"So, you've just moved to Linux, and now you're wondering
how to install software, and what these "packages" are. This
article will introduce you to packages -- specifically, packages in
the popular RPM format used in distributions including Red Hat,
Mandrake, SuSE, and Caldera. Future updates will encompass the DEB
format used in Debian distributions, upcoming package formats, and
"First off, let's talk about what makes a package. A package is
simply an archive of files, usually an application or set of
applications for your system, similar to ZIP files in the DOS and
Windows environment. However, packages are designed to work with a
certain packaging system. So, you could think of them as slightly
more intelligent ZIP files. For example, they know what other
programs are required before they can be installed, and they make
sure these "dependencies" are met before they will let you install
them. They also have the good grace not to let you install them if
that would break another piece of software that's already
installed. So they're polite, too."
"Generally speaking, packages contain pre-compiled, or "binary"
software -- in other words, software that is ready to run on your
system. Someone on a computer somewhere has already spent the time
turning it from source code into an executable file. This is the
joy of packages! Rather than taking lots of time to download and
compile (that is, convert the source code you just downloaded into
a binary file your system can run directly) the latest and greatest
version of XFree86 4.0 or some other program, you can use a copy
that has already been prepared by someone else. This saves time in
compilation, saves time downloading (as binaries are generally far
smaller than the source code) and lessens administrative load."
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