1. Overview

Package Managers are a great feature of every Linux system. They allow us to easily handle the installation, removal, and inspection of software packages.

In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to use two among the most famous ones: YUM and APT.

2. Package Managers in a Nutshell

Before starting, let’s overview what Package Managers effectively are.

In Windows, we usually install software by downloading and running executable installers.

In Linux, we can still do the same, manually downloading and installing packages in the format expected by our distribution. The mainstream method, however, consists of relying upon package managers for browsing the software available (along with the installed one), as well as installing, updating, and uninstalling it.

The software versions provided by the package managers might not always be the latest ones, but the whole process is leaner, faster, and more secure.

Let’s now have a look at what YUM and APT are, and how they work.

3. YUM – Yellowdog Updater, Modified

YUM is a package management utility for RPM-based distributions. RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) is the package manager that systems like RHEL and CentOS are based on.

YUM uses RPM under the hood, hiding its complexity through a high-level abstraction.

Fedora 22 and RHEL 8 introduced a rewrite of YUM, called DNF, which is likely to become the new standard for RPM-based systems.

4. APT – Advanced Packaging Tool

APT, on the other side, is a collection of different tools used for managing software in DPKG-based distributions.

DPKG means Debian PacKaGe and is the package manager at the core of systems like Debian and Ubuntu.

APT wraps the low-level calls to DPKG to provide the users with a user-friendly interface.

It’s worthy of note that APT is an acronym used in several different contexts. It’s the packaging system (APT), the Linux package under which it’s distributed (apt), and also one of the tools which form the library (apt, apt-get, apt-cache, and others).

4.1. apt

apt is the newest tool of the APT package manager.

It’s often a source of confusion because users are not sure whether using apt or apt-get for their operations and which are the differences.

Let’s clear them out here: apt is the right tool when manually handling a Debian-based system. We should always prefer it over apt-get and apt-cache, as it unifies and simplifies the main operations of the other two.

It also provides a useful progress bar along with some other small perks, as colored output and additional information.

4.2. apt-get

apt-get, on the other side, is the right choice if we’re going to script our management operations. It provides a more stable interface, more functionalities, and also allows for deeper customization.

It was the default tool for every kind of operation up until Ubuntu 16.04. In Ubuntu 16.04, apt became the preferred option for human usage.

4.3. apt-cache

apt-cache, finally, is a tool that complements apt-get, providing information on installed software and available software as well.

4.4. Snappy

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has recently released a new distribution-agnostic packaging system called Snappy.

snap packages are self-contained and can be installed in Ubuntu as well as in Fedora, CentOS, Arch, Gentoo, and so on.

While the latest Ubuntu versions distribute some packages mainly through Snappy, APT remains the official way to manage software packages, at least for now.

5. Queries

Let’s now see how we can use these tools to query our package managers.

5.1. List Packages

We can ask YUM to list our packages with the following commands:

# List installed and available packages from repositories:
yum list all
# List only installed packages:
yum list installed
# List only available packages:
yum list available
# List installed and available kernel packages:
yum list kernel

With APT, instead, we can list our packages:

# List installed and available packages from repositories:
apt list
# List only installed packages:
apt list --installed

In case we want to see only the available packages, we can resort to some grep since there’s no APT command to do that out of the box:

# List only available packages:
apt list | grep -v installed

For scripting, we could also consider resorting to the nearest solution to apt list available from apt-cache:

apt-cache search .

Beware that the result will differ both in the number of occurrences and in their returned order, though.

5.2. Search Packages

With YUM, we can look for a package containing a specific term in its name or description:

yum search SOMETHING

This time, in APT it’s identical:

apt search SOMETHING
apt-cache search SOMETHING

5.3. Get Package Details

Once we know which package we’re interested in, we might want to check its details.


yum info MY_PACKAGE

And similarly, in APT:

apt show MY_PACKAGE
apt-cache show MY_PACKAGE

6. Package Management

Now that we’ve seen how to search and inspect software packages, let’s see how to manage them:

6.1. Update of Packages Information

First of all, we need to update our package index.

These commands don’t update any installed package, they just download the latest information about the packages that can be installed or upgraded.

In YUM it’s:

yum check-update

In APT, instead, it’s simply:

apt update
apt-get update

We should always run apt update before any other operations.

6.2. Installation of a Package

To install a package in YUM:

yum install MY_PACKAGE

Again, in Debian systems it doesn’t differ at all:

apt install MY_PACKAGE
apt-get install MY_PACKAGE

6.3. Upgrade of a Package

Upgrading a package can be done in different ways.

