Why Canonical’s Snap-Based Immutable Ubuntu Is a Good Idea

Immutability and snaps are two of the most controversial elements in the Linux community, but Ubuntu may achieve a winning formula by combining both....
Why Canonical’s Snap-Based Immutable Ubuntu Is a Good Idea
Written by Matt Milano
  • Immutability and snaps are two of the most controversial elements in the Linux community, but Ubuntu may achieve a winning formula by combining both.

    Snap is Ubuntu’s containerized package format that, unlike native packages, contains all the necessary dependencies within the app container. This allows long-term support distros, like Ubuntu LTS, to still have the latest and greatest applications. Snaps can also be more secure than traditional packages since the apps are sandboxed.

    An immutable distro is one where the root file system is immutable, and the various apps are installed via snaps and Flatpaks. That’s not to say it is impossible to install a native app, but it takes additional steps compared to a traditional distro. Since snaps and Flatpaks are self-contained and do not impact the underlying system, they are perfectly suited for immutable distros.

    Immutable distros have the advantage of being more stable and secure since nothing can easily change the underlying system.

    The Advantage of Snaps

    One of the main advantages of snaps is that they are not restricted to desktop apps. The Linux kernel, terminal apps, drivers, desktop apps, and more can all be packaged as snaps, unlike the competing Flatpaks, which are only suited for desktop apps.

    This single advantage makes snaps an appealing option for an immutable distro since it solves one of the biggest issues with ones that rely on Flatpaks. Because Flatpak only covers desktop apps, users still have to rely on native apps. As a result, immutable distros that primarily use Flatpaks force users to rely on a combination of Flatpaks and native apps, and often Distrobox, or Podman and Docker containers.

    In contrast, a snap-powered immutable Ubuntu significantly simplifies the process for users by giving them a single format to worry about, one that is used for every part of the system.

    An Immutable Snap-Based Distro Is Exactly What Linux Needs

    There’s no doubt that snaps are not as popular as Flatpaks, primarily for a couple of reasons:

    • Snapcraft, the central snap store, is a centralized store controlled by Canonical. This makes many open-source advocates uncomfortable. Never mind that snaps are still open source, the fact that the maker of Ubuntu controls the backend store is enough to turn some people off.
    • Snaps have traditionally not performed as well as native apps or Flatpaks, especially on the first run. This issue has been largely solved and would also likely be mitigated even more by the entire system running as snaps.
    • Users also disagree with Ubuntu’s decision to install a snap instead of a native app in some cases, even when the user is explicitly trying to install a native version.

    I personally have never been a big fan of snaps, primarily for the reasons listed above. Despite these disadvantages, a snap-based immutable Ubuntu could very well be the next big thing that makes it easy for Mac and Windows users to migrate over.

    Having an extremely stable, secure system, combined with a self-contained packaging format that provides the latest and greatest packages, could be the key to making Linux approachable to a whole new generation of users. I certainly would be willing to give snap another chance in that context.

    Ubuntu helped revolutionize Linux when it first appeared on the scene, and I believe it will do so again when its snap-based immutable version is released next year.

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