Installing Linux applications with Aptitude

Jack Wallen
Dec 22, 2008
Updated • Nov 28, 2012

For those of you who like a little more power behind your tools you will certainly appreciate the Aptitude front-end for the apt package management system. Aptitude is based on the ncurses computer terminal library so you know it's a pseudo-hybrid between console and gui. Aptitude has a powerful search system as well as an outstanding ncurses-based menu system that allows you to move around selections with the tab key and the arrow keys.

But don't think, when you fire up Aptitude, you are going to be greeted with a sexy graphical front end. No. When you start up this application you are going to be teleported back into the mid-90s when front-end applications were just arriving onto the scene. But Aptitude is so much more than that. Aptitude is a powerful tool to help you use the apt package management system.

To open Aptitude you need to first open a terminal emulator (such as aterm, gnome-terminal, or konsole). I will warn you, if you are like me and use Aterm in full-blown transparency Aptitude might look at little strange. So instead you should fire up another terminal or use Aterm without transparency.

To start up aptitude you will need root or sudo access. Using sudo you would start Aptitude like so: sudo aptitude.

Aptitude Main Window
Aptitude Main Window

There are two main sections to focus on. First is the main window. This is where you will see a listing of the what is available. As you can see from the image above there are upgradable packages, new packages, etc. What you don't see is the Aptitude menu. To access this menu you have to hit the Ctrl-T combination (that is the Control key plus the "t" key at the same time.) When you open up the Aptitude menu you navigate this menu using the arrow keys.

Aptitude Menu
Aptitude Menu

Before you actually get into installing packages with Aptitude, you have to select packages to install. You do this outside of the menu in the main window. Without the menu open you can move up and down the window entries with the arrow keys. When you land on an entry you want to expand you hit the Enter key. Let's install something.

Using the arrow keys move down to the "Not Installed Packages" entry and hit Enter. This will expand to reveal a number of sub-menus. Now scroll down to the Net sub-menu and hit Enter. Yet another sub-menu will appear containing three entries. Move to the  "main" main entry and hit Enter to reveal all of the possible applications to install.

Network Applications Available
Network Applications Available

Let's install Gobby (a text editor/source editor that can do online collaboration). With the arrow keys move down until you see the Gobby entry. When you find Gobby hit the Enter key which will reveal all of the gory details behind Gobby.

Gobby details
Gobby details

This should tell you everything you need to help you make the decision to install or not to install Gobby. Let's install it.

To select an application for installation hit the "+" key (you do have to use the Shift key for this) to mark the package for installation. Now hit the "g" key and the installation process should begin. Don't be fooled when it seems as if Aptitude has dropped out of ncurses mode and is in full console mode, it will return to it's ncurses glory when after you hit the Enter key when prompted (after installation is complete.)

When installation is complete you will return to the description of the package you just installed. To go back to the main window you can open up the menu (Ctrl-t) and then using the right arrow key go to the View entry. Using the down key select "Prev" to go to the previous screen. You can also hit F7 for this same action.

And there you are, you have just installed an application with Aptitude. Of course Aptitude is much more powerful than this. In later articles we'll discuss searching, upgrading, removing, and much more with Aptitude.

In the mean time, have fun installing with Aptitude!


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  6. Angelo R. said on December 23, 2008 at 4:03 am

    @Joe Gui’s are awesome, and definitely a huge step forward in terms of computing. But for some reason, I like nothing more that sitting down infront of a soft green glow with lines of text scrolling around. There’s something decidedly geeky about it which I just can’t turn away from.

  7. Joe said on December 22, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Being the coward as I am, I much prefer GUIs! I personally find Synaptic, the default package manager in Ubuntu, susprisingly good!

  8. RogueSpear said on December 22, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    I love these articles. This is the first one to really explore something I have not yet messed around with too much. But even the ones where I think I know everything that will be covered, there’s always more than a couple of things that I either didn’t know at all or didn’t consider.

    Hopefully between this column and my own curiosity, before too long I’ll feel as comfortable within Linux as I am now with Windows.

  9. Paul. said on December 22, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Great app. This gives me a lot to do. Keep the information comming, please.

  10. Angelo R. said on December 22, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    A great how-to for those new to linux! Aptitude has to be one of the more powerful application installers out there, and this really does give users a great segway into linux. One of the biggest questions I get from new Linux adoptee’s is how to install “x” program. And then I have to spend a half hour explaining how exactly to download and install applications.

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