Install Applications Easily with a Package Manager

PackageWhen the Apple App Store came out, one of the features it touted was a central place to buy and install applications. You could download all your applications from one place, and when they were out of date, you could upgrade them from one place. Indeed, this is a useful feature (leaving aside discussions of the economics of such stores).

Indeed, this is a feature that users of the command line had for a long time. For command line terminals, these app stores are usually called package managers. They’re not called app stores, because the applications are free.

A package manager is a convenient way to install and update new software. Often the software you can get from a package manager runs on the command line, but you can also install some GUI applications as well.

If you’re on a computer running Linux, you already have a package manager built in. For example, if you’re on the popular Ubuntu distribution, you have the Synaptic package manager built in to the operating system. If you’re on a Mac, you don’t have a package manager built in, but you can choose between Homebrew (excellent), MacPorts (pretty good), and Fink (haven’t used it).

For an example I’ll use Homebrew but most package managers are used in the same way. Let’s say that I want to install macvim, a text editor. In my terminal I type these two lines:

brew update
brew install macvim

The first line makes sure that Homebrew has up-to-date information about how to install software. The second line installs the software (along with any dependencies), and you’re done. Later, if macvim releases an update, I go to my package manager and type this command:

brew upgrade macvim

Package managers are an easy way to get software and keep it up-to date. Do you use a package manager? How you you keep software up-to-date?

Image courtesy of Flick user lemonhalf / CC-BY-SA licensed

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