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An easier way to install packages

January 6, 2013

The tool apt-get is fairly easy to use, but has one major drawback: if you do not know the exact name of the package you want to install you are out of luck. You can look through lists that get downloaded from the servers, but in the console that may be a bit tedious. Unless there is a need not to work in X (means GUI) the best option is to install Synaptic. Synaptic is a GUI frontend for apt-get. I know, the Pi Debian distro has aptitude already installed, but I could never get that tool to work right.

In order to get Synaptic you need to be connected to the Internet. Start a terminal session and enter this

sudo apt-get install synaptic

Press the Enter key and the packages for Synaptic should get loaded. You may get asked if you want to proceed with download and installation, in that case press the Y key. In case you wonder what the command above means, “sudo” means “super user do”. The super user is typically the only one that is allowed to install anything on the system. The command sudo elevates rights once only to execute the command that follows sudo. That command is apt-get which is the command line packet management tool. That tool takes typically two arguments, the first argument states what the package manager should do (install, uninstall, or upgrade) followed by the package name. If you select a package that requires dependencies to be installed then the package manager will take care of that for you. So in this case we want to install the package synaptic.

Once the installation is completed take a look at the Preferences or Other menu of the desktop (click on the icon in the bottom left corner, in Windows this is called the Start menu). You should now find a command called “Synaptic Package Manager”. Start Synaptic and enter the password for the Pi user. Now you see the graphical frontend for apt-get. The usage is rather simple. I suggest to first reload the catalog of all packages, for that click the Reload button. If you click Mark All Upgrades then all packages for which updates are available will be marked for ugrade. Finally, clicking Apply will install the updated packages. If you want to install new packages either browse through the categories or use the search. Each package comes with a detailed description and I suggest strongly to read that. You could install everything, but that may not fit all on the SD card and unless you speak Swedish you probably do not need all the help packages and manuals in Swedish for all the applications.

Mark the package that you want to install by clicking on the check box in front if it and select Mark to Install from the context menu. Synaptic will check if there are any other packages needed and provide you with a confirmation dialog. Once all the packages you want to install are selected click Apply. The process of downloading, unpacking, and installing will be shown in a progress window. There is hardly an easier way to obtain packages.

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