Getting started

A snap is a bundle of an app and its dependencies that works without modification across many different Linux distributions. Snaps are discoverable and installable from the Snap Store, an app store with an audience of millions.

This is a long tutorial, but it doesn’t all need to be completed in a single session. We’d suggest going through the first few steps and then playing with what you’ve learnt. Come back when you feel comfortable to further your knowledge.

By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have a good understanding of how to use snaps, from installing your favourite desktop applications, or tightly confined services, to controlling their access to your system, making backups, reverting to previous versions and even running two versions of the same application at the same time.

Requirements

This tutorial is suitable for anyone running Ubuntu (or any other system that supports snaps).

Snaps have been designed to be as accessible as possible, and while they can be easily installed and removed from a graphical package manager, such as Ubuntu Software Centre, you do need to use the terminal to get the most out of them.

As a result, it might help to be familiar with basic command line commands, but even if you’re not, this tutorial itself might be the perfect introduction to get you started.

First, find a snap

There are snaps for many popular applications, including Spotify, Slack and the Chromium web browser.

The best way to find new snaps is to use the online Snap Store, and either search for apps and words you’re interested in, such as “music” or “maths”, or use the category lists.

The Snap Store frontend is also installed by default on Ubuntu, and can itself be installed as a snap on other systems. It offers the same user experience as the online store.

The snap terminal command, however, is the primary interface to all of snap’s packaging features. It’s easily run by first opening a terminal and typing snap followed by a command. Typing snap on its own will show some brief help text and list of example commands to try, including the find command.

To search for snaps with ‘media player’ in either their names or descriptions, type snap find "media player" into your terminal:

$ snap find "media player"
Name  Version  Developer    Notes  Summary
(...)
vlc   3.0.4     videolan✓   -      The ultimate media player.
mpv   0.26.0    casept      -      a free, open source, and cross-platform media player.  
(...)

The alongside videolan in the above output indicates that the snap publisher has been verified.

The find output can be limited to snaps from specific categories, such as music-and-audio, with the additional `–section=’ argument:

$ snap find "media player" --section="featured"
Name        Version  Publisher  Notes  Summary
foobar2000  1.6.12   mmtrt      -      foobar2000 is an advanced freeware audio player.
vlc         3.0.16   videolan✓  -      The ultimate media player

Snap categories

Typing snap find without any arguments will return a list of suggested snaps and those suggestions can also be filtered to a category with the same --section= argument. The following section names are valid:

art-and-design books-and-reference development devices-and-iot
education entertainment featured finance
health-and-fitness music-and-audio news-and-weather personalisation
photo-and-video productivity science security
server-and-cloud social utilities

Learn about your snap

The snap info command makes it easy to find more details about a specific snap. These details include what a snap does, who publishes it, the command(s) it provides and which channel versions are available for installation:

$ snap info vlc
name:      vlc
summary:   The ultimate media player
publisher: VideoLAN✓
contact:   https://www.videolan.org/support/
description: |
  VLC is the VideoLAN project's media player.
---
snap-id: RT9mcUhVsRYrDLG8qnvGiy26NKvv6Qkd
commands:
  - vlc
channels:
  latest/stable:    3.0.16                      2021-06-28 (2344) 310MB -
  latest/candidate: 3.0.16                      2021-06-28 (2344) 310MB -
  latest/beta:      3.0.18-rc-38-gcc4c37ebb3    2022-09-20 (3021) 335MB -
  latest/edge:      4.0.0-dev-20763-g15bf12a0f3 2022-09-20 (3022) 659MB -

Add the --verbose option to info to retrieve more details on the snap, including expanded notes and details on which base the snap uses.

The final part of the above output lists the channels for the snap. Channels are an important snap concept because they define which release of a snap is installed and tracked for updates. The latest/stable channel is used by default, but opting to install from a different channel is easily accomplished.

Install the snap

Installing a snap is straightforward. Type snap install followed by the name of the snap you wish to install:

sudo snap install vlc

As mentioned in the previous step, a channel can be specified to install a version of the snap that follows a different build and release cycle, such as the latest/beta to trade some stability for the latest cutting edge features:

channels can be used to install a version of the snap that follows a more cutting edge feature release, such as a beta or edge channel,

sudo snap install --channel=edge vlc

After installation, the channel being tracked can be changed with:

$ sudo snap switch --channel=stable vlc

Which snaps are released to which channels is entirely up to the snap publisher.

