Packages are the combined form of files, metadata, and descriptions that are used on the operating system to perform a software application. Mainly the packages are used to simplify the management of the system and installation process. In this article, I will try to give an overview of what is package in Linux in detail.
What is a Package?
Packages are the collection of software applications, metadata, descriptions, libraries, and essential files for software installation and management on the system. While installing a program, packages show you the crucial metadata in a small file. As Windows uses a .exe installer, for Linux distros you can also use packages to install and maintain software.
Why Are Packages Used?
For the Linux developer, it is difficult to ensure that Linux program will run on all devices because all Linux device has different software with different kernel size. To resolve this problem, within the package for the application, there are various dependencies, meaning prerequisites mainly a list of which you need to install before. Again, packages are the collection of software applications, libraries, and related files so users don’t need to install all the files separately.
Types of Packages in Linux
There are two types of packages:
- Distro-native package.
- Containerized packages.
1. Distro-native Package in Linux
Distro-native packages expect that dependencies come with the package and the package manager like apt, yum, and dnf ensures it. Here I have shown some of the distro-native packages:
A. Debian Packages
Debian packages are mainly used on the Debian-based Linux distribution and use the .deb file extension. It handles dependencies with package managers like apt, and apt-get. From the official repository, one can get the Debian packages and also build the package from the source code.
B. RPM Packages
These packages are mainly used on the RedHat-based Linux Distribution and its derivatives. RPM package has a .rpm file extension. It handles dependencies with package managers like Yum and Dnf.
2. Containerized Package
The containerized package combines the dependencies with the application and prevents the conflict between dependencies. Here I have shown some of the Containerized package examples below:
Snap package combines the application with the dependencies. It provides facilities to install packages without resolving dependencies separately. It has a centralized repository named Snap Store where all the packages are stored. This centralized repository helps the end user to search and install applications. To use snap packages, the user needs the snap command line tool.
B. AppImage in Linux
In Linux, AppImage is an executable file that is similar to a .exe file in Windows. The user does not need to install AppImange. It is the final executable program that is not needed to install. The main motive of AppImage is one app converting into one file.
Flatpak helps a developer to use other dependencies that are not available on the run time and makes the distribution easier. Main all the application packages are built against runtime and runtime provides the basic dependencies for an application.
Identify Compatible Packages
While installing a package the user must in mind that the package is compatible with the system. First one has to identify the compatible package with the system and then download them. Below I have shown some of the compatible packages in Linux.
● Gentoo Linux
Gentoo package contains around 19000 files in the Gentoo repository. It uses a portage package manager. It is a very powerful and flexible package system.
● Arch Linux
This package uses .pkg.tar.xz file extension and its package manager is Pacman. As it has no graphical installer the installation process is done in the terminal.
Gnome is a group of packages that are used in Debian, RedHat, and OpenSUSE distributions. It does not have various resources but it can increase the functionality with the help of the plugins. It is mainly useful for the old hardware.
● Graphical User Involvement
It shows the graphical interface of the software. This package provides a user-friendly environment. Some of the package managers are Synaptic, Gnome, and KDE.
Key Features of Packages in Linux
Packages are the combination of multiple files or software that are combined to simplify the management of a system. Below I have shown some key components of Linux packages:
Packages are the bundle of data files, complied binary files, metadata, and configuration files. So all these files are combined to perform effective software management. These files contain the dependencies, version number, and package description.
All the files and packages are stored in a centralized server or location which is called the repository. There are two types of repositories official and unofficial repositories. The unofficial repositories are maintained by third-party developers. One can collect the packages from these repositories.
When a package depends on another package or its software then it is called a dependency. To run software properly it is important to resolve and handle the dependencies.
- Configuration and Customization
The files that come by default with packages are stored in the /etc/ or in the home directory under ‘~/.config called the configuration files. These files can be customized according to the user’s preference.
- Packaging Formats
Multiple files are needed for handling a system. These files are formatted into a single package. There are different types of package formats. These formats are .deb for Debian packages, .rpm for RPM packages, and .pkg.tar.xz for Arch Linux. Using the Debian alien command utility one can change the format of the package to use on different distributions.
- Package Managers
To make the process of installation, removal, and handling of the packages proper, the software has a package manager that is specified for every package. Here I will show some of the package managers for different package formats and distributions:
|Package Manager||File format||Distribution|
|APT||.deb||Debian-based distribution and its derivatives|
|YUM||.rpm||RedHat-based Distribution and its derivatives|
|DNF||.rpm||RedHat-based Distribution and its derivatives|
What Are the Various Packaging Formats in Linux?
A package is defined for a specific distribution. One package format can not be used for the other distribution. By using the Alien command, one can change the format of files to use that package on different distributions. The files, information, and description of a package are combined into a specific format. Here I have shown some of the formats below:
RPM packages (.rpm)
RPM packages use the .rpm packaging format that is used on the RedHat-based Linux distribution. Other distributions like openSUSE also use the .rpm packaging format. The binaries of RPM files have a .rpm extension and the source package uses .src.rpm format.
Debian packages (.deb)
Debian packages use the .deb packaging format. It is used on the Debian-based Linux distribution and its derivatives like Ubuntu, and Linux Mint. DPKG utility is used to install, remove, and upgrade all the deb packages. Debian packages are divided into two components. Those are the tar archive which contains data and the control archive which comprises the metadata.
TAR archives (.tar)
Tar format was mainly designed for the Unix operating system and its full name is Tape archive. A tar archive is a combination of multiple files. It does not compress files and directories.
TGZ archives (.tgz)
The archive files are called the tarballs. When the user needs to compress the tarballs then he has to use the .tgz format. If one wants to compress the tarball he can use the Gzip for compressing technique.
GZip Archives (.gz)
Using the GZip utility one can compress a single file and make a .gz archive. But if one wants to compress multiple files at a time then he has to combine the files with tar archive into a single file and then compress the single file using GZip. If a file name is like .tar.gz then you have to unzip or uncompress the file first then unpack the tar archive.
Importance of Packages in Linux
Packages make the installation, upgradation, and software maintenance more efficient and easier. For managing software effectively, packaging systems come with several significant advantages. Below I have shown the key advantages:
1. Simplified functions
As packages are packed with the configuration and description files one can easily install, remove, and upgrade packages with a single command line. So the management and functions are simplified with the packages.
2. Dependency resolution
Packages include information on the dependencies. When a package is installed with the package manager it lists and installs all the dependencies from the packages.
As packages reduce the risk of conflict and ensure compatibility, they show consistency in the installation and maintenance of the software.
4. Documentation and metadata
Packages come with the proper documentation and contain all the metadata which helps the user by giving the information of configuration file, and license.
5. Version control
The package comes with specific versions. It is important to keep track of the versions to update the system. Package manager does that thing in Linux.
Packages sometimes come with a security key that helps users to install legitimate and secure packages.
The packages and package managers standardize the management and distribution of the software system.
In this article, I tried to give an overview of a package, its key components, type of packages, package importance, and package formats. And hope that after going through this article, one will be able to comprehend what a package is as well as its forms and main concepts.
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