Linux Mint – Keeping your system up to date

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Software updates in the Linux world are typically released for one of the three purposes. New versions of packages are released to fix bugs, patch security vulnerabilities, or add new features. By now, you’ve most likely come across Mint’s Update Manager if you were at any point prompted to update your system (which typically first happens right after installation finishes). Keeping your system up to date is strongly recommended. However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a theoretical bad update could crash your system. This rarely happens, but it’s always a good idea to keep current backups just in case, especially when administering your system.

In Linux Mint, there are two ways to update your system. You can use a subcommand of apt-get (which we’ll get into shortly), but Mint also provides a graphical utility simply known as Update Manager that will also accomplish your needs. Whichever method you use is up to you, but Mint’s Update Manager is actually recommended, as it categorizes the updates based on how likely they are to break your system. (Again, this is extremely rare, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.) The following screenshot shows Mint’s Update Manager application:

In the Update Manager, there are 5 levels of security updates. The lower the security level, the safer the update is perceived to be. The higher the level, the more unsafe a package is believed to be; by default, levels 4 and 5 are disabled. Levels 1 and 2 are tested by the Linux Mint community for stability, but levels 3 and 4 typically aren’t. When you view a list of updates, you will see a number associated with each one.

By default, installing the default levels 1 to 3 of updates should suffice for more users. However, depending on current events, you may sometimes consider higher level updates. For example, there may come a time someday where you hear about a really bad Linux virus making its way around the Net. Upon reading the update, you may find that a specific Linux kernel update closes the security hole that the virus uses to spread. In this case, you may enable levels 4 and 5 to make sure that you get the update. To do so, click on Edit and then Preferences and enable the latter two levels. The following screenshot shows Mint’s Update Manager application with security level descriptions displayed:

Also, on the Preferences configuration screen, you can select your update frequency. At times, Linux distributions may release updates quite frequently, sometimes several times a week or more. This is great in the sense that new features and security updates are constantly coming. But it may get frustrating to have your work interrupted several times with offers to update your system. In the next tab of the Preferences configuration window, you can select the Auto-Refresh frequency. Auto-Refresh refers to how often your computer communicates to your repositories to see what has changed. When the refresh occurs, you are then notified if there are updated packages. One possible solution is changing your update frequency to 7 days, so that way you can choose a specific day that is less busy for you to install your updates. It’s definitely recommended that you keep all the applications up to date, but do so at a time that’s convenient for you.

As mentioned, you don’t necessarily need to use the Update Manager in order to update your system, though it is recommended. You can also update your system using terminal commands. This may come in handy if your system doesn’t open a graphical user interface for some reason, and it’s believed that installing the latest updates may help. To do so, first you need to manually refresh your available updates. You can do this with the following command:


sudo apt-get update

After entering your password, your system will download the latest list of available packages from your repositories. This doesn’t actually install anything, it just ensures that your system has an up-to-date list of what’s available in the repositories. Once that’s done, you can download and install updates by running the following command:


sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Note

When using terminal commands to update your system, the updates will not be broken down by security level. All updates are applied using this command, even level 4 and 5 updates. Use them at your own caution.

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