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 Twitter.