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Ubuntu Server 18.04 – Taking advantage of hardware enablement updates

Installing an FTP server

One issue that’s been the case in the Linux industry has been hardware support. This is problematic in various Linux distributions because you may find yourself in a situation where your server (or even a laptop) is released with the latest processor and chipset, but no newer version of your Linux distribution has been released yet that includes updated drivers that support it. Unlike platforms such as Windows, hardware drivers are typically built right into the Linux kernel. So, if you have an old release (which would contain an older kernel) you might be out of luck for hardware support until the next version of your Linux distribution is released.

Thankfully, Ubuntu has come up with a system to address this problem, and it’s one of the many things that set it apart from other distributions. Ubuntu features a set of updates known as the hardware enablement (HWE) stack, which is an exclusive feature to LTS releases. We discussed the difference between LTS and regular releases back in Chapter 1, Deploying Ubuntu Server, and HWE updates are exclusive to LTS. HWE updates are optional, and will include a new kernel, and typically additional updated software to handle the latest video cards. This way, you can be sure your newer hardware will still be supported by the current Ubuntu LTS release. The great thing about this is that HWE updates allow you to stay on an LTS release, while still benefiting from the newer drivers of non-LTS releases.

The way in which an administrator acquires these updates has changed a bit from previous releases. In the past, you would download and install a newer version of your Ubuntu LTS release, which would have the newer software built right in. While you can still do this, what’s different is that you can now upgrade to the latest HWE stack as soon as it’s released, and have it included when you install the latest package updates.

It’s important to note that whether or not you receive HWE updates is a choice you have to make when it comes to the server version of Ubuntu. If you don’t opt in to the HWE updates, your server will always have the same hardware enablement (kernel, drivers, and so on) as it did when your installed LTS release was first published. In that case, your kernel and related packages will only be updated when you install new security updates. At a later date, you can opt in to HWE updates manually if you wish. Generally, you only do this if you’ve added new hardware to a physical server that requires a new kernel. If your server is working currently, and you haven’t added new hardware, there’s probably no reason to install a new HWE stack.

If you do decide to utilize these updates, there are two ways to do so. You can opt in to the newer HWE stack while installing Ubuntu Server, or you can manually install the required packages. At the time of writing, Ubuntu 18.04 is new to the scene so HWE updates haven’t been released yet, and the method may be subject to change. With Ubuntu 16.04, HWE updates weren’t released until Ubuntu 16.04.2, as generally these updates aren’t released until the second point release. Assuming Ubuntu 18.04 follows the same plan, you’ll most likely see an option such as the one in the following screenshot once 18.04 is old enough to receive this feature:

Main menu of the Ubuntu installer

If you’ve already installed Ubuntu Server, you can install the latest HWE stack from the Terminal. In Ubuntu 16.04 for example, you can switch to the HWE kernel with the following command:

sudo apt install --install-recommends linux-generic-hwe-16.04

When Ubuntu 18.04 releases its newer HWE stack, a similar command will likely be used to install it. If you need a newer HWE kernel, refer to instructions in Ubuntu’s documentation pages when that time comes.

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