What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained]

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personal package archivePart of the appeal of Ubuntu is its six-month release cycle. Every six months a new version of the free operating system is released into the wild, complete with updates for all of your favorite software. This is great, but can be a trifle disappointing from time to time. For example, if a new version of your favorite software comes out you may have to wait until the next version of Ubuntu comes out to try it.

The solution to this is the PPA. This is a repository, provided by Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu), that allows developers and enthusiasts to offer up-to-date versions of software to all Ubuntu users. Originally PPAs were limited to programmers and testers, but Canonical opened PPAs to everyone in late 2007.


I constantly mention PPAs in my Ubuntu articles because for the newest software, installing a PPA is the simplest way to get everything working. But what is a PPA and why would you want to use one?

What’s A PPA?

Those new to Ubuntu, and to Linux in general, find themselves lost in an array of initial-isms and acronyms that make little sense to the first-time user. This can make Ubuntu feel like a very unfriendly place, but don’t panic: it’s all easy to understand.

Installing software on Ubuntu is different than on Mac or Windows; some might say better. Rather than going to the web to download a package, it’s usually a better bet to check the Ubuntu Software Center for any program you might want to install. This software is stored in a repository, which is a collection of software Ubuntu can download quickly and easily.

personal package archive

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Repositories are a more trustworthy way to download software than grabbing EXE files from random websites. Since everything in the default repositories is reviewed by the Ubuntu team before it goes out, you know everything there is completely safe for your system.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides, though. Users typically have to wait for a new version of Ubuntu to try out new software. So if Firefox updates, you might not get to play with the new version until the next Ubuntu release comes out.

This is where PPAs come in. A PPA, or Personal Package Archive, is a collection of software not included in Ubuntu 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 piece of software, such as Hotot, the best Linux Twitter client out there. It also might include updates for software already in Ubuntu, such as Firefox.

Whatever the case, PPAs provide updates for your favorite software at a much quicker rate than Ubuntu itself. This is great, because you can decide which software you want to keep up to date and leave the rest to Ubuntu.

Once you install new software, updates will come to you through the Ubuntu Update Manager:

ubuntu ppa

This is fantastic, because it means all of your updates come through a single interface. No Windows-style popups from every single program you’ve installed!

How To Add A PPA

So you’ve found a program you want to install, but the “Download” link leads you to a confusing site you don’t understand:

personal package archive

Don’t panic; adding a PPA is easy, but you will need to use the command line a little.

Find the terminal in “Applications”, “Accessories”, “Terminal“. Now you just need to type “sudo add-apt-repository” followed by the name of your PPA. Then all you need to do is update your package manager and install the program you’re looking for. For example, here are the steps required to install Hotot:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:hotot-team
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install hotot

That’s it; you’re done. You can now enjoy your new software, or the latest version of an already-loved piece of software.

Conclusion

Ubuntu’s six-month release cycle isn’t perfect, but I personally perfer it to Windows-style releases. With PPAs Ubuntu users can have access to bleeding-edge software. Adding too many PPAs may result in an unstable system, but one or two usually doesn’t hurt anything.

What are your favorite PPAs? Share them in the comment below. Also feel free to discuss the merits of Ubuntu’s release cycle, or to troll me for not writing about Fedora or Linux Mint more often.

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