What are flatpaks?

Flatpaks, also known as Flatpak applications or simply "Flats," are a type of software packaging and distribution format for Linux-based operating systems. They provide a way to package and distribute applications, along with their dependencies, in a self-contained manner. This means that Flatpak applications are designed to run consistently across different Linux distributions, regardless of the underlying system libraries and configurations. Here are some key characteristics and benefits of Flatpaks:

  1. Isolation: Flatpak applications are sandboxed, which means they run in a controlled environment with limited access to system resources. This isolation enhances security by reducing the potential impact of vulnerabilities in the application.

  2. Dependency Management: Flatpaks bundle their own dependencies, so they don't rely on or interfere with system libraries. This eliminates compatibility issues and conflicts that can occur when multiple applications require different library versions.

  3. Cross-Distribution Compatibility: Flatpaks are designed to work across various Linux distributions, reducing fragmentation in the Linux ecosystem. Users can install and run the same Flatpak application on different Linux distributions without modification.

  4. Ease of Distribution: Developers can create and distribute Flatpaks through centralized repositories or their own channels. This simplifies software distribution and updates, as users can receive the latest application versions directly from the Flatpak repository.

  5. Versioning: Flatpaks support multiple installed versions of the same application, allowing users to choose which version they want to run. This is particularly useful for testing or using older versions of an application when necessary.

  6. Automatic Updates: Flatpak applications can receive updates independently of the underlying system. Users can set preferences for automatic or manual updates, ensuring their applications stay current.

  7. User Permissions: Flatpaks allow users to grant or deny specific permissions to applications, such as access to the camera, microphone, or file system. This enhances user control over privacy and security.

  8. Flatpak Runtimes: To minimize duplication of dependencies, Flatpaks often use shared "runtimes" that contain common libraries. This approach reduces the disk space required for Flatpak applications and simplifies maintenance.

It's worth noting that while Flatpaks offer many advantages, they also have some limitations. For instance, they may consume more disk space compared to traditional package management systems, as they bundle dependencies. Additionally, some users and administrators may prefer system-wide package management for certain scenarios where fine-grained control over libraries is necessary.

Popular Linux distributions like Fedora, Endless OS, and Linux Mint have embraced Flatpak as a way to provide a more consistent and user-friendly application ecosystem, and many third-party developers have started packaging their software as Flatpaks to reach a wider Linux audience. Users interested in trying Flatpak can easily install the Flatpak runtime and then search for and install applications from the official Flatpak repository or other trusted sources.