Getting Started Managing Software with AppImage on Ubuntu

Bill Kindle

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Have you encountered dependency hell while installing software on Linux? Installing dependencies often requires root permissions, which not everyone has. If only there’s a way to install software without worrying about missing or broken dependencies. Yes, there is! It’s called AppImage on Ubuntu.

You’re in luck because you will learn about AppImage on Ubuntu in this tutorial and how this application format enables you to run Linux apps from anywhere. You will learn how to find, install, run and remove AppImage packages on Ubuntu, which also applies to other Linux distros.

Prerequisites

To follow along with the demos in this guide, be sure to have a computer running on a Linux operating system. The examples in this tutorial will be using an Ubuntu 20.04 LTS computer, but feel free to use other distros, like Fedora, Debian, or openSUSE.

What is AppImage?

AppImage is an open-source, universal software package format that developers use to package and ship software that already includes the requirements for the software to run. By packaging with the AppImage format, authors and developers can provide Linux users with the software with only one file.

Think of an AppImage package as the Linux counterpart of a portable app in Windows. You can run AppImages across most Linux distributions (if not all) without installing other dependencies. All you need is the base operating system, and AppImage brings with it the rest.

While using AppImage on Ubuntu is convenient, downloading and running malicious AppImage apps can be a real security risk. A malicious actor might change the package, repackage it, and a root user may then inadvertently run it and unknowingly cause damage.

Using AppImage on Ubuntu

With only a few steps, you can get started using AppImage on Ubuntu. You’ll only need to:

  • Download your needed AppImage file.
  • Make the file executable.
  • Run the AppImage software.

How does that sound? Nothing you can’t handle.

Downloading an AppImage Package

Where to find AppImage apps? Primarily, you can find them at the AppImageHub site. And according to that site, there is 1,026 software available in AppImage format to date.

Other online app stores, like Pling, hosts AppImage files, too.

To demonstrate, follow the steps below to download Atom – a popular, free, cross-platform text editor.

1. Open your favorite web browser and navigate to the AppImageHub catalog at https://www.appimagehub.com/browse.

2. On the search box at the top of the page, type in Atom and press Enter. Once the search returns the results, click the item similar to the image you see below.

Finding the AppImage package
Finding the AppImage package

3. On the download page, click the Download button and click the AppImage file to download.

Downloading the AppImage file
Downloading the AppImage file

4. Click Save File to confirm downloading and wait for the download to complete on the download prompt.

Confirming to save the AppImage file
Confirming to save the AppImage file

Making the AppImage File Executable and Running the Software (GUI)

The AppImage file you downloaded is not automatically an executable. As a requirement, before you run AppImages, you need to make the file executable first. Don’t worry; you don’t need root permissions to make a file executable and run it.

To make the file executable, follow the steps below.

1. First, open your file explorer on your computer and locate the AppImage file you downloaded. In Ubuntu, the default download location is the Downloads folder under your profile.

2. Next, right-click on the AppImage file and click Properties.

Opening the AppImage file properties
Opening the AppImage file properties

3. On the Properties window, click the Permissions tab, check the Allow executing file as program box, and click the exit (X) button to close.

Making the AppImage file executable
Making the AppImage file executable

4. Finally, double-click on the AppImage file to run the app.

If you prefer the command line instead of the GUI to make a file executable, open the terminal and run the command below. The chmod command is the command to change a file’s mode in Linux. The command below assumes that the AppImage file is in the ~/Downloads folder.

chmod a+x ~/Downloads/Atom-0-Build7.2.glibc2.17-x86_64.AppImage

Since AppImage packages are not like the conventional software installed on Linux, the typical update process may not apply. If there’s a new version of the software, you’ll need to wait for that software’s AppImage package release.

Managing AppImage on Ubuntu

So you’ve downloaded and successfully ran the AppImage software. But remember that the software you downloaded is in the Downloads folder, and this folder can become cluttered quickly. And, what if you don’t need the software anymore?

Relocating the AppImage

Should you want to organize your AppImage files to avoid getting lost in a pile of other files, you can move them to another location. And because you did not install the software, moving the AppImage file does not affect anything else on the system or the software’s usability.

For example, move the Atom AppImage file you downloaded from the Downloads folder to a subfolder in your home folder, like ~/.local/bin/. But you can move the file to any location that you prefer and where you have access.

1. Open a terminal window if you haven’t yet.

2. Run the mv command below on the terminal. This command-line moves the AppImage file from ~/Downloads to ~/.local/bin while retaining the same filename.

# Move the AppImage file from ~/Downloads to ~/.local/bin
mv ~/Downloads/Atom-0-Build7.2.glibc2.17-x86_64.AppImage ~/.local/bin
# List the contents of ls ~/.local/bin
ls ~/.local/bin
Moving the AppImage file
Moving the AppImage file

3. Finally, create a shortcut to the AppImage file on your Desktop by running the ln command below to create a symbolic link. This step is optional and only if you don’t want to keep browsing the AppImage file whenever you want to run it.

# Syntax: ls -s [AppImage File] [Shortcut Name]
ln -s ~/.local/bin/Atom-0-Build7.2.glibc2.17-x86_64.AppImage ~/Desktop/Atom
Creating a shortcut to the AppImage file on the Desktop
Creating a shortcut to the AppImage file on the Desktop

If you prefer to apply custom icons to your AppImage shortcuts, you can create a Desktop Launcher instead.

Removing the AppImage

When you no longer need a piece of software, removing that software from your Linux computer typically requires running some uninstall command. But not in the case of AppImage.

Removing an AppImage is like deleting any other file. Locate the AppImage software you want to remove, right-click the AppImage file you want to delete, and click Move to Trash.

Deleting an AppImage package
Deleting an AppImage package

Lastly, if you created a shortcut or a Desktop launcher, delete those too.

Conclusion

AppImage allows you to run software without worrying about not having the dependencies already installed on your Linux computer. When you need to change computers, migrating AppImages is not an issue since they are portable. You only need to copy AppImage files to a USB flash drive and transfer them.

With the convenience that AppImage on Ubuntu brings to your Linux experience, they do come with risks. Always be mindful of where you get AppImage formatted applications and only use trusted reputable sources.

Apart from AppImage, have you tried Snapd in Ubuntu or flatpak? If so, which one do you think works best? Also, you should try the AppImageLauncher that enables desktop integration for AppImage on Ubuntu.

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