Playing MP3 music files in Linux - Tutorial

Updated: August 28, 2008

One of the most troubling issues for any Windows user considering moving over to Linux can be summed in the following question: Will my music, movies, documents still work? The answer is yes.

It is possible to enjoy all the familiar comfort and accessibility of Windows in Linux, without any special tricks or advanced knowledge of the dreaded command line. It is a simple matter of minutes, if not seconds. In fact, believe it or not, being able to enjoy all your favorite stuff is much simpler in Linux than in Windows! Now, I'm going to prove this to you.

Trying to play an MP3 file

Let's say you have just freshly installed Ubuntu. The first thing you want to do is test the quality of music by playing some of your files - all of which happen to be in the MP3 format, legal and moral issues aside. So, you open a media player. There are several choices available. Let's say you open the Rhythmbox music player, a great choice as any.

MP3 rhythmbox media player

The next step is to load a file of your choice.

Missing codecs

Rhythmbox does not support MP3 file format out of the box. The player will popup a message, asking for your permission to search for the suitable codec. The search is completely safe; only programs in the official repositories (and other sources you may have approved) will be checked.

MP3 search codec message

Install multimedia codecs

After a few moments, you will be presented with a number of choices. You should select all available choices to make your player capable of supporting as many formats as possible. However, the choice is entirely up to you.

MP3 install multimedia codecs

Confirm install

Since some of the codecs are proprietary and/or their use may break laws in some countries, you are asked to confirm your choices.

MP3 confirm codec install

Ready to install

After you confirm your selections - both codecs in this case, you're ready to install.

MP3 ready to install

Installation & playback

Depending on your Internet connection, the installation should take a few moments. Once the codecs are installed, you should immediately start enjoying your music. The best song to test your audio playback is the legendary Shock The Monkey, by Peter Gabriel.

MP3 Peter Gabriel Shock The Monkey

Other players

Some media players come with MP3 playback support out of the box. Two excellent choices are the VLC player and Amarok, which although made for the KDE desktop, works quite well in Gnome. Here's a screenshot of Amarok:

MP3 Amarok player

VLC also has the merits of being cross-platform, allowing you to use it in Windows, too, capable of playing a staggering array of formats, both audio and video, making it an ideal one-for-all choice, and it ignores the DVD playback regional codes, saving you the headache of thinking twice when buying DVDs abroad somewhere.


Finding and installing music codecs is extremely simple in Ubuntu. It's even much simpler than Windows, because: a) you did not have to visit a website and manually download and install the codec b) you have no worries about security, whereas it is well known that many Windows codecs are bundled with adware software and similar joys, making your searches and choices a delicate matter.

Worried? No reason. Come and enjoy the simple beauty of Linux.


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