Using sudo: The sudo command ensures the command following it is executed as the root administrative user.

While not a requirement for using snaps, creating an Ubuntu One/SSO account, and authenticating once with snap login <email-address>, removes the need to use sudo with snap commands.

Run apps and commands from the snap

A snap’s installed applications can be found under /snap/bin, and subsequently, often added to $PATH. This makes commands directly accessible from the command line.

For example, the command installed via the VLC snap is simply vlc:

$ which vlc
/snap/bin/vlc

If executing a command directly doesn’t work, try prefixing it with the /snap/bin path:

$ /snap/bin/vlc

Connect an interface

Interfaces are one of snaps best features because they allow (or deny) access to a resource outside of a snap’s confinement.

An interface is most commonly used to enable a snap to access a webcam, sound playback or recording, your network, and your $HOME directory. But which interfaces a snap requires, and provides, is very much dependent on the type of snap and its own requirements.

To see which interfaces a snap is using, and which interfaces it could use but isn’t, type snap connections <snapname>:

$ snap connections vlc
Interface       Plug                   Slot                 Notes
audio-playback  vlc:audio-playback     :audio-playback      manual
audio-record    vlc:audio-record       -                    -
camera          vlc:camera             -                    -
desktop         vlc:desktop            :desktop             -
home            vlc:home               :home                -
(...)

In the above output, the camera interface is not connected because its slot is empty. This means VLC cannot access any connected cameras.

VLC can access the user’s /home directory because the home interface is connected to the system $HOME directory (denoted by the :home slot name).

Where snaps store data

Most snaps use strict confinement to isolate both their execution environments and their data from your system (see Snap Confinement for further details). A confined snap that needs user-access to files will most likely use the home interface to bridge this confinement gap, allowing you to save and load files from your home directory automatically.

You can see whether the home interface is being used in the output to snap connections <snap name>:

$ snap connections nethack
Interface  Plug          Slot   Notes
home       nethack:home  :home  -

Regardless of whether the home interface is used or not, a snap can also store user data, such as a database or configuration files, within its own directory under $HOME/snap. Data within this snap-specific directory is stored in one of two further directories, depending on whether the data needs to be tied to a specific release, or whether it can be used across multiple releases.

Data for a specific release is stored within a directory named after the revision of a release. This is a numeric value, such as 55 or 56. The data for each specific revision is often copied from one release to the next, so that reverting from one revision to a previous revision will restore a working configuration, for instance. The snap directory also contains a symbolic link called current that points to the snap revision currently active.

Data that can be shared across releases is stored in a directory called common, and might include image or audio caches, or a database. This data is not copied between releases.

For more details on where snaps store their data, see Data locations.

List installed snaps

Use snap list to show a list of snaps installed on your system:

$ snap list
Name     Version        Rev   Tracking  Publisher   Notes
core     16-2.35.1      5419  beta      canonical✓  core
spotify  1.0.88.353     19    stable    spotify✓    -
vlc      3.0.4          555   stable    videolan✓   -

Some snaps, such as core listed above, are installed by automatically by snapd to satisfy the requirements of other snaps.

Update an installed snap

Snaps are updated automatically. However, to manually check for updates, use the following command:

$ sudo snap refresh vlc

The above will check the channel being tracked by the snap. If a newer version of the snap is available, it will be downloaded and installed.

Changing the channel being tracked and refreshing the snap can be accomplished with a single command:

$ sudo snap refresh --channel=beta vlc

Updates are automatically installed within 6 hours of a revision being made to a tracked channel, keeping most systems up-to-date. This schedule can be tuned via configuration options.

Versions and revisions

Versions and revisions convey different details about one specific release of a snap:

  • Version : the version of the software being packaged, as assigned by the developers
  • Revision: the sequence number assigned by the store when the snap file was uploaded

The version is a string that was assigned to a project by its developers, according to their development practices. It tells the user what content to expect from a snap. The revision is an automatic number assigned by the Snap store, giving the snap a unique identity within the channel.

Neither the version nor the revision enforce an order of release. The local system will simply attempt to install whatever snap is recommended by the publisher in the channel being tracked.

Revert to a previously used snap

A snap may be reverted to a previously used revision with the snap revert command:

$ sudo snap revert vlc
vlc reverted to 3.0.5-1

This operation will revert both the snap revision and the configuration data associated with the software. If the previously used revision of the snap is from a different channel, that snap will be installed but the channel being tracked won’t change.

