One of the main attractions of Linux has got to be the fact that the operating system and the software it runs are free. Unlike proprietary systems, software updates on Ubuntu are absolutely free - you never have to worry about shelling out money for the latest and greatest applications or upgrades.

In this guide, we're going to take a look at the way Ubuntu releases updates. Ubuntu's operating system updates follow a particular cycle, but the release schedule can be a little confusing to the uninitiated. We're also going to go over the methods you can use in order to keep your system up to date, both via command line and GUI.

In this tutorial you will learn:
Upgrade Ubuntu 20.04
Upgrade Ubuntu 20.04
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Installed or upgraded Ubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa
Software None
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # - requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ - requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

Ubuntu's release cycle


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Ubuntu publishes LTS (Long Term Support) releases every two years. Each LTS release is fully supported with security patches and new updates for five years. By then, if you haven't already, you should upgrade your install to the latest LTS release so that things continue to run smoothly. This process is free and generally only takes a few minutes (with a decent internet connection).

It's possible to continue using an LTS release and receiving security updates beyond the five year window by subscribing to Ubuntu's ESM (Extended Security Maintenance) program. Doing so should only be applicable in very few edge cases, and the average user doesn't need to worry about it - just upgrade to the latest LTS for free.

Ubuntu Update support cycle
Ubuntu Update support cycle
Source: ubuntu.com/about/release-cycle

The screenshot above shows the support window for a few of the most recent LTS releases, but also lists a few other versions that Ubuntu calls interim releases. These interim releases are like beta versions of upcoming LTS releases, meant for developers and enterprises to test the upcoming operating system with the current software they rely on. It's helpful to verify that everything is working smoothly before the full version is finally released.

Canonical (the publisher of Ubuntu) says that 95% of Ubuntu installs are LTS releases. Most people will never need to worry about interim releases; they're only handy if you need a sneak preview of what's coming up in the next major release of Ubuntu. Interim releases are only supported for nine months, as they're really only meant for brief testing purposes.

Check update information



You can always check the support duration of your current Ubuntu installation with the following command:

$ ubuntu-support-status

The screenshot below shows the support expiration of our currently installed Ubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa. This happens to be an interim release, and the screenshot indicates support for the next nine months:

Ubuntu 20.04 update support status
Ubuntu 20.04 update support status

If you'd like to quickly determine what version of Ubuntu you're running so you can compare it with what's available at Canonical's site, the following Linux command will give you the information you're looking for:

$ lsb_release -a
See what version of Ubuntu we are running
See what version of Ubuntu we are running


Update Ubuntu via command line

Ubuntu has a graphical application specifically for applying updates, but updating with the command line provides us with a bit more transparency and control. Still, if you'd prefer the GUI route, we'll cover that in the next section.

  1. First, open a terminal window and type the following command to update the packages index list:
    $ sudo apt update
    
  2. This part isn't necessary, but if you'd like to see which packages are due for an update, you can type this command:
    $ apt list --upgradable
    
    A full list of upgradeable packages
    A full list of upgradeable packages

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  4. If you wanted to update packages individually, you could always use apt install PACKAGE-NAME. Or, to install updates for all packages on your system, type:
    $ sudo apt upgrade
    

Once the package updates are finished installing, your operating system is fully upgraded.

Kept back packages

Some packages rely on other packages in order to function properly. If you have instances of this on your operating system, some updates may be "kept back" in order to maintain functionality with other packages. In this case, you can update those packages individually or run the following command to update them all:

$ sudo apt dist-upgrade

No Longer Required Packages

The upgrade command we ran earlier doesn't remove outdated/obsolete or unused packages. We need to run another command if we want to remove packages from our system that we no longer need:

$ sudo apt autoremove
Remove obsolete packages
Remove obsolete packages


Update Ubuntu via graphical user interface

If you'd prefer to bypass the command line, it's also possible to update Ubuntu via the GUI.

  1. To get started, open the Applications menu and find the Software Updater.

    Click on Software Updater
    Click on Software Updater


  2. Open Software Updater and wait for it to search for new updates.

    Ubuntu Software Updater first needs to download an updated package index list
    Ubuntu Software Updater first needs to download an updated package index list
  3. Optionally, you can click on "Details of updates" to get an itemized list of what Ubuntu plans to update.

    View details of updates
    View details of updates

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  5. In this menu, you can select or deselect the individual packages you wish to update (or not). For more details regarding a package update, highlight the package in question and click on "Technical description."

    View technical description of updates
    View technical description of updates
  6. Once ready, click on "Install Now" to begin the upgrade.
  7. You'll be required to enter your administrator password before proceeding.

    Root password is required for software updates
    Root password is required for software updates


  8. The Ubuntu update should now be in progress. Click on "Details" to see more information about the running system update.

    Click on Details to see more information
    Click on Details to see more information
    View more details about what Ubuntu Software Updater is doing
    View more details about what Ubuntu Software Updater is doing

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  10. Congratulations, your Ubuntu system is now up to date, as the final window should confirm. Software Updater may advise you to restart your system in order for the upgrade to complete.

    Updates have completed successfully on Ubuntu 20.04
    Updates have completed successfully on Ubuntu 20.04

Conclusion

In this guide, we saw how to upgrade our Ubuntu operating system via command line and graphical user interface. We also learned about Ubuntu's release schedule and how to ascertain information about our own operating system's support window.

Equipped with this information, you now understand Ubuntu's update release schedule and how to keep your own system upgraded with the most important system updates.

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