Synaptic Package Manager, a GUI to manage .deb

The Ubuntu Software Center and other similar app managers, provide a great way for users to search for applications through apt, Snaps and Flatpak. Unfortunately, it’s quite restrictive of what it shows users. Often denying access to required .deb packaged apps and libraries. Step in the Synaptic Package Manager, a GUI to manage deb packages.

Ubuntu users already have the software center

Although as already stated the ubuntu software center gives access to a majority of apps. But it doesn’t provide a good way of graphically getting down to the nitty-gritty with apt. Synaptic fills this gap and provide excellent ways to display all installable debian packages listed in repositories and PPA’s

Synaptic Package Manager features

  • Install, remove, upgrade and downgrade single and multiple packages.
  • Upgrade your whole system.
  • Manage package repositories (sources.list).
  • Find packages by name, description and several other attributes.
  • Select packages by status, section, name or a custom filter.
  • Sort packages by name, status, size or version.
  • Browse all available online documentation related to a package.
  • Download the latest changelog of a package.
  • Lock packages to the current version.
  • Force the installation of a specific package version.
  • Undo/Redo of selections.
  • Built-in terminal emulator for the package manager.
  • Debian/Ubuntu only: Configure packages through the Debconf system.

In addition synaptic is a great tool to find where in your system a package will have installed files.

If the Synaptic is so great, why isn’t it installed by default?

Synaptic was once a staple of a fresh Ubuntu install. It was however phased out in favour of the Software center. Opening Synaptics requires sudo permissions. It can if the wrong packages are removed result in a broken system. It also previously had issues with authentication when running in a Wayland session. Linux Mint users, however, are lucky to have it installed by default.

Installing Synaptic Package Manager

Through Ubuntu Software Center

To install via the ubuntu software center, simply open the app via the dash.

Search for Synaptic and select synaptic package manager. Clicking the Install button and will prompt to enter the user password. Once it’s installed launch it from the applications menu. You will be asked to provide authentication every time synaptic is run.

From the terminal

Open a terminal from the App menu(or Ctrl+alt+T) then enter

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install synaptic

Enable Fast Searching

Synaptic comes with a fast search filter. However, this is not installed by default. To enable we need to install the package apt-xapian-index. We can do this in synaptic by clicking on the search icon in the top right-hand corner and typing apt-xapian-index, and clicking the search button. Right click on the apt-xapian-index entry and select ‘mark for installation’. Now click on the apply button on the toolbar and click apply again on the new window which opens. Finally, restart Synaptic and the fast filter will appear.

Removing Packages

Synaptic Remove

Installing the fast search function gives an example of how to install a package in synaptic. But how to go about removing them? To remove an installed package simply search for the package you wish to uninstall. Next right click to open the context menu. Choose mark for removal, or mark for complete removal. As a result, selecting mark for complete removal will remove all associated configuration files with the package (purge the package).

Change the View

The bottom left of the application give an option to filter the packages by different options. These include:

  • Sections (Different catagories)
  • Status
    • Installed (auto-removable)
    • Installed (manually)
    • Installed (upgradeable)
  • Origin (Gives information about the repository/PPA the package is stored in)
  • Custom Filters
    • Broken (installation / uninstalltion errors)
    • Community maintained packages
    • Missing recommended packages
    • Upgradeable from upstream.

These filters give great access to finding any problems that can occur in apt. They’re also useful for finding information about the origin and status of packages.

Edit Repositories

Software Sources

From the Menu Settings>Repositories, gives access to the software and updates dialog. From here you can change the default servers, and manage any PPA’s (personal package archives)

View package properties

Package Details

Right clicking on a selected package and choosing properties, can, for example, give you information such as maintainers, version, file install locations, dependencies and access to the changelogs.

Broken Upgrade or Installation

Unfortunately, it happens with apt and dependencies however if an installation process fails and you find it is no longer possible to install or remove packages:

  • Open a Terminal and type the following commands, pressing the Return or Enter key after each (you may have to type in your password):

    sudo dpkg --configure -a
    sudo apt-get install -f

An essential application?

Is Synaptic a worthy replacement for the Software store? Probably not as it can’t handle the newer application formats. But as an additional apt manager, for instance, I would certainly class it as an essential tool. There are many things that are unachievable with the default Software Center regarding package management. In conclusion, the Synaptic Package Manager, although quite old it’s still a powerful and complete workhorse when it comes to managing and handling .deb file install from repositories.


Do you think synaptic should be installed by default? or are you in favour of moving to newer package formats? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.






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