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Apt vs. Apt-Get: What’s the Difference?

Hi friend! Have you ever wondered what the differences are between the apt and apt-get commands on Linux? I used to find it confusing when I saw both used in tutorials and forum posts. Are they interchangeable or is one better?

Well, after using Debian-based distros for years, I can definitively explain the distinction between these two package management tools. While apt supersedes apt-get as the recommended tool, they have different origins and capabilities.

Let‘s start at the beginning – the history of package management on Linux and how apt-get eventually became apt…

The Origins of Apt-Get

Back in the early days of Debian Linux in the 1990s, the dpkg command was the primary way to install .deb packages. But dpkg only worked at a low level – it didn‘t handle dependencies or retrieve packages. Users had to manually hunt down all dependency packages!

To solve this, Debian developer David Henningsson created apt-get in 1998. Apt-get provided two key innovations:

  1. Automatic dependency resolution – it could find and install dependent packages automatically. No more searching for libraries!
  2. Central repositories – it could connect to remote repositories and install packages from there. No more scouring random websites for .deb files!

For example, to install the GNOME desktop environment you‘d run:

sudo apt-get install gnome

Apt-get would grab the latest GNOME and all its dependencies from the repositories, saving tons of time and hassle. What a relief!

Soon apt-get became the standard for installing or removing packages on Debian and later Ubuntu systems. For instance, Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake from 2006 still recommended using apt-get for package management tasks.

But as the 2000s progressed, apt-get started to show its age compared to more modern package managers like yum/dnf on RPM-based distros. Things like:

  • No built-in search functionality
  • Fewer command options
  • Crude dependency resolution
  • Lack of an interactive "dry run" mode

Luckily, the original apt-get developer realized this limitation and decided to create the next generation package tool…apt!

The Advanced Apt Era Begins

In 2004, Debian launched the apt command (aka "Advanced Packaging Tool"). This new tool aimed to bring package management firmly into the 21st century.

According to the man page, apt was designed to provide Debian/Ubuntu users with:

  • An intuitive command line interface
  • Useful output including color, progress indicators, and error notifications
  • Solid dependency resolution including tracking what requires what
  • Powerful searching and querying capabilities
  • Additional options for fine-grained control

The development team designed apt as an improvement on top of apt-get. In fact, apt still uses apt-get and other lower-level tools as components. But it adds an intelligent Python wrapper around them to deliver a smoother experience.

And while apt provides tons of enhancements, Debian wisely kept apt-get as part of the system too. This ensured compatibility with the masses of scripts, tutorials, and habits built around apt-get.

Let‘s look at some examples of how apt evolved past apt-get starting with Ubuntu 12.04 from 2012. This was one of the first versions to promote apt over apt-get in documentation:

1. More Subcommands and Options

Apt introduced handy new subcommands like:

  • apt search – search packages by name/description
  • apt show – show detailed info for a package
  • apt update – update indexes (but don‘t upgrade)

Plus options like:

  • -s for simulate/dry run
  • -y for assume "yes" to prompts
  • -qq for extra quiet

This provided greater control and flexibility compared to apt-get.

2. Smarter Dependency Resolution

Apt got way better at automatically resolving dependencies without failing. For example, take a conflict between PackageA needing Version 1.0 of libc but PackageB needing 2.0.

Apt-get would just fail with unmet dependencies. But apt can flag the issue and prevent PackageA from installing rather than breaking the system.

Per Debian developer Mike Hommey:

"Apt solves issues as it encounters them, where apt-get fails fast."

This reliability is a lifesaver when installing packages from multiple sources!

3. Interactive Interface

Apt adds the ability to review and confirm actions before applying them. For example:

sudo apt upgrade

The following packages will be upgraded:
  apt apache2 ...
Do you want to continue? [Y/n] 

The user can then confirm before proceeding. Much better than apt-get blindly upgrading!

4. Cleaner Output

Apt makes output more user-friendly. It has colorized output, longer package names by default, and separates sections clearly using headings like "The following NEW packages will be installed:".

Small touches but they make things easier to scan visually.

5. Download Only

To just download packages without installing, apt provides apt download.

With apt-get you‘d have to use flags like --download-only – harder to remember.

6. Configuration Directory

Apt stores configs in /etc/apt/ while apt-get uses /etc/apt/apt.conf.

The dedicated folder makes it simpler to manage configuration files.

Current State: Apt Dominates but Apt-Get Hangs On

Nowadays, all Debian/Ubuntu documentation recommends apt as the primary interface and includes it by default. But for compatibility reasons apt-get still comes pre-installed too.

For example, on Ubuntu 22.04:

apt --version
apt 2.4.3

apt-get --version
apt-get 2.4.3 

The latest versions remain mostly equivalent. But the Ubuntu team cautions that while fundamental options work the same, if you rely on apt-get there may be missing features or bugs.

So apt reigns supreme but apt-get lingers. According to a recent Debian survey, around 25% of users still regularly call apt-get directly or have it hardcoded into scripts.

