[nmglug] Learning about options for installing programs, help please

Akkana Peck akkana at shallowsky.com
Tue Dec 1 10:00:56 PST 2020

LeRoy Diener writes:
> For example, one way to install a program is from apt.
> What does that mean? Is it related to typing in the CLI something like sudo
> apt install ... ? Is it related to the etc/apt folder? What are the

apt is a program, used to install software on Debian-derived systems.
(You can verify that by typing which apt; which will show that apt is

You can run it to install packages (apt install), to update the
system (apt update && apt upgrade or dist-upgrade), and for
various other functions.

apt originally stands for "Advanced Package Tool", and it's also
used as a general name for the way Debian packages software,
and all the programs that support it (in addition to apt, there are
lots of helpers like apt-cache, aptitude, apt-file, dpkg, synaptic
and on and on). You can read more about the general use on Wikipedia:

Some of those programs build in extra stuff: e.g. aptitude has
nicer searching than apt-cache and different dependency management
from /usr/bin/apt, while synaptic has a GUI for people who aren't
comfortable running in the command line. But even if you use some
of these tools, e.g. Ubuntu's package manager GUI, you're still
"using apt" underneath.

> pros/cons?

If I'm on a Debian system, I always install software using apt
unless there's a good reason not to. That way, when I update my
system, I automatically get updates for every apt-installed package.

Some reasons that would lead me to install a program some other
way than apt:
- not available in apt, either because it's proprietary (e.g. Zoom)
  or because nobody has packaged it
- the version in the distro I'm running is too old, and I need
  features or bugfixes that come with a more recent version
- I plan to contribute to the package, so I need the cutting
  edge version built from source

> Another way to install is into home bin.
> What does that mean? Is it related to the home/bin folder?

You can, optionally, create a directory named "bin" inside your
home directory -- so you could refer to it as ~/bin, $HOME/bin,
or /home/your-user-name/bin -- and add it to your PATH, the
environment variable that controls where the system looks for
executable programs.

In my ~/bin, I mostly put programs I wrote myself, and a few
scripts I downloaded from a trusted source. It isn't somewhere
I typically install downloaded software packages.

> Where are the programs coming from if installed using apt or not from apt.

When you install using apt, the programs are almost always coming
from your Linux distro's repositories for the version of the distro
you're running (e.g. Ubuntu 20.04, Debian Wheezy). You can choose to
add additional repositories outside the distro, but that's fairly
unusual and something you have to do deliberately. For instance,
some people make PPAs ("Personal Package Archive") for Ubuntu to
distribute newer versions of certain programs than the ones Debian

> How safe are programs from outside the repository? Which places are safer
> than others?

Programs from outside the repository are only as safe as the place
you're getting them. For instance, if I download firefox from
mozilla.org, I figure that's pretty safe; if mozilla.org got
compromised it would be all over the news and I'd hear about it.
But if someone on an IRC channel says "Hey, there's a great program
you can download from harrysprograms.com", that's obviously not
safe. You have to use your own judgement and common sense when
downloading out-of-distro packages.

Some sources can be misleading. For instance, Python programs can be
installed using pip, perl programs using cpan, ruby programs using
gems; you would think these should be safe because they're coming
from the organization behind Python or Perl or Ruby, but they're not
really, because anyone can upload programs to those systems. That's
also true of the AUR system in Arch Linux. So again, you have to use
common sense: is it a program a lot of people seem to use and trust?
Has it been around for a long time?

> Does it make a difference which folder on my hard drive where the programs
> are installed to?

No. If you're running it, you're running it, regardless of where it
lives on your file system.


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