1.0 on March 26th. Autopackage is a "multi-distribution binary
packaging framework for Linux systems
." To put that in layman's
terms, Autopackage is something like an InstallShield application for Linux
Autopackage is not an attempt to replace native package management -- it
doesn't replace RPM, dpkg or any other system of package management for
Linux distributions. Instead, Autopackage is designed as a packaging system
for projects and vendors that wish to ship applications for multiple Linux
distributions without having to make packages for every variant of every
distribution they wish to support.
The Autopackage system is primarily designed for use with packages for
desktop users, like Abiword, Inkscape, Gaim and others. The default
front-end for Autopackage uses Gtk2, but there is a a Qt frontend available as
well. It's worth noting that Autopackage is licensed under the Lesser
General Public License (LGPL), which makes it suitable for free software
and open source projects as well as proprietary software.
The package format itself is a gzipped tarball with a "stub script" at the
beginning of the file. It is, in other words, a sort of executable,
self-extracting archive format.
We tested a couple of Autopackage .package files on SUSE Linux 9.2 and the
Ubuntu Hoary Hedgehog pre-release. For the most part, we were pleased with
its operation. Autopackage is simple to use, and works from the command
line or using one of Autopackage's GUI interfaces.
When a user finds an application packaged with Autopackage, all they need
to do is download the .package file and run it. The first time a .package
file is installed on a system, it will search to see if Autopackage is
installed. If not, it will download Autopackage from and install it, then
proceed with the installation of the selected package.
The first package we tried to install was Abiword, which is available from
downloads page or directly from Abisource.
We first tried to install Abiword on an Ubuntu Linux system. Unfortunately,
Autopackage complained that it failed to find the "enchant" spelling checker,
even though it was installed on the system in
/usr/bin. We had
better results with the Abiword package on SUSE Linux, however, and were
able to install that package with no problems.
We tried the Autopackage for Inkscape next on Ubuntu, and found that it
installed with no problems. We also tried removing the packages and
re-installing them to see if there were any glitches or unwanted
side-effects. The Autopackage system handled removing and re-installing the
package just fine. We even used Autopackage to uninstall itself, and were
able to do so without any problems. Overall, we were pleased with the
operation of Autopackage.
Autopackage does have a number of limitations, however. First, it's limited
to x86 systems. Third parties that want to package applications for Linux
on other architectures will not be able to use Autopackage, at
least for the time being.
The Autopackage system also does not integrate with the system's package
management. This means that RPM or dpkg will not "know" about the existence
of an application or libraries installed via a .package file. For some
packages, this may not pose a significant problem. For example, if a user
wished to install the Linux version of Yahoo! Messenger, it's unlikely
they'd have other packages that depend on it or any need to manage the
package via RPM or dpkg.
Another drawback for Autopackage is the lack of support for package
signatures. The Autopackage FAQ discusses the rationale for
this. Since Autopackage is not a centralized source for software, unlike
Red Hat, it creates some complications for package signing.
Finally, since Autopackage depends on a working Network connection, it
could pose a minor headache for users on dial-up who download their first
Autopackage and then try to install the software when not connected to the
We didn't actually try creating any Autopackage packages, but from the documentation, it doesn't seem
that creating an Autopackage is much more difficult than creating RPM or
The project is now working on bugfix releases in the 1.0.x series, and
development towards the 1.2 release. The project
TODO list provides an indication of where Autopackage is headed for
The Autopackage team has a Flash installation
demo and 4-step
tutorial that show how easy it is to use Autopackage.
Overall, Autopackage is a very promising project. It makes it possible for
third-parties to distribute software for Linux users without the need to
create sets of RPMs and Debian packages suitable for many different Linux
distributions. It's also easy to use, and should require little skill for
users to manage. It's too bad that such a system is still necessary at this
time, but it fills a necessary gap until the day that Linux distributions
can settle on a standard base system and packaging format.
to post comments)