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Installing Software on Debian
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Friendlier Interfaces

Are there more user-friendly ways to manage packages? Perhaps most people understandably think that a modern operating system should have a more interactive way of installing software, although some people will always be command-line addicts. The visual mode of aptitude provides a keyboard- and menu-driven interface to your system's packages, as shown in Figure 1. Invoke the visual mode just by running aptitude on its own. You don't need to bother to become root; when it needs superuser privileges, aptitude's interface will ask you for the root password.

aptitude's visual mode
Figure 1. aptitude in visual mode

All the features available from the command line are accessible through the menus. The display of packages and their state conveys a lot of information at once. For instance, the i shows a package is installed, and the A denotes that aptitude automatically installed it as a dependency. This display is fully customizable through the Options menu.

If you're operating in a graphical environment, you may prefer to use synaptic, available from the package of the same name. Start it by selecting Synaptic Package Manager from the GNOME System Tools menu, or running sudo /usr/sbin/synaptic. Figure 2 shows the result of a search for sudo.

Thumbnail, click for full-size image.
Figure 2. The Synaptic package manager--click for full-size image

Finding Out More

If you plan to use aptitude from the command line, the best reference is the aptitude(8) manual page. For the menu-driven interface, a user guide is present in HTML in the /usr/share/doc/aptitude/html directory. Read it with the w3m text-mode browser or a graphical browser of your choice.

As well as searching for packages on your own system, there's a web interface to all the Debian distributions and their contents, where you can search packages by practically every criteria imaginable.

For further information on the arrangement of the Debian archive, and the significance of the section names, consult Chapter 2 of the Debian Policy Manual. To better understand the meaning of dependencies, recommendations, and other package relationships, consult Chapter 7.

Although I prefer to use aptitude as the main interface to package management, the apt-get tool has existed for longer. Its manual page and associated documentation is also a good place to look to learn about package management in Debian.

Edd Dumbill is co-chair of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. He is also chair of the XTech web technology conference. Edd conceived and developed Expectnation, a hosted service for organizing and producing conferences. Edd has also been Managing Editor for, a Debian developer, and GNOME contributor. He writes a blog called Behind the Times.

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