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How to Sync & Quickly Reinstall Applications on Ubuntu

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The first thing any Linux user does after installing Linux is installing their favorite packages. Ubuntu makes this easy by syncing your installed applications between computers. And terminal users can install their favorite packages with a single command.

Whether you’re reinstalling Ubuntu from scratch, installing Ubuntu on a new computer, or performing a fresh installation of the latest version, these tricks can save you some time.

Ubuntu Software Center Sync

The Ubuntu Software Center has an application sync feature. To access it, click the File menu in the Ubuntu Software Center and select Sync Between Computers.

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The registration window asks you to create an “Ubuntu Software Center account,” but this is misleading. The Ubuntu Software Center works with Ubuntu single sign-on accounts – if you already have an Ubuntu One or Launchpad account, you already have a single sign-on account.

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Once you’ve signed in, you can click over to the Installed tab and view the software you have installed on each of your connected computers. Select a computer and Ubuntu will compare its installed packages with the packages installed on your current system. This feature makes it easy to install packages after installing Ubuntu from scratch, even if you don’t remember the packages you had installed.

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This feature is a bit limited at the moment – it only works with packages from Ubuntu’s default repositories, so packages from personal package archives (PPAs) or packages you’ve installed from outside a software repository won’t appear in the list. It also can’t automatically install applications on your other computer – you’ll have to open the list and install applications manually.

Terminal Commands

Another quick way to reinstall software is from the command line. In particular, the apt-get install command accepts an unlimited number of package names at once. Instead of hunting through the Ubuntu Software Center and installing them one by one, you can reinstall all your favorite packages with a single command.

For example, let’s say you want to install the Chromium web browser, Pidgin IM client, and Adobe Flash plug-in. Just run the following command in a terminal:

sudo apt-get install chromium-browser pidgin flashplugin-installer

You can add an unlimited number of package names to this command, in any order – it doesn’t have to be alphabetical.

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You can also feed a list of package names to the sudo apt-get remove command to quickly remove some packages that come preinstalled.

If you use packages from PPAs, run the appropriate sudo apt-add-repository commands for each PPA before the sudo apt-get install command. This gets all your favorite packages installed with just a few commands – if you want to automate it even further, create a shell script with these commands.

Third-Party Scripts

Some people have created their own shell scripts to automate the process of installing packages, adding PPAs, and removing packages after installing Ubuntu.

Silverwav’s Cleanstart is one such script. To use the script, you create a custom packages.list file containing a list of packages you want to install. This list can be categorized and have descriptions – the Cleanstart script filters out and ignores the descriptions. The cleanstart-packages.list.sh file is a shell script that installs the packages specified in the packages.list file. The real advantage here is you can have an organized packages.list file – with descriptions – that you can store your installed packages in. The actual script does little more than strip out the formatting and feed the list of packages to the apt-get install command, which you can do yourself.

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If you’re looking for a script that does more, there’s also And Any Void’s installation script. It was inspired by Cleanstart and allows you to specify PPAs to add and packages to remove in its configuration file. The script does more than Cleanstart, but you can still do the same thing with a few commands of your own.

(And Any Void’s page is in French, but the scripts are in English. If you’re browsing with Chrome, Chrome will offer to translate the page for you.)


How do you install your favorite software after installing Ubuntu? Leave a command and let us know if you have any tricks to share.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/23/12

Comments (13)

  1. JohnMc

    Sigh….

    An entire page on reinstalling packages and not one word about

    dpkg –get-selections & –set-selections

    Throw in a little uniq fu magic and it is one of the fastest ways I know of for getting a new system loaded fresh with all the apps you used from the previous OS. Just add your data files and you are done.

  2. TheFu

    JohnMc is right!

    Just before nightly data backups, I do a:
    $ dpkg –get-selections > ~/software-list.txt

    That way, the currently installed programs are stored in a list that also gets backed up. With this list, restoring almost every program if there’s a failure or just to setup a new system later is easy.

    This method works for servers (no GUI) too.

  3. cam2644

    Would some of these ideas sync between Ubuntu and Mint?

  4. Slant

    @cam2644 – You ain’t gotta sync nothin’ between nothin’ when you’re rockin’ the terminal. Check out TheFu’s command on whatever system you got and check the result. A .txt is a .txt no matter where you be.

  5. GrandpaLeaman

    I use a bash script loaded in my startup application list. When I start Mint it deletes the previous list of installed software packages and creates a new list with my currently installed packages. It looks like this:

    #!/bin/sh

    # Run this script to back up a list on installed packages to a file, “installed-software.log”.

    rm installed-software.log
    dpkg –get-selections > ~/installed-software.log

  6. cxbii

    我终于登录到软件中心了!我来自中国!感谢你!
    I finally log on to the Software Center! I am from China! Thank you!

  7. Vitaliy

    And how about removing computer from sync list? When I reinstall Ubuntu on my laptop (with the same laptop name), I have a problem. In list I have 2 same names with different apps.
    And the list of computers’ names increases with every installation of OS.

  8. Chris Hoffman

    @JohnMc

    That may not be ideal for all users that don’t want every package installed reproduced on every system, but it’s still a good point. Probably something I should have included, too. Thanks for adding it!

    @Vitaliy

    I believe I’ve done that from the Ubuntu One website: https://one.ubuntu.com/

  9. Bob-El

    Since this wasn’t mentioned in the article, this will not work in 11.04 and older versions of Ubuntu. There is no “Sync between computers” option. I do see it on 11.10. Sometimes it’s good to know if a recipe will work on a wood stove as well as an electric stove.

  10. Bob-El

    Slant: Thanks for taking the time to come up with a nice helpful, clearly-worded reply.

    TheFu: Thanks for reminding me about that tip. To expand and make it more helpful for everyone, it goes like this…

    To save a list of your software:
    $ dpkg –get-selections > ~/software-list.txt

    The “.txt” is not really necessary. Ubuntu is not Windows.
    To reinstall the software on a fresh Ubuntu install:
    $ dpkg –set-selections < ~/software-list.txt

    Finally, run:
    $ dselect

    I'm not an expert on these commands but I have successfully run them on a fresh install. The re-installation of my software went without a glitch. However, a few years ago, I tried it on a complete installation of a new Ubuntu version (not an update) and it didn't work. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on why it didn't work because I don't see why it wouldn't.

  11. Bob-El

    Oh! I forgot to mention that there’s nothing stopping you from editing the software list prior to running dpkg with the –set-selections switch to remove unwanted software. (BTW, there are two dashes (–) before the get & set in case that’s not clear to everyone.)

  12. Chris Hoffman

    Thanks a lot for chipping in, everyone! I love it when readers add such useful information in the comments.

  13. VoidAndAny

    Thanks for the link, I see it only today, my blog is a little abandoned for now…

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