How to install and use it on Ubuntu

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The highlight of this week’s open source software is Synaptic. Learn what that good ol ‘package manager can do that modern software managers can’t.

What is Synaptic Package Manager?

Synaptic is a lightweight GUI for the apt package management system used in Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint and many other Debian / Ubuntu based distributions.

Basically anything you can do using apt-get commands in terminal can be done with Synaptic.

There was a time when Synaptic was the default graphics software manager on almost all Debian-based Linux distributions. It was seen as a friendly and easy to use way to manage applications.

Things have changed as modern software management tools like GNOME Software and KDE Discover have offered a more modern and intuitive user interface. These software managers have a better interface, display package information in a more user-friendly way with thumbnails, ratings and reviews.

Finally, Synaptic limited itself to mostly lightweight Linux distributions.

Why would you use “old” software like Synaptic Package Manager?

You do not have to. Not most of the time, of course.

But Synaptic is still much more versatile than GNOME software. Keep in mind that this is basically a GUI for apt, which means it can do (almost) anything you do with apt commands in the terminal.

For example, if you want to prevent a specific package from updating in Ubuntu, you can do so in Synaptic but not in GNOME / Ubuntu Software Center.

Lock Synaptic Package Version

Additionally, I noticed some issues with the Software Center in Ubuntu 20.04. It’s slow to load, it’s slow when searching for software, and it’s full of instant apps (which not everyone prefers).

Synaptic is also one of the lightweight apps that you can use in Ubuntu to speed up your system a bit.

Features of Synaptic Package Manager

Here is a summary of what you can do with Synaptic:

  • Update the package cache
  • Upgrade the whole system
  • Manage package repositories
  • Search for packages by name, description, maintainer, version, dependencies, etc.
  • List packages by section, status (installed), origin or more
  • Sort packages by name, status, size or version
  • Obtain information about a plan
  • Lock package version
  • Install a specific version of a package

There are more features that you can explore on your own.

How to install Synaptic package manager on Ubuntu

The Synaptic package manager is available in the Universe repository on Ubuntu. If it’s enabled, you can find it in Software Center:

Synaptic in Ubuntu Software Center
Synaptic in Ubuntu Software Center

You can also install Synaptic via the command line. Make sure to activate the universe repository first:

sudo add-apt-repository universe

And then update the cache (not required in Ubuntu 18.04 and later):

sudo apt update

Now use the command below to install the synaptic package manager:

sudo apt install synaptic

That’s it.

How to use the Synaptic package manager

Once installed, you can search for Synaptic in the menu and start it from there:

Ubuntu Synaptic Package Manager

You can see that the interface isn’t among the prettiest here. Note the color of the check boxes. White means the package is not installed, green means it is installed.

Synaptic interface

You can search for an app and click the checkbox to mark it for installation. It will also highlight the packages (in green) which will be installed as dependencies. Press Apply to install the selected packages:

Install packages through Synaptic

You can see all the packages installed in Ubuntu using Synaptic. You can also choose to remove packages from this view.

Remove Packages Using Synaptic Package Manager in Ubuntu Linux

You can see the packages available in individual repositories by viewing them based on Origin. A good way to see which PPA offers which plans. You can install or remove packages as described above.

View packages by Synaptic repositories

Usually, when you update Ubuntu, all the packages are updated at the same time. With Synaptic, you can easily choose which packages you want to update / upgrade to a newer version.

Upgrade Packages with Synaptic Package Manager

You can also version lock the packages so that they are not updated with system updates.

Lock Synaptic Package Version

You can also search for packages using Synaptic. It’s like finding packages using the apt-cache search command.

Search results

If you think you made the wrong selection, you can click Undo on the Edit menu.

There is a lot more you can do with Synaptic and I cannot cover all the possible uses. I’ve covered the most common ones here and I’ll leave it to you to explore, if you are considering using Synaptic.

Synaptic is not for everyone

If you don’t like Synaptic, you can remove it from Software Center or by using this command in terminal:

sudo apt remove synaptic

There was another lightweight software manager for Ubuntu called AppGrid. It hasn’t been updated lately as far as I know.

Synaptic is definitely not for everyone. It lists libraries and packages that you otherwise won’t see in the standard Software Center. If you deleted a library that you were not aware of, it can cause problems.

I think Synaptic is suitable for intermediate to advanced users who want more control over package management without going through the command line.

What are you saying? Have you ever used Synaptic for package management? Do you rely on the software center or just dive into the terminal? Share your preference in the comments section.


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