Linux package management has come a long way from the nightmare it used to be. Still, the package managers provided by distributions aren’t always perfect. The Snap and Flatpak formats have made it much easier to install software no matter what distro you’re running.
Both Snap and Flatpak files are often available on a given app’s website, but both of these formats have their own centralized marketplaces. Which one is right for you? It’s not an easy question to answer.
Snaps and Flatpaks Explained
Both Snaps and Flatpaks contain not just an application but the libraries and support files it needs to run. This means you don’t have to worry about manually installing dependencies or even if they’re easily available on your system.
Snaps were created by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. For this reason, some people see Snaps as a Ubuntu-only application, but you can install
snapd on any system.
Flatpaks are similar but aren’t tied to any one company. That said, major companies like Red Hat do contribute to the format.
Both of these formats also have their own centralized app stores, and that’s what we’re looking at here.
Technically, the Snap Store currently supports more distros than Flathub. That said, various distributions have chosen both the Snap Store and Flathub. As you may imagine, Ubuntu opts to use the Snap Store.
Other major distributions have opted for the Flatpak format and Flathub with it. These distributions include Fedora and Elementary Linux, as well as the PureOS Debian variant from Purism.
If you’re looking to install games and non-free software, the Snap Store is where you’ll want to go. Not everyone uses Linux because it is free and open source, and these people may want to install proprietary software. If this is the case, the Snap Store is the only place to find it.
Flathub is more limited in that most software available via the service is open source. That’s not always the case, but it is common. This doesn’t stop companies from offering their own Flatpak packages; you just won’t find it via the Flathub service.
Snaps are limited in two ways. First, they’re directly tied to the Snap Store and won’t work without it. This keeps companies from offering Snaps that aren’t tied to the store.
The second is that the Snap Store is supported entirely by Canonical. Ubuntu is incredibly popular. and Canonical is doing well, so this means you don’t have to worry about the company disappearing in the near future. That said, Canonical may one day decide it doesn’t want to continue the Snap Store, at which point your Snaps are more or less useless.
Flatpak doesn’t have either of these problems. Companies can offer packages in the Flatpak format without giving a second thought to Flathub. Even better, if Flathub disappears, your Flatpaks will still work.
The truth is, there’s no real reason to pick just one of these and stick with it. They’re both useful and don’t conflict with each other. That said, if you want to pick one, the Snap Store is better if you’re looking for commercial apps, even if they’re free. Flathub is better if you’re looking for strictly open-source software.
One example of where the Snap Store might be better is when you’re looking for games.