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

Chris Hoffman 07-11-2012

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 Your Guide to Ubuntu Repositories and Package Management Read More , so you can get updates in one place – think of it like an app store for your computer Before the Windows Store: Package Managers and Software Repositories App stores are everywhere these days. Whether you’re using iOS or Android, you can get all your apps from a single location and have them automatically update in a consistent way. If you’re using Mac... Read More . 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 Why You Should Always Keep Your Ubuntu Installation Updated [Linux] Read More .

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.

updating ubuntu


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.

updating ubuntu kernel

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 4 Things You'll Love About Ubuntu 12.04 The new version of Ubuntu–12.04, codename "Precise Pangolin"– is officially here. 12.04 improves on Unity's strengths, and addresses some of your old complaints. It's fast, includes new features desktop users will love, and, as always,... Read More 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.

updating ubuntu kernel

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 5 Great Tips for the Ubuntu Software Center [Linux] Read More .


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 An A-Z of Linux - 40 Essential Commands You Should Know Linux is the oft-ignored third wheel to Windows and Mac. Yes, over the past decade, the open source operating system has gained a lot of traction, but it’s still a far cry from being considered... Read More 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.)

updating ubuntu kernel


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.

updating ubuntu

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 How to Compile & Install TAR GZ & TAR BZ2 Files in Ubuntu Linux Read More , 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 What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained] Read More . Or, for more information about Ubuntu, download our free beginner’s guide to Ubuntu Ubuntu: A Beginner's Guide Curious about Ubuntu, but not sure where to start? Everything you could possibly need to get started with the latest version of Ubuntu is right here, written in easy-to-understand, plain English. Read More .

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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  1. Randall
    November 12, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Thanks for the article. Did you know that the world's biggest Ubuntu city is Vancouver? Want to learn more? Check us out here:

  2. Burt Philp
    November 9, 2012 at 12:13 am

    Thanks. This article was quite enlightening. Now I know what a PPA is.

  3. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I assume this is relevant for Mint too?

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      Mint's release schedule may be slightly different, but it's pretty much the same, yup.

  4. vineed gangadharan
    November 8, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Ubuntu i great i have it installed it on my pc next to win7,,,

  5. Chaos Emperor
    November 8, 2012 at 7:54 am

    I love ubuntu more than windows and mac.Ubuntu is awesome

  6. Jon Smith
    November 8, 2012 at 5:27 am

    oh nice but I already learned all this a while back, is there anything more advanced?

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      I'm not sure what more there is to learn -- you can compile and install your own software, but that's a huge pain. If you really want to have the bleeding edge, you can use the development version of Ubuntu.

  7. Boni Oloff
    November 8, 2012 at 3:55 am

    Linux become interesting for me. I am really excited about the System76 Gazzele, and doing some search about Linux. And even i don't like it before, then i decide to enter the giveaway after see how cool is the system.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      It's definitely a good idea to buy a laptop that support Linux. That way you don't have to deal with hardware that won't work properly.

  8. Zhong Jiang
    November 8, 2012 at 3:50 am

    Auto remove also cleans up the loose ends of updates.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm


      sudo apt-get autoremove

      Also shows up as packages that can be removed if you use the Synaptic package manager.

  9. Márcio Guerra
    November 8, 2012 at 1:54 am

    Recently I've created a USB disk to prompt my device now and then (I'm mainly a Windows user, but, luckily, well, unluckuly, my HDD "broke" and didn't started properly right after I'd created that USB disk) from an article here on MUO, and I would like to know, if you can tell me, if I need to do anything different to upgrade the disk, or even if it is possible. I've installed Peppermint into the disk... Still very noob in all this Linux world...

    Thank you!

    Márcio Guerra

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      November 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      If you're making a bootable USB then you can do the updates straight to the USB, assuming you have enough space. If not, well, the current version will serve you good enough until you get a hand on a new HDD.

      • Márcio Guerra
        November 9, 2012 at 6:13 am

        Hi! Thank you for the answer. Well, the OS in my USB drive allows me to surf the web and do minor stuff. I'm a graphic designer and need Photoshop and other Adobe products, however, and since it is a small drive, I believe 1GB, does it seem plausable to be updated that way?

        Thanks again!

        Márcio Guerra

        • Lisa Santika Onggrid
          November 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm

          Judging from your needs and the free space you have I'm actually against it. It is really small, and since you mentioned your hard drive failed I'd assume you currently keep your data there as well. The space is better off for your data (as a graphic designer you must have a lot of big graphic files, yes?).

          Using bigger USB or purchasing a new hard drive would be better, since you'd need a hard drive anyway.

        • Márcio Guerra
          November 10, 2012 at 1:00 am

          Aside from my pc's HDD I have 2 2TB external drives, one for me, other for my girlfriend (ok, we both have, eheheh) and I just use that USB to basic stuff... I've been using her mac to do work, since Linux is not what I obviously need, and I don't have any other files in the USB, although I recongnize that 1GB is very, very little space. I believe that it as around 350MB free now, but, if there is no big difference, and considering that Peppermint as proved itself stable and enough for my needs, perhaps I don't really need an update, right? I'd wish some real contestants to Adobe products, that would be something, for Linux users... GIMP does not provide what I need... Ok, a simple retouching, or even some more advanced retouch, but in the end, not enough...

          Anyway, thanks for the advice!


          Márcio Guerra

        • Chris Hoffman
          November 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm

          I'm not sure about updating Peppermint on a USB, but you can always insert it into another computer and flash the latest version onto the USB. Of course, you'll lose any personal data you have stored on it, so back that up first!

        • Márcio Guerra
          November 11, 2012 at 1:56 am

          Thanks, Chris! But like I've said, it didn't, and I don't know why, saved any information... Everytime I need to log into Google, FB, etc... But like also said, that version is enough, and I believe I might also be up to date with it, by the way... Only a month or two since I've created it...


          Márcio Guerra

        • Lisa Santika Onggrid
          November 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm

          I'm unable to reply your last comment, so here it is:

          That should do. Don't fix what ain't broke, yes?
          To me GIMP is quite good, but that being said, I'm not doing too much image editing than making banners or icons.
          That's exactly why designers are reluctant to use Linux, but in the meantime, this link may help:

  10. Terafall
    November 8, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Thanks for the tips.I hope there will be more article about Linux in the future