Using and understanding software repositories and PPAs


  1. Introduction
  2. About ubuntu software repositories
  3. How to enable partner and independent software repositories
  4. What are PPAs and are they safe to use
  5. Searching for other alternatives
  6. How to install software using the command line (Terminal)
  7. Keeping your software and applications up to date.
  8. How to free up disk space


This article shares essential information about where elementary users can download additional software. It explains some risks about downloading from unreliable sources whist sharing how to identify these sources.

elementary ships with quality software applications specifically designed for the elementary OS desktop experience. As elementary matures through each iteration (jupiter, luna, isis) more and more applications are being developed contributing to a beautiful consistent look and feel on your desktop. elementary home-grown applications are constantly improving but occasionally may lack functionality you require for your work-flow.

The elementary project has a dependency on the Ubuntu software Centre which hosts thousands of alternative software applications While these applications work perfectly on elementary they may look out of place as they do not follow the unique elementary design ethos as well as not being officially supported by elementary developers. These repositories are not enabled when you first install elementary OS

About ubuntu software repositories

  • Software is stored in a repository, which is a collection of software elementary OS users can download quickly and easily (by opening software centre application in your “applications” menu.
  • Repositories provide level of security, as each application available in the repositories is thoroughly tested and built specifically for each version of Ubuntu.
  • Using these repositories is your safest option to acquire/install alternative software you require
  • Theses software repositories are organized into 4 separate areas according to the level of support and if the program in question complies with Ubuntu’s Free Software Philosophy.
these repository components are:
  • Main – Officially supported software.
  • Restricted – Supported software that is not available under a completely free license.
  • Universe – Community maintained software, i.e. not officially supported software.
  • Multiverse – Software that is not free.

How to enable partner and independent software repositories

  1. Open Software Center from the Applications menu (“Slingshot”) and select “Edit” and then select “Software Sources
  2. Make sure both Canonical Partner and both Independent repositories have check marks next to them then click on “Close” button
  3. Open the terminal [CTRL]-[ALT]-[T]
  4. Paste sudo apt-get update the hit enter
Software Installation Options (Terminal and Ubuntu Software Center)
Software Installation Options (Terminal and Ubuntu Software Center)

What are PPAs and are they safe to use?

When you install elementary OS packages will get updated in the official repositories with minor enhancements and bug fixes during the life cycle of the current version which is known as “Luna”. Users typically have to wait for the new version of elementary OS (next version code named Isis) to get to use major updates to these software applications. This is where PPAs come in

  • A PPA, or Personal Package Archive, is a collection of software not included in the software centre by default.
  • Typically these repositories focus on a single program, but they can include more depending on the person maintaining them.
  • A PPA might focus on an unreleased (untested) piece of software however they might also might include stable updates for software already in software center, such as libreoffice. Some might even contain Alpha, Beta or RC (release candidate) quality software which could potentially damage your system.
  • PPAs provide updates for your favorite software at a much quicker rate than the elementary OS release cycle.
  • The advantage of PPA’s is that you get to decide which software you want to keep up to date and leave the rest to software center.
  • The disadvantage of PPA’s is they are not all safe and many other blogs and websites do not provide any warnings.
  • Nobody is out to intentionally harm the stability of anyones computer but what might be right for some users might not be right for others.

safety of a PPA depends mainly on 3 things:

  1. Who made the PPA? – New users will not know the PPA maintainer therefore you should look for additional information to build some trust. If there is an official website providing more information that will typically provide you with some assurances. Depending on who made the PPA, how long he or she has been making and maintaining the PPA will influence a little bit on how safe the PPA is for you. The elementarynow rule is to never install a PPA from a website or blog that does not provide a link back this additional information.
  2. How many users have used the PPA? – elementarynow will introduce some PPAs on our website . Any PPAs ón this site will be tested but more importantly have been acclaimed by many with their positive experiences of using them. This is not the same for all websites and blogs. When you are exploring these be sure to review the comments from those who have tried and tested.
  3. How updated the PPA is – You are using elementary Luna OS that you know was released in August 2013 and you find a special PPA you want to use. You also discover the last update to that PPA was in 2012. The chances of it working correctly are nil. Why?. Because the package dependencies for that PPA may have been updated. There maybe exceptions but we would suggest you ignore all old PPAs as may break your system.

