The VectorLinux Packaging System


  1. Introduction
  2. Update the package list
  3. Install the packages
  4. Other useful slapt-get commands
  5. gslapt
  6. Known problems
  7. Slackware Package Commands
  8. Building Packages

1. Introduction

Unlike the Microsoft Windows world which uses executable .exe files to install software the Linux world uses "packaging systems". Red Hat Linux and Mandriva use .rpm packages, Ubuntu, Debian, Mepis, Xandros use .deb packages and Slackware/Vector use .tgz packages. VectorLinux also uses ".tlz" packages, which take less space and enable us to provide more software on one CD. Many Linux packages are contained in FTP repositories and software is available which automates the download and installation of the correct package for your system in one easy step. VectorLinux uses a package management system based on slapt-get (text mode) and gslapt (graphical, GUI mode).

The VectorLinux packaging system is based around the Slackware packaging system and consists of .tgz or .tlz packages. However, the Slackware system has been improved by slapt-get. slapt-get mimics the Debian apt packaging system. It automates the download, cataloguing and install process and also provides some dependency checking which was not available with the Slackware system. gslapt is a GUI-based wrapper around slapt-get, so is the recommended packaging software for newcomers to VectorLinux. On the other hand if you are a confident command line user you will find slapt-get, coupled with piping to other Linux commands very powerful.

slapt-get and gslapt enable VectorLinux users to easily download, install, upgrade, remove, search, and query packages of software on their system. You only really need need to do two steps to install/upgrade or remove software packages :

  1. Update local information on packages available from your chosen source(s).
  2. Install, Upgrade or Remove the packages of your choice.

NOTE:VectorLinux 6.0 now includes by default the small daemon "slapt-update-notifier". This utility will check the VectorLinux repository and will pop-up a small notifier in the bottom right applet section of either KDE or xfce to inform the user when updates are available. If clicked gslapt will be launched. Please ensure that you do wish to do this. Although VL packagers are very careful at their job there is no guarantee that software updates will not break your system. You have been warned!

2. Update the Package List

This step downloads the necessary package information details from the VectorLinux repository (a specific FTP site). You must ensure your Internet connection is working, then: 1) command line method: slapt-get --update , or 2) GUI method: launch "gslapt", click Update icon. These commands can take a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the speed of your Internet connection, the load on the server and the speed of your system.


3. Install the Packages

1) command line method: slapt-get --install [packagenames] , or 2) gslapt method: launch gslapt, search for your required packages in the list, click those you want, click Package Install. Remember that this command actually fetches the package from a server and then installs it. This can take some time depending on the speed of your Internet connection, the load on the server and the speed of your system. Please be patient.


4. Other useful slapt-get commands

Please refer to the documentation for slapt-get: man slapt-get, the HOWTOs at the VL Forum: slapt-get basics and gslapt basics or go to the slapt-get FAQ site for more advanced topics.

You may wish to try some of these slapt-get commands:

- to list all the available packages from the source repository: slapt-get --available
- to list only those packages that you have already installed: slapt-get --installed
- to search the listings for specific package(s): slapt-get --search [packagename(s)]
- to install (or to upgrade an already installed) package(s): slapt-get --install [packagename(s)]
- to remove packages(s): slapt-get --remove [packagename(s)]
- to clear your temp directory of downloaded packages: slapt-get --clean
- to show a package(s) description: slapt-get --show [package(s)]
- to reinstall an existing package: slapt-get --reinstall --install [package]
- to downgrade a package: slapt-get --reinstall --install [exactpackagenameandnumbers]
- to show a sorted, paged list of available packages from the source repository: slapt-get --available|sort|less
- to show a sorted, paged list of installed packages on your system: slapt-get --installed|sort|less
- to show a sorted, paged list of available, uninstalled packages: slapt-get --available|grep inst=no|sort|less
- to show only available packages related to e.g. fluxbox: slapt-get --available|grep fluxbox
- to show only available, uninstalled packages specifically packaged for VL5: slapt-get --available|grep inst=no|grep vl5|sort|less
- to install all packages pertaining to e.g. fluxbox: slapt-get --available|grep fluxbox|awk '{print $1}'|sort|uniq|xargs -r slapt-get --install
- to install every available package not yet installed (DANGER!): slapt-get --available|grep inst=no|awk '{print $1}'|sort|uniq|xargs -r slapt-get --install


5. gslapt

gslapt is the GUI software for managing VectorLinux packages. It is the software most likely to be used by newcomers to VL. It is a GUI wrapper around typical slapt-get commands (see section above) and makes slapt-get much easier unless you are very comfortable with the command line. The thumbnails below illustrate the essential features you need to know to operate gslapt effectively. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version.

