Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You?


As a new Linux user, you may be completely overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices you have when it comes to distributions you can install to your computer. What is the difference between Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Sabayon, or Arch? Ultimately, the short answer is: package management. Each distro offers users a unique method of installing and maintaining your system, with varying degrees of user friendliness and usability.

This guide will serve as a short primer on how to perform basic tasks in each package management system, so you can decide which is right for you.


1. Apt

Apt is a dependency resolver for Debian based systems, including Ubuntu. In conjunction with dpkg, the package manager, Apt provides an easy way to update, upgrade, install and remove software. Without Apt, maintaining a Debian system would feel like using Linux in the early 1990’s, when “dependency hell” was an actual thing.

Apt has a pretty simple syntax, although it is currently being rewritten to provide an easier syntax. As such, depending on which version you are using (Ubuntu 14.04 and higher includes the new Apt commands), you may use different commands to achieve the same outcome.

To update software repositories, use the following command:

sudo apt-get update


sudo apt update

To upgrade your software:

sudo apt-get upgrade


sudo apt upgrade

For a more thorough upgrade, which will also attempt to upgrade comflicting package dependencies to the newest version and removing older or unused dependencies, the command is as follows:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade


sudo apt full-upgrade

These commands can be combined to perform an update and upgrade in succession like so:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade


sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

To install software, the command is:

sudo apt-get install $packageName


sudo apt install $packageName

To remove a package:

sudo apt-get remove $packageName


sudo apt remove $packageName

When removing software from your system using the apt-get remove command, Apt does a good job of removing unused dependencies, however sometimes in the course of software removal or an upgrade, some straggler dependencies may remain on your system. If you have OCD like me, you may want these packages removed from your system. Apt includes a command I am quite fond of in this regard:

sudo apt-get autoremove


sudo apt autoremove

Searching for an installable package:

sudo apt-cache search $packageName


sudo apt search $packageName

Apt does not currently offer the ability to install a package from a URL, meaning the user must find and download the package to be installed on their own. Ubuntu and some of its derivitaves have managed to combat this with single-click apturl links, found on some websites.

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2. YUM

Like Apt, YUM is a dependency resolver for the underlying package manager, RPM. YUM is the default package management system included in quite a few Red Hat based derivitaves, including Fedora 21 and below, and CentOS. The syntax for YUM is simple, and Apt users should have no problem making the switch.

Updating and upgrading through YUM is very simple, where the following command handles both tasks:

sudo yum update

To install a package, the following command is used:

sudo yum install $packageName

Likewise, to remove a package, the command is:

sudo yum remove $packageName

To search for an installable package:

sudo yum search $packageName

YUM does not include an autoremove command for finding and removing unused dependencies, however it does include a great feature for installing a package from a URL, which Apt does not include:

sudo yum install $url


3. ZYpp

ZYpp is another dependency resolver for the RPM package management system, and is the default package manager for OpenSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterpise. ZYpp utilizes .rpm binaries, just like YUM, but is a bit faster due to being written in C++, where YUM is written in Python. ZYpp is extremely easy to use, as it includes command shortcuts which can be used in place of the full command.

Like YUM, ZYpp both updates and upgrades all packages using the following command:

sudo zypper update


sudo zypper up

To install a package:

sudo zypper install $packageName


sudo zypper in $packageName

To remove a package, use the command:

sudo zypper remove $packageName


sudo zypper rm $packageName

Search for an installable package:

sudo zypper search $packageName

Like YUM, there is no autoremove command included in ZYpp. Additionally, like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE has one-click install links for web based package installation.

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4. DNF, or Dandified YUM

DNF is a rewrite of YUM which utilizes features from ZYpp, most notably, the dependency resolving capabilities. DNF is the default package manager for Fedora 22 and higher, and should become the default system in CentOS in the future.

To update and upgrade all software:

sudo dnf update

To install a package:

sudo install $packageName

To remove a package:

sudo dnf remove $packageName

Search for an installable package:

sudo dnf search $packageName

Unlike YUM and ZYpp, DNF provides the autoremove command to search your system and remove unused dependencies:

sudo dnf autoremove

And DNF also allows for package installation from a URL:

sudo dnf install $url


5. Entropy

Entropy is the default package management system for Sabayon Linux, a Gentoo derivitave. What makes Entropy interesting is Sabayon utilizes binary files through Entropy, and also source code through Gentoo’s package management system, Portage. A basic rundown for this system is as follows:

  • Source packages are built into binaries through Entropy, using Portage.
  • Entropy converts the built binary to an Entropy package.
  • The Entropy packages are added to the Sabayon repos.
  • The user installs a binary file through Entropy.

Entropy is comparable to Apt, YUM, ZYpp, and DNF, meaning it is beginner friendly with easy to use commands. Entropy also includes shortcuts for brevity.

To update software sources:

sudo equo update


sudo equo up

To upgrade all packages

sudo equo upgrade


sudo equo u

These commands can be used at the same time:

sudo equo update && sudo equo upgrade


sudo equo up && sudo equo u

To install a package:

sudo equo install $packageName


sudo equo in $packageName

To remove a package:

sudo equo remove $packageName


sudo equo rm $packageName

To search for an installable package:

sudo equo search $packageName


6. Pacman

Pacman is the default package management system for Arch Linux and its derivitaves, and is a complete package manager, not relying on underlying systems or frontends to resolve dependencies. Pacman utilizes a simple compressed .pkg.tar.xz file system, which contains all information needed to build source code into a working program. Think of pacman as a system to automate the process of manually building software from source code. Pacman utilizes a “helper” program, Yaourt, to install unofficial software found in the Arch User Repository, and when doing so, the command “pacman” is replaced by “yaourt.”

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When working with packages, you will mostly utilize the “sync” flag (-S), which compares your system with the software repository. To refresh your software repos (-y):

sudo pacman -Sy

To upgrade your system, you modify your previous sync command with the sysupgrade flag (-u):

sudo pacman -Syu

To install a package, you must sync the package:

sudo pacman -S $packageName

To remove a package, pacman has a remove flag. To remove a package (-R), its configuration files (-n), and all unused dependencies, recursively, not installed explicitly by the user (-s). Note: this -s flag is different to the -s flag used in the sync command:

sudo pacman -Rns

To search for an installable package, you will sync and search (-s):

sudo pacman -Ss $packageName

Pacman does not include an autoremove command, however you can search for and remove any unused dependencies using the Query command. Note: again, these flags are not the same as the sync flags or remove flags. This command will query the database (-Q), check for orphaned dependencies (-t), restrict the search to dependencies (-d), and will not print the process out verbosely (-q, meaning “quiet”).

sudo pacman -Rns $(pacman -Qtdq)

Package Managers: Evolving

Linux has most definitely come a long way in providing new users the ability to manage their system easily. Package managers automatically find required dependencies and provide easy to remember commands for installing, and maintaining software, and users are no longer stuck in dependency hell, as they were when Linux was in its infancy. By testing out the many different package managers available to you, you can find your home in whichever distro you feel most comfortable in.

Which package manager is the easiest for you? Have you tried installing one of these package managers outside of the default distro? Let us know in the comments below!