaunty CD this will give you the option to upgrade. Alternatively you can do the job over the net. The easiest way is to use the GUI tools. Alternatively you'll need to edit /etc/apt/sources.list and then use the apt-get tool.

The first command edits all instances of intrepid to jaunty in sources.list:

sed -e 's/\sintrepid/ jaunty/g' -i /etc/apt/sources.list

The second (pair of commands) updates the package index and performs a dist-upgrade.

apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

How can I get a list of all files belonging to a package ?

Use the command:

dpkg -L <package-name> 

What to do if apt-get purge won't fully remove a broken package ?

Fortunately this isn't a common requirement. When this happened to me I had to work out the location of the package removal shell script, try to figure out what it should be doing, edit it until it didn't crash and then fix anything it couldn't do manually.

If you run into anything quite as nasty as this it's a good idea to report the bug that caused it to reduce the risk of others being caught by it. You will probably still have to sort out the mess on your own system yourself, unless you have paid for support.