April 23, 2019

Linux Package Management: Keeping Up with the Times

Introduction to Package Types

  • April 22, 2002
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

It's easy to just kind of trundle along without giving much thought to how our software changes over the years. We use the same old features version after version unless a new one jumps out at us through a new clickable button, or someone's newsgroup post. The longer you've been working with something, the more you get behind, and I certainly find that's true in my case from time to time.

So, to benefit both myself and my readers, I figured it was time to take a trip down Linux package management lane and see how far we've come from the days of manually placing each tar file so we can extract it to just the right spot.

Some of you might see this material as a little basic, but bear with me, not everyone is as omniscient as you are! I don't claim that the following list is exhaustive, but there are a number of popular package types in the Linux world, and you can recognize them by their filename extensions:

ExtensionDescriptionRelated Commands
.bzBurrows-Wheeler algorithmic compressionbzip2, bunzip2
.gzLempel-Ziv algorithmic compressiongzip, gunzip
.debDebian GNU/Linux package managerdselect, dpkg, apt-get, dpkg-deb, dpkg-split, apt-cdrom, dpkg-ftp, mirror, mirror-master, dpkg-mountable, make-kpkg
.rpmRed Hat Linux package managerrpm, rpmfind, rpmsearch, rpm2html, rpmwatch
.tarFile and directory packagertar .tar.gz or .tgz
Tarballcommon combination of file and directory packaging, and compressiontar, gzip, gunzip
.Z Adaptive Lempel-Ziv algorithmic compressioncompress, uncompress
.zipWindows Zip compatible compressionzip, unzip, zipcloak, zipnote, zipsplit

As you can see, some of the formats are specific to particular Linux distributions, such as .deb and .rpm. Others, such as .gz, .tgz, .tar.gz, and .tar are quite common in the Linux world, and are still used alongside the more complex package managers. Others, such as .Z, .zip, and .bz, are more common in other forms of Unix, or for particular uses such as using .zip to transfer compressed files between operating systems.

Let's take a look at the more commonly-used formats, and then at some of the tools that are lingering in the wings.

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