Updating Ubuntu OS & Applications: The Essentials Any Ubuntu User Should Know

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updating ubuntuUpdating your Ubuntu operating system and its installed applications is a fairly simple process, but it works very differently from Windows. All the software you install from the Ubuntu Software Center comes from Ubuntu’s software repositories, so you can get updates in one place – think of it like an app store for your computer. When a new version of Ubuntu is released, you’ll be able to upgrade right from within Ubuntu.

There are two different types of Ubuntu releases and released versions of Ubuntu only receive certain types of software updates. However, you can easily get the latest versions of your favorite applications, even if Ubuntu doesn’t include them yet.

Operating System Updates

Canonical releases new versions of Ubuntu every six months, in October and April. The versions numbers are tied to their release dates. The most recent release is Ubuntu 12.10, which was released in the tenth month of 2012 (October 2012). The next release will be Ubuntu 13.04, which will be released in the fourth month of 2013 (April 2013).

There are two different types of releases. Most releases are standard releases, which are supported with security updates for 18 months. There are also long-term support releases, known as LTS versions. An LTS release of Ubuntu will be supported with security updates for five years. LTS releases are designed for corporations and educational institutions that don’t want to upgrade frequently, and are released every two years. As an individual user, you probably want to use the latest standard release of Ubuntu (released every six months) to have the latest and greatest software.

When a new version of Ubuntu is released, you can download it as an ISO file from Ubuntu’s website and install it over your existing Ubuntu system. However, you can also upgrade directly from within Ubuntu. When a new version is available, you’ll see an upgrade notification window. Tell Ubuntu you’d like to upgrade and it will automatically download the new software and upgrade your Ubuntu system to the latest version.

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You can configure Ubuntu to check for the latest release or the latest LTS release. This setting can be changed from the Software Sources dialog box (type Software Sources into the Dash and press Enter to open it). Use the Notify me of a new Ubuntu version dropdown box on the Updates tab to select your preferred version type.

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Application Updates

Ubuntu regularly releases new software updates for the current release of Ubuntu. These packages contain updated versions of software with security fixes and other bug fixes.

New versions of software with big feature updates are generally reserved for the next release of Ubuntu. For example, Ubuntu 12.10 includes LibreOffice 3.6, while Ubuntu 12.04 still includes LibreOffice 3.5. When LibreOffice 3.7 is released, it won’t be added to the current version of Ubuntu – it will be added to the next release of Ubuntu, Ubuntu 13.04. This allows the developers to focus on putting a new system together and test it for bugs.

To get the latest security updates and bug fixes, use the Software Updater application  Ubuntu checks for updates once per day and will automatically open the Software Updater when updates are available, but you can also open the application yourself to check for updates.

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You can click the Details of updates option to see  all the updated packages that will be installed and view their changelogs, if you want more information.

In a future release of Ubuntu, software updates may be integrated into the Ubuntu Software Center.

Updating From The Terminal

The Software Updater application and the Ubuntu Software Center all use the apt-get package manager in the background. If you want to get your hands a bit dirtier, you can skip the graphical programs and use apt-get in the Linux terminal to update your software.

To get started, open a terminal window and run the following command:

sudo apt-get update

The above command doesn’t actually update your software. It only instructs apt-get to download updated information about available software. (The sudo part of the command runs the command with root, or administrator, privileges.)

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After running the above command, use the following command to update all your installed software with the new versions available in your package repositories:

sudo apt-get upgrade

Apt-get will tell you which packages will be upgraded. Type Y and apt-get will upgrade the packages.

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Other Application Updates

Let’s say you want the latest version of a particular application right now. For example, perhaps you’re using Ubuntu 12.04 but you really want the latest version of LibreOffice. You can use a Personal Package Archive, or PPA, which is an unofficial software repository that isn’t maintained by Ubuntu’s developers. PPAs generally contain software packages that aren’t yet in Ubuntu and bleeding-edge versions of software that hasn’t made it into Ubuntu’s main repositories yet. The alternative to PPAs is generally compiling the software yourself, which can be daunting for new users and is obnoxious for even more experienced users.

To get started with PPAs and learn more about them, read our overview of PPAs on Ubuntu. Or, for more information about Ubuntu, download our free beginner’s guide to Ubuntu.

Do you have any other questions about how software updating works on Ubuntu? Or do you have a favorite PPA or two you’d like to share? Leave a comment and join the discussion!

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