Zero install is a marvellous system that I’ve known about for a little while, but only just started to use. It’s a package manager (like apt or yum), with two important differences:

  1. Packages are distributed and named by URL - there is no single repository, just the internet. This makes for potential trust issues, but it’s far better than (for example) launchpad PPAs, because…
  2. Packages are installed and run as regular users. No root access required.

It also has some additional perks:

  • Cleanup is trivial - just clean out your zero-install cache.
  • Making packages is pretty simple.

For its convenience, using zero-install puts some restraints on you:

  1. No triggers. You can’t run a script on install / uninstall, because there are no such events - merely “run”. That means your program has to be self-contained, and must deal with any first-run issues in the code itself. Probably not a bad idea though.
  2. No arbitrary placement of files. I’ve got a bunch of customisations that (for example) put things in /etc/profile.d. You can’t do that sort of thing with zero-install, not even in the user’s home directory (e.g ~/.config). This means it’s not a great solution for configuration-based packages that coexist on the filesystem in well-known directories, so I certainly don’t see it replacing APT for that sort of stuff any time soon. But it’s certainly an excellent tool for delivering both programs and libraries.

I’ve put together my first 3 zero-install packages, and hopefully there will be more to come. You can find them here:

Two of them are existing software, and the third is a tiny utility for working with zero-install itself. You can click on the xml files in that directory listing for an overview of what each package does.