Get Faster Download Speeds for Ubuntu Packages with Synaptic

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 08, 2010

Ubuntu has a great network of mirrors all over the world, allowing you to download updates from a server geographically close to wherever you are. However, in the age of broadband, the speed of your connection and how close you are to a server has less to do with the speed of downloads than the speed and capacity of the server you are downloading from. Some sites have amazingly fast servers, and some sites have horribly slow ones. Installing new software from the Ubuntu repositories can be made considerably faster by using Synaptic Package Manager to choose the best server.

For some reason, Synaptic has almost hidden this little gem. To get to it, click on the "Settings" menu, then select the "Repositories" menu item. This will open a new window with a selection of options. Next to "Download From:" there is a drop down menu, if you select "Other..." that will open a new window showing a list of all of the mirrors that Ubuntu knows about, and a button that says "Select Best Server" and Synaptic will begin the testing.

Software sources window:

Choosing best server window:

During the tests, Synaptic will go out to all the Ubuntu mirrors in its list and test the speed of your connection to each. Since the tool is testing each server, it can take a few minutes to complete. When it is finished, select "Choose Server" to accept the hilighted server in the list, close the Repositories window, and then "Reload" in the main window to download the list of packages in the new mirror. If you have been using the default Ubuntu server, you should see a significant speed boost from the new mirror.

A quick word of caution about this tool. Running the "Select Best Server" tool will modify your /etc/apt/sources.list file to point to a new server, and saves the old file as Sometimes when you select a new mirror you might find that you can no longer get updates or install packages. This happens when a mirror gets out of sync with the main repository. To fix this, you can either run the "Select Best Server" tool again, select another server manually, or exit Synaptic and copy the file to overwrite sources.list.

I do not use the main Ubuntu servers for downloads any more. Moving my repositories off to faster, less used servers has increased my download speeds to what was worse than dial-up to 1.5MB.