The gslapt window is comprised of 5 sections, arranged vertically. From top down these are the 1) menu panel, 2) icon panel, 3) search panel, 4) package listing panel and 5) package description panel. In essence, gslapt is a very user-friendly so we will not belabour this section. Please note that the gslapt command "Mark All Upgrades" followed by "Execute" will upgrade every installed package on your system for which there is a newer version at the repository. This is the equivalent of the slapt-get command slapt-get --upgrade. Either of these commands can be dangerous and may lead to a broken system - you have been warned! See section below for further details.

Standard gslapt screen
Preferences: Working Directory
Preferences: Excludes

Preferences: Sources
Search for Packages
Install Packages

6. Known problems

System Upgrades

Unfortunately at the moment, the VectorLinux repository is not yet as robust and debugged as a typical Debian package site (but it gets better by the week)!. Consequently, it is highly recommended that users refrain from attempting full system upgrades. In other words, do not use the commands slapt-get --upgrade or "gslapt, Mark All Upgrades, Execute". Either of these commands will upgrade every installed package on your system for which there is a more recent version. It is suggested that you slapt-get --install [packagenames] only for those packages which you definetely require an upgrade for a functionality improvement or to cure a serious security risk to the older package. At present, it is wiser to actually reinstall a stable, newer release of VectorLinux than to attempt a system upgrade with slapt-get --upgrade. Remember the old adage: "if it ain't broke don't fix it!". The VL developers and packagers are working to improve our package repository so that sometime in the near future full "safe" complete system upgrades using slapt-get --upgrade will be a viable option.

Slackware Packages

VectorLinux is able to install Slackware packages. However, Slackware does not normally support slapt-get nor do Slackware packages do any dependency checking. For this reason we do not recommend enabling any Slackware repositories in the /etc/slapt-get/slapt-getrc configuration file (or with gslapt, Edit, Preferences, Sources, Add a Source). The default slapt-get configuration file will enable the user to download and install Vector packages only. Slackware packages which are non-system packages will probably work fine with VL but you may have to install all the dependant packages first and there is no guarantee the package will work properly. If you do decide to load a Slackware package please ensure you download packages built for the correct version of Slackware. For VL6.0 the Slackware version it is based upon is v.12.1

To install a Slackware package that you have downloaded you use the Slackware "installpkg" command rather than slapt-get or gslapt (see section below for more details).


7. Other Slackware Package Commands

For the sake of completeness this section documents basic Slackware Package commands which are also available to the VL user. Remember that slapt-get (and gslapt) are built upon Slackware package commands. The Slackware commands, unlike slapt-get and gslapt do not retrieve packages from mirror sites: they assume you have already downloaded the appropriate package. The commands available are: installpkg, removepkg, upgradepkg, explodepkg, makepkg and pkgtool. You will find a "man page" for each of these commands, e.g. man installpkg for a full explanation of how to use each of these commands. Some examples of Slackware package commands usage:

  • to install a "leafpad" package which you downloaded from, first "cd" into the directory where the package is located and then: installpkg leafpad-0.8.4-i486-1arf.tgz.
  • to remove an "abiword" package from your system: removepkg abiword.
  • to extract the contents of a Slackware package into the current directory: explodepkg leafpad-0.8.4-i486-1arf.tgz.
  • to install, remove or view packages from a handy menu system: pkgtool .

One of the most convenient features of "mc", the Midnight Commander menu-based file manager, is that VL has added some Slackware package commands to the "F2" menu. One may easily pack, install and remove Slackware/Vector .tgz packages using mc in this manner. In the mc F2 menu you also can convert an RPM package to a Slackware package. This facility is also available from the command line using the command: rpm2tgz.

Furthermore, VL provides the convenient command: pkgtool . "pkgtool" is the Slackware package utility - a command line wrapper around the Slackware package commands mentioned in the paragraphs above, with a few enhancements. By typing: pkgtool as root, you will see the options available to you.

8. Building Packages

Experienced Linux users who are familiar with compiling software from source code are encouraged to contribute to the VectorLinux community by building packages which are not yet in the VL repositories. Your contributions will enhance VL for all users by providing a more comprehensive suite of packages for the VL community.

The procedure to build a proper VectorLinux package is outlined at the VectorLinux Forum here. Please follow the procedures exactly as any deviations from this methodology may result in non-robust package that may break a user's system.

VL now has a new application provided with 6.0 called "vpackager". This newbie-friendly GUI software automates the compilation and creation of a VectorLinux package from source code. More details can be found here.