What is Flatpak in Linux? – It's FOSS

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While reading the installation instructions of an application, you’ll often come across terms like “Flatpak”, “Snap”, and “AppImage”.
You might have already used some of them on Linux — but might not really know they are. Flatpak, Snap and AppImage they are ‘universal packaging systems’.
In an earlier article in the Linux Jargon Buster, you have learned about the package manager in Linux. So I won’t bother you with packaging anymore. I’ll highlight what is Flatpak and how it tries to solve problem as a universal packaging system.
Flatpak is a package management utility that lets you distribute, install and manage software without needing to worry about dependencies, runtime, or the Linux distribution. Since you can install software without any issues irrespective on the Linux distribution (be it a Debian-based distro or an Arch-based distro), Flatpak is called universal package.
In case you’re curious, Alexander Larsson is the one responsible to create Flatpak and the history to Flatpak dates back to the summer of 2007. You can read more about his work and Flatpak’s history on his blog post.
It’s impressive to know what it is and how it came in to existence, but why was it created and how does it work?
With so many Linux distributions out there, managing & installing software is one of the most important aspects of managing a Linux system.
If you are an experienced Linux user, you can surely figure out the best way to do it. But, for beginners or for users who don’t want a learning curve to manage packages, these are some issues when using the traditional package formats (deb/rpm):
In other words, with traditional package management systems there are some potential issues that you might encounter in order to make the software work for your system. And, not everyone has the time to troubleshoot!
That’s when something like Flatpak comes in to play.
Flatpak is one such open-source utility that helps you to distribute, manage/install packages without thinking about the Linux distribution you’re using or the dependencies/libraries that the program requires to run.
Now that you have an idea on what it is all about, let’s dive in deeper to know what Flatpak is, how it works, and some background on it.
Flatpak apps run in an isolated environment (often referred as a sandbox). This sandbox contains everything that’s needed to run that specific program.
Basically, the sandbox includes the runtime and bundled libraries to fulfill the requirements of a program to run. You can learn more about the technical details in their official documentation.
Also, just because Flatpak apps are isolated, it cannot make any changes to your system without explicit permission from the host (you). So, Flatpak offers enhanced security to your system by keeping the applications isolated.
Please keep in mind that in order to use Flatpak packages, your Linux distributions must have Flatpak support. Some distributions like Fedora, Solus etc come with Flatpak support by default whereas you need to manually install Flatpak support in distributions like Ubuntu.
Even though Flatpak technology allows you to not rely on a centralized source for getting software, you will find using Flathub (built by Flatpak team) to distribute and manage software.
There could be other existing Flatpak repositories but none that I’m aware for my personal use-case.
No wonder that Flatpak is something impressive — it comes with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Here, I’ll list some of them:
Wrapping Up
I hope that now you have a good idea on what Flatpak is all about. If you want to explore more on installing and using Flatpak, I’d recommend you to read our Flatpak guide to get started.
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Filed Under: Explain
A passionate technophile who also happens to be a Computer Science graduate. You will usually see cats dancing to the beautiful tunes sung by him.
But what happens if you install Firefox using Flatpack, while it’s already installed in a clean installed Ubuntu?
You’ll have two instances of Firefox available to run.
A sluggish piece of junk that will freeze your system and add bloatware. The dream of the wanna be developer is the dependency hell and crappy, sluggish software
I have just had to re-install Linux Mint Tricia 19.3 as it all crashed in a heap. I am back up, but get freezes sometimes several times a day. This is well-known (apparently). What happens if I stop Flatpak from being included in startup? GJ
btw… Flatseal is a great tool to manage flatpaks permissions
So it’s what PC BSD did years ago. The biggest hangup was memory and disk use but both being so inexpensive these days shouldn’t be a issue.. I always wondered why no one took the pc bsd package approach on Linux and eliminated the packaging hell
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