Are There Benefits to Manually Installing Software?

Linux servers have a distinct advantage over most proprietary operating systems because of their extensive package management systems. Whether a server uses YUM or APT, it is much easier and faster to install and update software than using traditional manual installation methods. This raises the question: is it ever a good idea to install software manually in Linux?

There are two types of software packages that a user might manually install in Linux. The first is a program that has no binary packages for the distribution you are running. In such a case, you may be forced to build the software from source. The second type of program is one that is distributed in a generic binary form. Many proprietary software vendors will offer generic Linux binaries that typically work on most current Linux distributions.

In the above-mentioned scenarios, you may have no choice but to manually install the software, but there may be some situations where you might consider manually installing software even when binary packages are available for your distribution. Some of those situations are:

  • The package in your distribution is older than the latest available from the developer
  • Your distribution’s package is missing some key components (especially true if there are legal implications, such as certain video codec support in FFMPEG)
  • In some cases, a program compiled from source may get better performance
  • The package in your distribution has a major bug that you cannot wait for the developers to fix and send downstream. You can apply a patch to a version compiled from source.

When installing files manually, you always run the risk of breaking something, but in some cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.