What is a PPA package

How to get more software for Ubuntu

David Wolski

Those who rely on the LTS long-term version of Ubuntu do not have to accept aging software: Newer programs and additional software that are not yet available in the official package sources are often available in external package sources (PPAs).

EnlargePPAs: Not extensively tested, but a source of fresher software packages for the LTS version of Ubuntu.

Fresh versions and new open source programs appear for Linux on a pretty regular basis. Before the new additions and updates arrive as finished packages in popular Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, patience is required. Because open source developers usually publish programs as portable as possible, initially in the source code and only rarely as a tested package for individual Linux systems such as Ubuntu. Because one difficulty in creating packages is their dependency on the libraries that a particular edition of a distribution brings with it.

EnlargeWith the PPAs there is a simple possibility to include external package sources.

Unofficial but more recent packages

It is the task of the maintainer, i.e. the maintenance community of a Linux distribution, to build finished packages from the source code. These then go through numerous tests and get bug fixes until the often high quality requirements of a distribution are met. As in the case of Ubuntu, which is trimmed for stability and takes over many packages from the leisurely Debian, this process can often take months. Updates are regularly available for Ubuntu that fix bugs and security holes in programs, but Ubuntu does not include new major version numbers of software packages until a new release of the distribution is made.

That means: If you use an Ubuntu LTS with five years of long-term support, you will stay with a certain program version for years.

For example, Ubuntu 14.04 is still with version 4.2.8 of Libre Office, while Libre Office 5.0.3 is already considered stable and is being delivered in the current Ubuntu 15.10.

Reading tip: How to install the latest version of Libre Office

In the meantime, however, unofficial package sources can help out - with Ubuntu these are the “Personal Package Archives” (PPA), which users can manually add to the package manager in order to then install unofficial and fresh packages at their own risk. Especially for the LTS versions of Ubuntu, PPAs are a welcome source of fresher, if not thoroughly tested software packages.

EnlargeLaunchpad: You have to manually check whether a search result is still up-to-date.

Launchpad as a package source

With the idea of ​​the Personal Package Archives, Canonical has ensured since the first editions of Ubuntu 13 years ago that users can more easily get packages that are not in the official sources. The conditions for this are created by the DEB package system, which has been adopted by Debian and which allows the online package sources (repositories) to be expanded.

With Debian itself, this requires manual editing of the repository configuration in the “/etc/apt/sources.list” file or an addition to the “/etc/apt/sources.list.d” directory, the individual configuration files in the same format records. This option is of course also available in Ubuntu. However, Ubuntu offers a much simpler addition to the package sources with its own tools, provided that they are available as a Personal Package Archive (PPA).

The difference between a PPA and a Debian repository: PPAs are sources that a developer has registered with Canonical and maintains on their server infrastructure. This server infrastructure is called “Launchpad” and is an online platform for source code management, bug tracking and the automated compilation of packages.

A PPA is given a permanent name on Launchpad and can easily be integrated into Ubuntu. This service is open to all developers as long as a project is not registered anonymously, a unique, public GPG key is stored and the Ubuntu code of conduct is observed; these are set out in the “Ubuntu Code of Conduct”.

Launchpad is thus a help for developers with the delivery and maintenance of their programs and for users a convenient option to supplement the Ubuntu system with unofficial packages using PPAs.