Flatpak repositories are the primary mechanism for publishing applications, so that they can be installed by users.
Some aspects of repositories are addressed by other sections of the documentation. Basic commands for adding, removing and inspecting repositories can be found in the Using Flatpak section. Additionally, the section on Flatpak Builder covers the most common method for adding applications to repositories.
To use a repository to publish an application, it is possible to either host your own (covered in the next section, Hosting a repository) or use Flathub, the primary publishing and hosting service for Flatpak applications.
Software center applications like GNOME Software or KDE Discover allow browsing repositories, and can also dynamically promote new or popular applications. If you use Flathub, the repository will typically have already been added by users, so adding an application to the repository is sufficient to make it available to them.
.flatpakref files can be used in combination with repositories to provide
an additional, easy way for users to install an application, often by clicking
on the file or a download link.
.flatpakref files are simple description files that include
information about a Flatpak application. An example:
Title=fr.free.Homebank from flathub
As can be seen, the file includes the ID of the application and the location
of the repository that contains it, as well a link to information about
the repository that provides the application’s runtime.
files therefore contain all the information needed to install an application.
.flatpakref files should include the base64-encoded version of the
GPG key that was used to sign the repository. This can be obtained with
the following command:
$ base64 --wrap=0 < key.gpg
One advantage of
.flatpakref files is that they can be used to install
applications even if their repository hasn’t been added by the user. In this
case the repository that contains the application will either be automatically
installed, or the user will be prompted to install it. This will also happen
if the necessary runtime isn’t present.
.flatpakref can be used to install applications from the command
line as well as with graphical software installers. This is done with the
flatpak install command, which accepts both local and remote
.flatpakref files. For example:
$ flatpak install https://flathub.org/repo/appstream/fr.free.Homebank.flatpakref
Or, if the same file has been downloaded:
$ flatpak install fr.free.Homebank.flatpakref
Flatpak repositories are similar to Git repositories, in that they store every version of an application by keeping a record of the difference between each version. This makes updating efficient, since only the difference (or “delta”) between two versions needs to be downloaded when an update is performed.
When a new version of an application is added to a repository, it immediately
becomes available to users. Software centers are able to automatically check
for and install new versions. Those who are using the command line have to
flatpak update to check for and install new versions of
any applications they have installed.