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You are here: Home / Documentation / apt-get, aptitude, pick the right Debian package manager for you

apt-get, aptitude, pick the right Debian package


manager for you
June 20, 2011 By Raphal Hertzog

This is a frequently asked question: What package manager shall I use?. And my answer is the one that suits your
needs. In my case, I even use different package managers depending on what Im trying to do.

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apt-get, aptitude, pick the right Debian package manager for you http://raphaelhertzog.com/2011/06/20/apt-get-aptitude--pick-the-right...

APT vs dpkg, which one is the package manager?

In the Debian world, were usually thinking of APT-based software when were referring to a package manager. But in
truth, the real package manager is dpkg. Its the low-level tool that takes a .deb file and extracts its content on the disk, or
that takes the name of a package to remove the associated files, etc.

APT is better known because its the part of the packaging infrastructure that matters to the user. APT makes collection of
software available to the user and does the dirty work of downloading all the required packages and installing them by
calling dpkg in the correct order to respect the dependencies.

But APT is not a simple program, its a library and several different APT frontends have been developed on top of that
library. The most widely known is apt-get since its the oldest one, and its provided by APT itself.

Graphical APT front-ends

update-manager is a simple frontend useful to install security updates and other trivial daily upgrades (if youre using
testing or sid). Its the one that you get when you click in the desktop notification that tells you that updates are available.
In cases, where the upgrade is too complicated for update-manager, it will suggest to run synaptic which is full featured
package manager. You can browse the list on installed/available packages in numerous ways, you can mark packages for
installation/upgrade/removal/purge and then run in one go all the recorded actions.

software-center aims to be an easy to use application installer, it will hide most of the packaging details and will only
present installed/available applications (as defined by a .desktop file). Its very user friendly and has been developed by
Ubuntu.

Of the graphical front-ends, I use mainly synaptic and only when Im reviewing what I have installed to trim the system
down.

Console-based GUI APT front-ends

In this category, Ill cite only aptitude. Run without parameter, it will start a powerful console-based GUI. Much like
synaptic, you can have multiple views of the installed/available packages and mark packages for installation/upgrade
/removal/purge before executing everything at once.

Command-line based package managers and APT front-ends

This is where the well known apt-get fits, but there are several other alternatives: aptitude, cupt, wajig. Wajig and cupt are
special cases as they dont use libapt: the former wraps several tools including apt-get, and the latter is a (partial) APT
reimplementation (versions 1.x were in Perl, 2.x are now is C++).

Youre welcome to try them out and find out which one you prefer, but I have never felt the need to use something else
than apt-get and aptitude.

apt-get or aptitude?

First I want to make it clear that you can use both and mix them without problems. It used to be annoying when apt-get
did not track which packages were automatically installed while aptitude did, but now that both packages share this list,
theres no reason to avoid switching back and forth.

I would recommend apt-get for the big upgrades (i.e. dist-upgrade from one stable to the next) because it will always find
quickly a relatively good solution while aptitude can find several convoluted solutions (or none) and its difficult to decide
which one should be used.

On the opposite for regular upgrades in unstable (or testing), I would recommend aptitude safe-upgrade. It does a

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apt-get, aptitude, pick the right Debian package manager for you http://raphaelhertzog.com/2011/06/20/apt-get-aptitude--pick-the-right...

better job than apt-get at keeping on hold packages which are temporarily broken due to some not yet finished changes
while still installing new packages when required. With aptitude its also possible to tweak dynamically the suggested
operations while apt-get doesnt allow this. And aptitudes command line is probably more consistent: with apt-get you
have to switch between apt-get and apt-cache depending on the operation that you want to do, aptitude on the other hand
does everything by itself.

Take some time to read their respective documentation and to try them.

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Filed Under: Documentation, User Documentation Tagged With: APT, aptitude, cupt, Debian, dpkg, package
manager, software-center, synaptic, Ubuntu, wajig

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Comments

1. Boris Duek says:


June 20, 2011 at 10:06 am

The link to software-center is missing the dash in the package name (softwarecenter instead of software-center).

Raphal Hertzog says:


June 20, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thanks, fixed.

2. Eugene V. Lyubimkin says:


June 20, 2011 at 10:14 am

Raphal, Cupt is not APT front-end.

Raphal Hertzog says:


June 20, 2011 at 10:23 am

3 of 7 2012-05-17 11:06
apt-get, aptitude, pick the right Debian package manager for you http://raphaelhertzog.com/2011/06/20/apt-get-aptitude--pick-the-right...

Sorry for the mistake, I fixed the article.

3. cbx says:
June 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

Just a feedback from my family : my daughter, a teenager using linux as her personal desktop OS, just loves
Software Center : she looks for software she needs easily through this interface and can install what she found very
easilly too.

Real life example of Software Center usage

4. Julian Andres Klode says:


June 20, 2011 at 11:37 am

With cupt, you can specify on the command-line which packages should remain installed during the upgrade
making it very useful if you have some packages you absolutely want to keep (such as one big meta package)

5. jidanni says:
June 21, 2011 at 5:30 am

I use this combo every day


apt-get update && aptitude full-upgrade
As you can see, I use aptitude, but always its CLI and never its GUI, which older user me finds confusing.

jidanni says:
June 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I mix the two packages due to bug #563887: aptitude: update doesnt alert user of the errors that apt-get
update does. Else I would use pure aptitude.

6. Casper says:
June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm

but now that both packages share this list

What does it mean? Since squeeze? Can mixing both aptitude and apt-get in lenny and earlier cause problems?
Thanks in advance for clarification.

Raphal Hertzog says:


June 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The feature is in APT since 0.7.0. Lenny and Squeeze are thus OK, earlier versions are not (i.e. installing
packages with apt-get will not add the automatically installed flag to the dependencies that were
automatically installed).

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apt-get, aptitude, pick the right Debian package manager for you http://raphaelhertzog.com/2011/06/20/apt-get-aptitude--pick-the-right...

7. Selim Erdoan says:


June 24, 2011 at 11:47 am

I still use dselect.

8. Mathieu says:
January 30, 2012 at 3:57 am

Simple as ABC: Linux people want casual users to go to linux and beat the crap outta Apple and Microsoft ? Casual
users need Software Center and GUI. Time to stop being Linux/MacFags Compu-Hipster with code lines and
everything If not: PLEAAAAAAAAAAAASE, LEAVE CASUAL USERS TO THEIR F******** WINDOWS
AND APPLE DEVICES. Casual users NEEDS GUI because they (we, I) have NOT followed any computing
course EVER. They (we, I) like their TOOLS SIMPLE, as a TOOL IS SUPPOSED TO BE. Thank you, Linux
world.

I write software, books and documentation. I'm a Debian developer since 1998 and run my own company. I
want to share my passion and knowledge of the Debian ecosystem. [Read More ]

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