If there’s one command-line tool I know most of you use it’s APT, or the Advanced Package Tool.
Every Debian-based Linux distro (Ubuntu included) uses APT because, well, it’s good at what it does. To quote Wikipedia, APT takes the hassle out of managing software on Linux by “automating the retrieval, configuration and installation of software packages, either from precompiled files or by compiling source code.”
Whether you want to check for updates, upgrade your system, or install software from your distro’s repo, apt lets you do it quickly, do it easily, and do it relatively safely.
But I’m not here to talk about why you should use APT…
Nala on Ubuntu? Pretty & Awesome
Nala is a free, open source alternative front-end to apt (which itself is something of a front-end to
dpkg). Nala can do (almost) everything apt can (it’s still, at the base, interfacing with apt) plus bit more.
For instance, Nala supports parallel downloads (which makes installing apps faster); has an engaging and interactive history feature (quickly learn more about recent installs and, if need be, undo them); and it has a neat fastest mirror tool that tests and selects the three fastest mirrors to fetch your updates from.
But the number one reason why people use Nala is because of how it looks.
Nala: Apt, But Prettier
Let’s take regular apt, and run the sort of command most of us have typed tens of thousands of times: a simple
apt install for the bpytop package.
I run the command, APT reads its list of packages, detects and lists any dependencies, mentions any suggested packages that might be of interest (rarely are), and rounds it off by confirming the list of NEW packages to be installed.
y to proceed and —Whoooooosh! A load of text whizzes by as apt gets everything downloaded, unpacked, and installed:
This (perfectly fine) experience will be familiar to (almost) everyone that has ever used Ubuntu at almost any point since its creation (I say ‘almost’ as it used to be
apt, but that’s a minor point).
Now I’ll repeat the exercise using Nala, running
sudo nala install bpytop to install the package:
Big difference, isn’t it?
Instead of that cramped cluster of text, Nala lets the info breathe. It uses line breaks and spacing. It uses colour. It gives structure. It has dividers and headings and subheadings. It uses progress bars. It uses animation.
Heck, it gives me the chance to actually understand what is happening on the screen.
Anyone uncomfortable at the command line would — I’ve no stats to back this assertion up, mind — find Nala’s approach more human-readable, more parsable, more ordered, and thus more reassuring.
nala is compatible with most of the
apt commands you’re already familiar with. Just replace the
nala to run them.
Nala also has a few features unique to it. Run
nala --help to discover them all, but a short rundown of my favourites:
sudo nala fetch– find fastest mirrors
nala history– see recently run nala commands
nala history info– see more details about a history event
Not every APT command works, mind. You can’t run an
apt dist-upgrade or
apt full-upgrade, nor view critical bugs using
apt-listbugs. There are probably more omissions so my tip is this: try anyway. If it’s supported, it’ll work, if it’s not, you can keep using APT for that task.
Install Nala on Ubuntu
And if you needed any more reasons why using Nala on Ubuntu is a grade-a good idea, it’s super easy to install and you can use it alongside apt (you don’t need to replace or remove anything to try it).
If you’re on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS or later run this (apt, heh) command to install Nala from the Ubuntu repo:
sudo apt install nala
If you use Ubuntu 20.04 LTS or earlier you should mosey over to official Nala wiki. There you can learn the recommended way to install it on your version of Ubuntu, or a different Linux distro entirely.
And that’s it.
All you need to do now is try to fight your muscle memory as you’ll keep instinctively typing
sudo apt foo instead of
sudo nala foo.
So there you have it, a few reasons why I’m using Nala instead of APT on my Ubuntu installs of late. Nala works as a fantastic drop-in alternative to APT. Use it all the time, or use it only some of the time (e.g, when you need more guidance with a tricky app install).