Linux Mint – Using the Synaptic Package Manager

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The Synaptic Package Manager has been around for over a decade. Synaptic is essentially a frontend to package management just as the Software Manager is, but with more advanced options available. The average person may not need to use it, though power users and administrators may appreciate having more control. Synaptic is also installed by default in Linux Mint, and is available in the Applications menu underneath Administration.

The first thing you will likely notice is that Synaptic is not as polished as the Software Manager. On the left-hand side, you will see a list of sections by default, which are the same idea as the categories in the Software Manager. You may also notice that there are many more sections in Synaptic with more advanced sections such as kernels, modules, and libraries. The following screenshot shows the main window of the Synaptic Package Manager:

To illustrate the main differences, the best way is to use Synaptic for both adding and removing software. If you know the name of a package you would like to install, you can click on the Search button at the top of the window and type in the name of the application in the box that appears. (The Quick filter box that’s also on the top of the window just filters the current list instead of doing a full search.) If you don’t have an idea of a package you would like to install, some of my favorites include chromium, neverball, filezilla, geany, terminator, supertux, and wesnoth.

Note

The chromium package installs a game called Chromium BSU, which is a spaceship-shooting game controlled by your mouse. Another package is very similarly named (chromium-browser) and installs a web browser that is very similar to Google Chrome and even compatible with the same plugins. Don’t be confused if both show up in your search.

Once you find an application that you want to install, click on the checkbox to the left of its entry in the list. You will have only one option that’s not grayed out and unavailable, and that is to mark the package for installation. Once you do, you will be notified of any dependencies (additional packages that a program may need in order to run) that might also be installed along with the application. Then, click on the Mark button if the dependency window appears. Finally, click on the Apply button in the top-left corner. A summary window will appear to allow you to take another look at what you’re about to do before you confirm your changes. The following screenshot shows the final summary window that appears before package installation:

From here, Synaptic will download the requested packages (and any possible prerequisites) and install them for you. When it’s done, the application you requested will be found in the Applications menu.

Note

You don’t have to install applications one at a time. If you have several applications that you would like to install, you can search for another application without losing your selections and check them for installation as well. When you click on the Apply button, it will install all your requested packages. You won’t lose your selections unless you close the program.

So far, you may be wondering what the benefit of the Synaptic Package Manager is over the Software Manager, since there were more steps involved to complete tasks that we have done previously. One of the many features that the Synaptic Package Manager has over the Software Manager is the number of options you get when removing software. To illustrate the difference, try removing the application that you just installed. All you have to do is search for the package again (if it’s not still on your screen) and click on the same checkbox as before. If you’ve changed screens, simply search for the package you would like to remove before clicking on the checkbox. You’ll have more options that are open to you now. The following screenshot shows the selections available for an installed package:

Following is a list of the options available from the right-click menu after searching for an application:

  • Unmark: If you’ve selected an application for installation or removal (but you didn’t mean to), this option will allow you to deselect the changes.
  • Mark for Installation: If a package is not yet installed, this option is available. This option will download the application from your software sources, as well as any dependencies required to make it work, if any.
  • Mark for Reinstallation: In cases where you have a misbehaving program, it may sometimes help to reinstall it. That’s exactly what this option does; it gives you a chance to reinstall an application already installed on your machine.
  • Mark for Upgrade: If a package upgrade is available for the selected item, you’ll have a chance to install it. This option is rarely used, since updates are primarily handled through the Update Manager.
  • Mark for Removal: As mentioned before, this option removes an application from your machine. However, it doesn’t remove any configuration files that the application may have created on your filesystem.
  • Mark for Complete Removal: The final option removes the application from your system, as well as any configuration files it may have created.

Another worthwhile feature of Synaptic is generating a list of installed applications. You can also do that in the Software Manager, but you would have to view the list on a category-by-category basis. In Synaptic, you can view a single list of everything installed on the machine—all on a single screen. This is a very useful technique when auditing the installed software on a machine, allowing you to prune your applications as you see fit. To generate this list, ensure All is selected on the left column of the Synaptic window. Then, click on Status and then select Installed. The following screenshot shows the installed software list in Synaptic:

The Synaptic Package Manager certainly has many more options than Mint’s Software Manager. However, in Linux, there is almost never a single correct solution. You may find that the Software Manager fits your needs best, or perhaps you may be a power user who enjoys the greater options of the Synaptic Package Manager. Whichever your case, choose the one that works best for you.

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