In YUM, the command yum update internally runs the yum check-update, which means that we don’t need to run the latter unless we want to avoid installing anything after updating the package index. We can upgrade all or some packages as follows:

# Update the package index and every package:
yum update
# Update only the package MY_PACKAGE:
yum update MY_PACKAGE
# Apply security-related package updates:
yum update --security


# Update every package:
apt upgrade
apt-get upgrade 
# Update every package along with their dependencies:
apt full-upgrade
apt-get dist-upgrade
# Update only the package MY_PACKAGE:
apt-get install --only-upgrade MY_PACKAGE
# Apply security-related package updates:
unattended-upgrade --dry-run -d

It’s important to know that upgrading the packages along with their dependencies potentially implies uninstalling existing software and installing new software as well if this is required by the upgrade process.

Standard upgrade commands, on the other side, will never uninstall anything. However, differently from apt-get upgrade (which also doesn’t install anything), apt upgrade might install new software if needed.

6.4. Removal of a Package

Sometimes we need to remove a software package. Let’s explore the different ways of doing this then, from shallow and soft to deep and final.

To get rid of an installed package and possibly its dependencies in YUM we can do one of two equivalent commands:

yum erase MY_PACKAGE
yum remove MY_PACKAGE

In RHEL7 and higher, it’s possible to erase also additional unneeded packages with autoremove:

yum autoremove MY_PACKAGE

The Debian ways to delete a package instead are:

apt remove MY_PACKAGE
apt-get remove MY_PACKAGE

However, if we want to remove the package’s configuration too, completely purging the system from it, then we can exploit purge:

apt purge MY_PACKAGE
apt-get purge MY_PACKAGE

6.5. Clean Up

Sometimes, our system will be polluted by orphaned packages, which are not needed anymore but are still occupying space.

We can remove these unwanted packages in YUM through autoremove, without any package name:

yum autoremove

This also works in the same way on Debian distributions:

apt autoremove
apt-get autoremove

7. Repository Management

Both packaging systems start with a set of official repositories to query for fetching packages.

However, the community is thriving, and often the package we need is missing in the official repositories, or is there but in a version too old to fit our needs.

In these cases, we might want to add unofficial repositories to the package manager list (always paying attention to the fact that it might represent a security issue).

7.1. Addition of a Repository

Adding a repository in YUM is a manual operation, which consists in creating a file with the .repo extension under the folder /etc/yum.repos.d.

The file must contain all the information about the custom repository that we are connecting to.

Let’s try adding the AdoptOpenJDK repository:

# /etc/yum.repos.d/adoptopenjdk.repo
baseurl=http://adoptopenjdk.jfrog.io/adoptopenjdk/rpm/centos/7/$(uname -m)

In APT, though, things are quite different. The GPG key of the repository must be downloaded and added to the APT keyring with apt-key add:

wget -qO - https://adoptopenjdk.jfrog.io/adoptopenjdk/api/gpg/key/public | sudo apt-key add -

Then, at this point, the repository can be added through add-apt-repository –yes followed by the URL:

add-apt-repository --yes https://adoptopenjdk.jfrog.io/adoptopenjdk/deb/

Contrary to YUM, all the repositories are saved in a single file, /etc/apt/sources.list.

7.2. Removal of a Repository

Removing a repository in YUM is performed differently depending on how it’s been installed.

We can run the following command and analyze its output:

rpm -qa | grep -i CUSTOM_REPOSITORY

If the repository’s RPM package is found, it means it’s been installed through RPM, and we can remove it using -e:


Otherwise, we can simply delete the repository file:

rm /etc/yum.repos.d/CUSTOM_REPOSITORY.repo

We can also disable it without deleting it, by simply turning enabled=1 to enabled=0 in the repository file.

In APT, on the other hand, we can simply do:

add-apt-repository --remove ppa:CUSTOM_REPOSITORY/ppa

Alternatively, we can comment out the rows relative to the repository in the /etc/apt/sources.list file.

8. Other Operations

These two do a lot of other operations. Let’s cover some of them.

8.1. Reinstalling a Package

In case of a corrupted package, like some files are missing, we can reinstall it with:

yum reinstall MY_PACKAGE
apt reinstall MY_PACKAGE
apt-get reinstall MY_PACKAGE

8.2. Installing a Specific Version of a Package

Sometimes, instead, we might need to install a specific version of a package.

We can check the available versions of a package with:

yum list MY_PACKAGE --showduplicates
apt-cache showpkg MY_PACKAGE

Then we can target the wanted version for a new installation:


YUM also allows us to downgrade from an existing one to one of the previously installed versions:


8.3. Installing a Group of Packages

Some packages are combined in a group for a common purpose and can be installed all at once.

Let’s target another real-world example and think of installing the graphics environment in a Linux server.

Installing the X Window System and GNOME groups will save us the hassle of installing hundreds of packages by hand:

yum groupinstall 'X Window System' 'GNOME'

The Debian package manager, however, handles them as simple packages, so the classic apt install command is enough:

apt-get install xorg

9. Conclusion

In this tutorial, we’ve learned the concepts related to YUM and APT, as well as the practical usage of their main commands.

Despite having only scratched the surface, we should now be able to handle the software on our RedHat and Debian-based systems.

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