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Upgrade to the Latest Versions of Your Favorite Ubuntu Software with PPAs

Ubuntu gets its stability from heavily testing new versions of software. However, if you want to risk some instability and try out the latest versions of your favourite programs, we’ll show you how!

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Using these newer packages requires using software sources outside from the normal Ubuntu repositories. Fortunately, there are hundreds, and adding them to Ubuntu is extremely easy!

These other software sources are called Personal Package Archives (PPAs). In most cases, searching for the software you want to upgrade and the word “ppa” will get you to a page that tells you the name of the PPA and some extra details. All that you really need is the name of the PPA.

In our example, we’re going to use the PPA for daily builds of Mozilla Firefox. The PPA name is ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa.

Note: The method described below is only valid for Ubuntu 9.10 and above. For earlier versions of Ubuntu, use our earlier guide for adding extra repositories.

Just for reference, before we add the PPA, with the latest updates our version of Firefox is 3.6.10.

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Open a terminal window (either Applications > Accessories > Terminal or Ctrl+Alt+T) and enter the following line

sudo add-apt-repository <name of PPA>

which, in our case, is

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa

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Now, when we open the Update Manager (System > Administration > Update Manager) and click on Check, we get updates for Firefox.

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Installing those updates gives us the latest version of Firefox!

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This PPA also happens to include other packages, including the Firefox 4.0 beta. With a quick sudo apt-get install firefox-4.0 we can now try out the latest beta version of Firefox.

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PPAs are a great way to selectively choose which software you want to risk updating to the latest version. What PPAs do you use? Let us know in the comments!

Trevor is our resident Linux geek, but always keeps his eyes open for neat Windows tricks too.

  • Published 09/22/10

Comments (12)

  1. Lisa

    Super helpful! Thanks! :)

  2. Sergei

    Now how about an article on creating a PPA and building a package from source using PPA?

  3. Trevor Bekolay

    @ Sergei

    Great ideas! I will look into those for sure.

  4. david

    haven’t used ppa’s but going to test out the firefox one now!

  5. Peter Ehlert

    DUDE! “risk some instability” is way understating it!

    your example of the ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa will cause the buggy experiments of the day to be downloaded and installed on your system, overwriting stable software that actually works.

    This will probably render your apps to be totally useless for days at a time, perhaps the total system will need to be removed and reinstalled.

    Please do some checking of the viability of your “tweaks” before you rush to press.

  6. Trevor Bekolay

    @ Peter Ehlert

    You may have a point for PPAs that release daily builds. But do understand that the Firefox PPA was just used as an example. Many PPAs, like Ubuntu Tweak’s, release only stable builds — it really depends on the PPA you’re using.

    However, you’re right that these should be used with caution. Fortunately, you can always roll back to the stable Ubuntu version of things like Firefox — we have an article coming up this week that will show how to do that.

  7. peter ehlert

    Trevor: If you already know how to do the roll-back I would sure like to know now… It seems Canonical’s support engineers don’t yet understand how to fix this this one, nor are they interested in fixing home brew goof.

  8. Trevor Bekolay

    @ Peter Ehlert

    The short version is to install Ubuntu Tweak, and then in the Package Cleaner section, there’s a “Purge PPAs” section that lets you remove PPAs and roll back to the version in the ubuntu repositories.

  9. peter ehlert

    Trevor: search in Software Center for “Ubuntu Tweak” returns ltsp-manager
    that is already installed but I see no menu item for Ubuntu Tweak or Package Cleaner… there is Package Manager but I don’t believe that is what you speak of.

    see Bugzilla@Mozilla – Bug 599722

    thanks, Peter

  10. peter ehlert

    your roll back tool/method only effects Firefox, it does not roll back Thunderbird (Shredder)

  11. Trevor Bekolay

    @ Peter Ehlert

    It should work for Thunderbird, but if it doesn’t, then I would recommend removing Thunderbird (sudo apt-get remove thunderbird), disabling the PPA, and then installing it again (sudo apt-get install thunderbird). I’m not sure if your configuration will be saved by doing it this way, unfortunately.

  12. peter ehlert

    Trevor: thanks, great idea. I am now waiting to see if the Bugzilla@Mozilla crew can find a fix for us all… the perils of Beta Release testing (-:

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