In many cases, finding the Linux software you need for your Chromebook is as simple as using using
apt install from the command line as the Debian Buster repository is full of common and popular packages used by many. However, there are occasions when the package you want doesn’t exist in the stable repo or perhaps there is a newer version available elsewhere and that’s the one you want. No worries. The Command Line series is all about finding new and resourceful ways to use Linux on Chrome OS and that includes installing applications from sources outside the in-built Debian Buster repo.
Before you go looking at untrusted repositories or seedy downloads from sites you aren’t familiar with, you should give Debian Backports first.
What are backports? Here’s the technical description from Debian.org:
Backports are recompiled packages from testing (mostly) and unstable (in a few cases only, e.g. security updates) in a stable environment so that they will run without new libraries (whenever it is possible) on a Debian stable distribution
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To put it into terms that I understand, backports contain packages from the next sequential Debian release after the stable version that you are running. Chrome OS is currently using Debian 10 or Buster. Prior to Buster was Debian 9 a.k.a. Stretch. The backports for Stretch came from Buster. They are considered “testing” branches but still considered more stable and secure than using a foreign repository. For Debian Buster, the backport repo is Bullseye which is the name for the upcoming Debian 11 release.
As I mentioned above, backports are a good place to find newer versions of packages as well as applications that are absent from the stable repo. A couple of good examples of that are Libre Office and the Tor Browser. The Tor browser isn’t available in the main Buster repo at all and the Libre Office build in Buster is quite a few versions behind the current release. The backport version of Libre Office, however, is the latest and that’s exactly why backports can be very useful. To add the backports to Buster, we are first going to install the nano text editor. There are a couple of different ways to add the backport repos and I’ll touch on that later but I like using a text editor because it allows me to physically see and make the changes as I see fit. You can use whatever text editor you prefer. I like nano. So, that’s what we’ll install. Install the nano text editor with the following command in your Linux terminal.
sudo apt install nano
Now that you have your text editor installed, we will add the backport repositories to the sources list. This list is contained in the
sources.list file which is where the
apt command looks when you are installing packages and applications. The list is found in
/etc/apt/sources.list. To edit this file, use the following command to open it with the nano text editor or whichever editor you are using.
sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
Presuming all went as planned, the text editor should have opened up to a screen like the one you see above. It will have the main Buster repos already in the file. Now, we will add the sources for the backport repos. To do this, you will add the following two lines directly below the existing buster main repos. You can add them by copying them, one at a time, and pasting them into the text editor with a right-click. When finished, hit Ctrl+X to exit and then hit “y” to save the file. Tip: You can append the backports to https if you want to ensure secure file transfer. Apt-transport-https is already installed on Buster so it will force https if you choose to use it in your source list.
deb http://deb.debian.org/debian buster-backports main contrib non-free deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian buster-backports main contrib non-free
Now, you will need to update the package lists with
sudo apt update and we’re ready to install a package from backports. Since we mentioned Libre Office, we’ll try to install the suite of software. Installing from backports works just the same as a normal
apt install command with the exception that you must tell
apt to pull explicitly from backports by using the
-t flag. To install the newer version of Libre Office, use the following command and grab it from Buster backports.
sudo apt install -t buster-backports libreoffice
If you have outdated dependencies installed, you may be prompted to run s
udo apt autoremove. Go ahead and do that. You don’t need those files and it will help clean up your system. To view the list of available packages in Buster backports, check out the official Debian page here. If you want to remove the backports from your sources, simply open the
sources.list file again with your text editor and delete the backports lines then save the file.