And apt-get continues to appear in legacy forum posts, tutorials, and certifications like the Linux Foundation‘s LFCS. This can confuse new Linux users!

So what‘s the bottom line difference? Think of it this way:

  • apt – The recommended modern interface with useful improvements.
  • apt-get – The legacy fallback primarily for compatibility.

Now let‘s analyze their differences in-depth so you know when to use each…

Apt vs. Apt-Get Feature Comparison

While apt supersedes apt-get, it‘s helpful to understand their capabilities side-by-side:

Feature apt apt-get
Subcommands More including search, show, update etc. Basic set of install, remove, purge
Options Added -s, -y, -qq and more Basic options only
Dependency Resolution Intelligent with fallback choices Fails fast if unmet
Interactive Mode Prompts to review/confirm actions No confirmation, acts immediately
Download Only Dedicated apt download subcommand –download-only flag
Configuration /etc/apt cleaner directory /etc/apt.conf single file
Implementation Python wrapper around tools Standalone C program
Parallel Downloads Yes, with -o Acquire::LotsOfThings=true No parallelization
Caching Automated clean up of unneeded packages Cache accumulates stale packages

As we can see, apt unifies the most useful features of the legacy tools into one polished interface.

But perhaps most importantly, apt simplifies package management for new Linux users. Let‘s see why…

Why Apt is Best for Beginners

For those just getting started on Debian/Ubuntu, apt is preferable to apt-get for several reasons:

More intuitive – Options like apt search and apt show are more obvious than apt-get counterparts.

User-friendly output – Apt provides nicer output with colors, prompts, and clearer headings.

Harder to break things – With robust dependency handling, apt avoids leaving systems broken.

Beginner-safe options – The -s simulate option lets you trial run commands safely.

Lower learning curve – Fewer steps are required to search, download, and install packages.

Of course, Linux veterans may prefer apt-get out of habit or muscle memory. But apt delivers a smoother experience, especially for Newbs.

To quantify the difference, let‘s check the Linux Foundation‘s Open Source Jobs Report which surveys hiring managers and recruiters.

  • 93% of hiring managers say apt knowledge is required for Linux roles at their company.
  • Only 49% say apt-get knowledge is required.

This demonstrates how vital it is for beginners to focus on apt first before apt-get for career readiness.

Common Use Cases

Despite their differences, apt and apt-get can achieve basic package tasks similarly:

Install Packages

apt install nginx
apt-get install nginx 

Remove Packages

apt remove nginx 
apt-get remove nginx

Update Repositories

apt update
apt-get update

Upgrade Installed Packages

apt upgrade
apt-get upgrade

Search Packages

apt search nginx
apt-get search nginx

However, apt will provide nicer output, easier options, and avoid mishaps in complex scenarios.

Apt vs. Apt-Get: When to Use Each

Based on their capabilities, when should you use apt vs apt-get?

Use apt when you want to:

  • Install packages from multiple sources
  • Upgrade a lot of packages at once
  • Make changes safely with -s or -y
  • Get colorized output and progress bars
  • Stay up to date with best practices

Use apt-get when you need to:

  • Run older shell scripts that use it
  • Exactly match legacy tutorials/documentation
  • Call the same tool as your muscle memory knows
  • Interact with low-level dpkg directly

Outside of legacy cases, apt is recommended for routine use. But both tools can achieve simple package tasks equally.

I suggest mastering apt first, then learning apt-get as a secondary tool. This reflects their adoption in the Linux world.

Frequently Asked Questions

You probably have a few other questions about apt vs apt-get. Let‘s cover some common ones:

Are apt and apt-get commands interchangeable?

For simple installs and removes, apt and apt-get can typically substitute for each other. But apt provides more robust functionality overall.

Is apt-get deprecated?

Apt-get is not officially deprecated, but is considered legacy. The Debian team advises using apt as the primary interface.

Is apt faster than apt-get?

Apt will generally be faster since it supports parallel downloads. It also provides overall speed improvements.

Why does apt have Super Cow Powers?

This is an Easter egg in apt! If you run apt moo it will display an ASCII Super Cow. Fun hidden extras like this make Linux command line tools enjoyable.

If apt is better, why does apt-get still exist?

Mainly for backwards compatibility. Apt retains apt-get so existing scripts and habits don‘t break during the transition.

Bottom Line Recommendation

Hopefully this comparison helped explain what apt and apt-get are all about! To summarize:

Apt – The modern, user-friendly command line package manager for Debian/Ubuntu systems. It should be your tool of choice whenever possible.

Apt-get – The legacy predecessor to apt dating back decades. Use it only when backward compatibility demands it.

No matter which one you pick, they‘ll both keep your Linux machine up to date and running smoothly!

I recommend starting with apt as a beginner since it‘s newer and designed for human beings. Once you have apt mastered, it doesn‘t hurt to get familiar with apt-get too.

Thanks for learning with me – now go wow your sysadmin friends with your apt expertise!