Why I Use Gentoo: Simple Package Management

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Why I Use Gentoo Linux

Regardless of which distribution you’re using, one situation seems to come up for everyone eventually: discovering that the official repositories either lack a package you want to install or that the version available is out of date. When this happens, it’s left to you, the intrepid end-user, to find a way to install that deeply coveted package.

One approach is to scour the internet for a third-party package. With Ubuntu and its relatively recent introduction of PPAs, this has actually become a relatively productive path. As time goes on, finding packages on Linux has become increasingly easy, even if they’re not in the official repositories.

If this fails, however, the only remaining option is to create a package yourself. One of the reasons I like Gentoo is that its version of this process can be ridiculously simple. The hardest part is creating your local overlay. Once this is done, bumping the version of a package is often as simple as renaming the file and reinstalling the package.

Gentoo installs packages by following the directions in files called ebuilds. Ebuild syntax is relatively simple, and for packages with standard build systems, creating an appropriate ebuild is very easy. As a result, even adding new packages to your system (or patching existing ones) need not be frustrating. Installing a package from your local overlay is exactly the same as installing one from an official repository. All packages are first-class citizens on Gentoo.

With many other distributions, it’s certainly possible to build your own packages, but it certainly has a second-class citizen flavor. Arch has its PKGBUILD system, and Debian has excellent tools for creating .deb packages. Nonetheless, Gentoo’s system seems simplest and the most integrated, but perhaps it’s merely my biased experience talking.

As time has passed and finding packages (from both the official repositories and third-parties) has become easier, this reason has become less relevant. Nonetheless, I still find myself maintaining a small local overlay, and Gentoo’s flexibility in this area is one reason I’ve chosen it as my primary distribution.

Series NavigationWhy I Use Gentoo: Rolling ReleasesWhy I Use Gentoo: Unused Dependency Removal

One thought on “Why I Use Gentoo: Simple Package Management

  1. summonbaka

    I wouldn’t call creating the local overlay the hardest part. Not by a long shot. With just a little bit of reading (something that becomes common for a gentoo user) you can set up the local overlay in less than an hour the first time you ever do it, and in a really short time whenever you do it in another computer for the first time.
    I would have to say that creating an ebuild from scratch can even be a worse experience and it can take long before your first ebuild goes right. Documentation for it is/was not easily searchable and I found it by chance just some months ago.
    There’s a vast amount of ebuilds in bugs.gentoo.org and others can found easily from other sources so it’s not much of a problem though.


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