How to manually install an app on Ubuntu

Posted on: Saturday, Jan 27, 2018

You can install many applications on Ubuntu through its package manager. This is usually a very good way to install apps. It's easy and keeping them updated is also easy. However, there are occasional times when you need to install an Ubuntu application manually. Sometimes that's the only way it's available or sometimes the app refreshes frequently and you can't get the version you want through the package manager.

Firefox Developer Edition (FDE) is one such app. There is a PPA available for FDE, but installing FDE through the package manager overwrites the existing Firefox installation and you're likely to not get the latest version of FDE. This article shows how to install FDE on Ubuntu without disturbing your existing Firefox installation.

Beware that unstalling apps manually also means you need to keep them updated manually. The package manager doesn't know about them and won't refresh them for you. Generally, updating a manually-installed app simply means installing the newer version.

Shortly after writing this article I realized what a hassle it is to go through these steps manually each time you need to refresh an application installation. This article provides a reusable Bash script for the steps described here.

To install FDE manually:

  1. Download the latest FDE version. These instructions assume the download is in the ~/Downloads/firefox directory.

  2. Extract the tar file:

    $ cd ~/Downloads
    $ tar xvjf firefox-59.0b4.tar.bz2 

    This unzips the file into a ~/Downloads/firefox directory. Note the download is not a gzip file, but rather a bZip2 file. Thus you need to use tar's xvjf flags instead of the xvzf flags you'd typically use for a gzip file.

    gzip (.gz)  =  X-Ray, Victor, Zulu, Foxtrot
    bZip2 (.bz2) = X-Ray, Victor, Juliet, Foxtrot
  3. Create target directory in the /opt directory for the FDE:

    $ cd /opt
    $ mkdir firefox-dev

    Provide the sudo password when prompted.

    For Windows expats, Ubuntu's /opt directory is generally used to store software on your PC that isn't known to the Ubuntu package manager (Linux lore says the name opt derives from "optional".) While, as you'll see here, installing software on Ubuntu is a little more fiddly than it is on Windows, it's also a lot more self-contained and easy to remove if you don't want to keep using it. Ubuntu doesn't have a registry like Windows and its apps don't invade your PC like kudzu!

  4. Copy FDE files to the /opt/firefox-dev directory:

    $ cd ~/Downloads
    $ mv firefox/* /opt/firefox-dev

    You can now delete the zip file from your ~/Downloads directory.

  5. With the FDE binaries now in the /opts/firefox-dev directory FDE should launch. If it doesn't, double-check each previous step. Don't continue until it does launch!

    $ cd /opt/firefox-dev 
    $ ./firefox       
  6. Create the following application .desktop file in the ~/.local/share/applications directory and make it executable:

    $ cd ~/.local/share/applications
    $ touch firefox-dev.desktop
    $ chmod +x firefox-dev.desktop

    Open the firefox-dev.desktop file with Vim or some other text editor and paste the following contents into it:

    [Desktop Entry]
    Name=Firefox Developer 
    GenericName=Firefox Developer
    Comment=Firefox Developer Edition Web Browser.

    firefox-dev.desktop file. 

    After saving the file you should now be able to search for FDE with Ubuntu's application launcher. It and (if it's installed) your original version of Firefox are available.

    Note: It's a good idea to test the value you provide to the Exec key on the command line and confirm the location of the app's icon before creating the .desktop file. If you misspell something, it fails silently!

  7. If you also want a desktop shortcut for FDE, copy ~/.local/share/applications/firefox-dev.desktop to the ~/Desktop directory.

Launching FDE from the command line

To launch FDE from the command line, create the following text file named fde

#!/usr/bin/env bash

if [ $# -eq 0 ]
    /opt/firefox-dev/firefox &>/dev/null
    /opt/firefox-dev/firefox $1 &>/dev/null

Bash script to launch FDE

and save it to /usr/local/bin. Make it executable with:

chmod +x fde

To open index.html in a project folder:

$ fde index.html

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