User data, such as data generated by the snap and stored in a database, is often stored in a common directory and will not be reverted. See Data locations for more details on what information is stored and where.

A snap won’t automatically update to a version previously reverted from, and the output from snap refresh will continue to state All snaps up to date. A reverted snap will be automatically updated when a new and different revision is made available by the publisher.

However, explicitly adding the snap name to snap refresh will update the snap, regardless of whether the latest revision was previously reverted from or not:

$ snap list --all vlc
Name  Version  Rev  Tracking  Publisher  Notes
vlc   3.0.5-1  768  stable    videolan✓  -
vlc   3.0.6    770  stable    videolan✓  disabled
$ sudo snap refresh
All snaps up to date.
$ sudo snap refresh vlc
vlc 3.0.6 from VideoLAN✓ refreshed

On an Ubuntu Core system, such as Ubuntu Core 18 and Ubuntu Core 16, reverting twice will work too. This is because snapd attempts to keep three revisions of a snap: the most recently installed plus the two previous installations. On classic systems like Ubuntu 18.04 LTS or Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, two revisions are retained by default. This behaviour can be modified with the refresh.retain system option.

List all available revisions

The following command lists all revisions available for all installed snaps, and also highlights which particular revisions are disabled at the moment:

snap list --all
Name          Version  Rev    Tracking          Publisher         Notes
alacritty     0.8.0    46     latest/stable     snapcrafters      classic
ascii-patrol  1.7      152    latest/stable     mr-gumix          disabled
ascii-patrol  1.7      159    latest/stable     mr-gumix          -
asciinema     2.1.0    32     latest/stable     asciinema         classic
asciinema     2.0.2    16     latest/stable     asciinema         disabled,classic
[...]

Adding a snap name to the snap list --all command will return results only for that snap:

$ snap list --all vlc
Name   Version         Rev   Tracking  Publisher   Notes
vlc    4.0.0-dev-4620  560   edge      videolan✓   disabled   
vlc    3.0.4           555   edge      videolan✓   -

A previously used snap that was reverted from will display disabled in the Notes column of the output.

Manually keeping track of which snap revisions available is generally unnecessary. A single revision will only ever be in use at a time, and snapd will remove old revisions automatically.

Create and restore a snapshot

A snapshot is a copy of the user, system and configuration data stored by snapd for one or more snaps on your system. This data can be found in $HOME/snap/<snap-name> and /var/snap/<snap-name> (see Data locations for more details).

Snapshots are generated manually with the snap save command and automatically when a snap is removed. A snapshot can be used to backup the state of your snaps, revert snaps to a previous state and to restore a fresh snapd installation to a previously saved state.

The snap save command creates a snapshot for all installed snaps, or if declared individually, specific snaps:

$ sudo snap save
Set  Snap         Age    Version               Rev   Size   Notes
30   core         1.00s  16-2.37~pre1          6229   250B  -
30   core18       886ms  18                    543    123B  -
30   go           483ms  1.10.7                3092   387B  -
30   vlc          529ms  3.0.6                 770   882kB  -

The restore command replaces the current user, system and configuration data with the corresponding data from the specified snapshot:

$ sudo snap restore 30
Restored snapshot #30.

By default, this command restores all the data for all the snaps in a snapshot. You can restore data for specific snaps by simply listing them after the command, and for specific users with the --users=<usernames> argument.

Excluding a snap’s system and configuration data from snap restore is not currently possible.

See Snapshots for further details on creating, exporting, importing and validating snapshots.

Disable and enable snaps

If a snaps is temporarily undesired, it can be disabled and later enabled again. This avoids having to remove and reinstall them in the system:

$ sudo snap disable vlc
vlc disabled

$ sudo snap enable vlc
vlc enabled

Remove a snap

To remove a snap from your system, along with its internal user, system and configuration data, use the remove command:

$ sudo snap remove vlc
vlc removed

Add the --no-wait option to return immediately to the command prompt and run the removal in the background.

By default, all of a snap’s revisions are also removed. To remove a specific revision, add the --revision=<revision-number> argument to the remove command.

Prior to removal (except on Ubuntu Core systems), a snap’s internal user, system, and configuration data is saved as a snapshot (snapd 2.39+), and retained for 31 days.

To remove a snap without generating a snapshot, use the additional --purge argument:

$ sudo snap remove vlc --purge
vlc removed

However, a snapshot can be used to restore the state of your snap upon reinstallation. See Snapshots for further details.


Last updated 3 days ago.