The new “Snap” package format in Ubuntu 16.04 isn’t just for Ubuntu. Snap packages can now be installed on many different Linux distributions. Snaps aim to provide a single, self-contained software package format that works on every Linux distribution.
The dream of universal, self-contained packages
As of Canonical’s announcement, Snaps already work on Arch, Debian, and Fedora, as well as the Ubuntu-based Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Ubuntu Kylin, Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Unity, and Xubuntu systems. Snaps are “currently being validated” on CentOS, Elementary, Gentoo, Mint, OpenSUSE, OpenWrt, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The underlying “snapd” tool, which enables the installation and running of Snaps, can be easily ported to other Linux distributions.
This makes Snap a widely supported, self-contained application installation bundle format. Imagine being able to download the latest version of an application like Mozilla Firefox or LibreOffice straight from the developer and install it on any Linux distribution. The developer could support that package and update it, providing updates to users of every Linux distribution all at once.
That’s exactly what The Document Foundation’s Thorsten Behrens is excited about: “Snaps enable our users to get the freshest LibreOffice releases across different desktops and distributions quickly, easily, and consistently.”
That’s not how it works today. Linux distributions generally package applications from the source code and are responsible for updating them on their own. Linux users often have to wait until the next release of a Linux distribution to get a new version of a desktop application. Developers that want to provide the latest versions directly to users have to provide packages for a variety of different Linux distributions that work differently.
Snaps solve this problem by providing a single target format. The application is self-contained and will work on any Linux distribution that supports Snap packages. Snaps also offer some important security sandboxing benefits, although these won’t be fully realized until Linux distributions move away from the old X.org display server.
This is big news. The Linux community has seen a constant stream of projects attempting to provide an easy software installation system across Linux distributions for more than a decade. But Ubuntu’s Snap package format is the first one that looks like it has some serious traction.