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Installing packages through apt ensures that you have a pre-compiled, working version of the package. It's generally a faster, more consistent way to install packages, and it uses less disk space. The downside to installing packages from apt is the extra effort required to create apt packages and the delay of waiting for those packages to propagate through the build farm.

Installing packages from source ensures that you have a very specific version of a package; either the very latest version or a specific version that you need for compatibility reasons. The downside is the additional compilation time.

The general best practice is to install any software you're actively developing from source, and to install your dependencies from apt. If your source packages declare their dependencies well, installing those dependencies from is a single rosdep command. If you are using source code from many repositories, you can define your workspace with a rosinstall file.

The general setup procedure for a new robot or a new system is then:

  • Install a base version of ROS from apt (robot, desktop or desktop-full depending on your preference)
  • Check out your source code or download your rosinstall file and use wstool to check out your source code
  • Use rosdep install --from-paths src -i from your workspace to install all of your dependencies from apt
  • Build your workspace