Searching for other alternatives

If you have been using Microsoft Windows or OSX and you are new to elementary OS (Linux) you may not be familiar with the entire range of software available. might be a good starting point.

Whether you’re looking for an alternative to expensive commercial software or just trying to get a feel for what’s available their mission is helping you find the right software for your elementary OS computer. It is a very intuitive site to use, you simply type in the name of the software you have been using and want to replace. Based on users recommendations (votes and reviews) a list comparable and sometimes compatible applications will be displayed.

Click on the graphic below to access


How to install software using the command line (Terminal)

There are two main ways to install software on elementary

  1. The Terminal (Command Line) – Where you type/paste lines of code
  2. Software Center – Search for the software you want then install press the install button (not unlike the Google Play experience on an Android device)

The common characteristics of both methods are they install your software in a “ready to use state” and place a launcher icon in the Applications Menu “Slingshot”. This makes it easy to locate once installation is complete. But that is where the similarities end.
The bad news is the performance of the Software Center is slow, its interface is unintuitive. elementary OS inherited the software center for Ubuntu. The good news is the elementary OS developers are designing a beautiful, lightweight AppCenter. It is in the pipeline with not definite date for release. On the upside the Terminal is fast and efficient and for many of the elementaynow tutorials we will utilize the Terminal to do most of the essential tasks you need to complete the installation of your software.

How to use the terminal (or command line) for elementarynow “how to’s” and tutorials

  • To open the Terminal: either press [CTRL]-[ALT]-[T] or select it from your Applications Menu (Slingshot)
  • The Terminal will open prompting you to type or paste a command
  • All the commands you need to use for this tutorial are already typed for you convenience
  • Copy a line of code text elementary now shares in our articles and paste it into the terminal then hit enter.
  • When a command is finished running your prompt will reappear ready to paste the next command in.
  • When you are required to enter your password you type it on one character space (the cursor does not move)
  • Note: Be aware that typing into the command line is always case sensitive
  • Some commands take a a second to run, others can vary depending on the speed of your Internet connection and the size of the software package you are installing
  • Most commands will require some attention when you run them, you might be asked to press enter to continue or Do you wish to continue? Y or N.

Keeping your software and applications up to date.

There are 3 main methods that all achieve the same objective. Time will vary each time and will depend on the frequency you follow this procedure and the speed of your Internet connection. Simply select which one is right for you.

Method 1

open up Terminal [CTRL]-[ALT]-[T] then copy and paste the following line ( this may require a reboot on some occasions)

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
Method 2

You can set up automatic unattended-upgrades by pasting this in a terminal (one line at a time). When it prompts you to select yes or no – hit the left arrow key to select yes. I do not recommend this method for new users as it may cause unforeseen issues.

sudo apt-get install unattended-upgrades

sudo dpkg-reconfigure unattended-upgrades
Method 3

This method gives you more control (if needed) of what updates to download now or later. It is the only method of the three that you can view what will be downloading before proceeding. Go to your applications menu selects System Tools > Update Manager (when in category mode) or just Update Manager when in grid mode. Select the Check button then when ready Install Updates. On a few occasions you will be asked reboot your computer.


How to free up disk space

Using the terminal (command line) [CTRL]-[ALT]-[T]

To delete downloaded packages already installed (and no longer needed)

sudo apt-get clean 

To remove all stored archives in your cache for packages that can not be downloaded anymore (therefore packages that are no longer in the software repository or maybe there is newer version in the repository).

sudo apt-get autoclean

To remove unnecessary packages (after un-installing an application there could be packages you don’t need anymore)

sudo apt-get autoremove

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