Linux application sandboxing and distribution framework
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Flatpak icon

Flatpak is a system for building, distributing, and running sandboxed desktop applications on Linux.

See for more information.

Community discussion happens in #flatpak on Freenode and on the mailing list.

Read documentation for the flatpak commandline tools and for the libflatpak library API.


Flatpak welcomes contributions from anyone! Here are some ways you can help:


Flatpak uses a traditional autoconf-style build mechanism. To build just do

 ./configure [args]
 make install

Dependencies you will need include: autoconf, automake, libtool, bison, gettext, gtk-doc, gobject-introspection, libcap, libarchive, libxml2, libsoup, gpgme, polkit, libXau, ostree, json-glib, appstream, libseccomp (or their devel packages).

Most configure arguments are documented in ./configure --help. However, there are some options that are a bit more complicated.

Flatpak relies on a project called Bubblewrap for the low-level sandboxing. By default, an in-tree copy of this is built (distributed in the tarball or using git submodules in the git tree). This will build a helper called flatpak-bwrap. If your system has a recent enough version of Bubblewrap already, you can use --with-system-bubblewrap to use that instead.

Bubblewrap can run in two modes, either using unprivileged user namespaces or setuid mode. This requires that the kernel supports this, which some distributions disable. For instance, Debian and Arch (linux kernel v4.14.5 or later), support user namespaces with the kernel.unprivileged_userns_clone sysctl enabled.

If unprivileged user namespaces are not available, then Bubblewrap must be built as setuid root. This is believed to be safe, as it is designed to do this. Any build of Bubblewrap supports both unprivileged and setuid mode, you just need to set the setuid bit for it to change mode.

However, this does complicate the installation a bit. If you pass --with-priv-mode=setuid to configure (of Flatpak or Bubblewrap) then make install will try to set the setuid bit. However that means you have to run make install as root. Alternatively, you can pass --enable-sudo to configure and it will call sudo when setting the setuid bit. Alternatively you can enable setuid completely outside of the installation, which is common for example when packaging Bubblewrap in a .deb or .rpm.

There are some complications when building Flatpak to a different prefix than the system-installed version. First of all, the newly built Flatpak will look for system-installed flatpaks in $PREFIX/var/lib/flatpak, which will not match existing installed flatpaks. You can use --with-system-install-dir=/var/lib/flatpak to make both installations use the same location.

Secondly, Flatpak ships with a root-privileged policykit helper for system-installation, called flatpak-system-helper. This is dbus activated (on the system-bus) and if you install in a non-standard location it is likely that this will not be found by dbus and policykit. However, if the system installation is synchronized, you can often use the system installed helper instead - at least if the two versions are close in versions.

Floor plan

The flatpak project consists of multiple pieces, and it can be a bit challenging to find your way around at first. Here is a quick intro to the major components of the repo:

  • common: contains the library, libflatpak. It also contains various pieces of code that are shared between the library, the client and the services. Non-public code can be recognized by having a -private.h header file.
  • app: the commandline client. Each command has a flatpak-builtins- source file
  • data: D-Bus interface definition files
  • session-helper: The flatpak-session-helper service, which provides various helpers for the sandbox setup at runtime
  • system-helper: The flatpak-system-helper service, which runs as root on the system bus and allows non-root users to modify system installations
  • portal: The Flatpak portal service, which lets sandboxed apps request the creation of new sandboxes
  • doc: The sources for the documentation, both man pages and library documentation
  • tests: The testsuite