Ubuntu Server LTS

Ubuntu Server LTS and Normal Releases

Ubuntu releases could be one of two different types. There are LTS or long term support releases and there are normal releases. We will describe both of these and how they work here. Ubuntu releases are time based releases. This means that they are released on a set schedule instead of built around major features. This is done in such a way to provide a great product with up to date packages while integrating thousands of different packages into one cohesive system.

Releases occur every 6 months or twice per year. One is in April and the other is in October. The version number is meant to reflect this. So for example, 17.04 is April 2017 and 17.10 is October 2017. For the April 2016 release you will see multiple different corresponding versions like 16.04.1 and 16.04.2. The third part of the number refers to another instance of the same release but with updates and changes.

What is Support?

What do we actually mean when we say support? Support includes free bug fixes and security fixes but not new versions of the software. It means that to release will be supported and should work with Canonical’s Landscape tool. Landscape is their server management tool set. It also means that if you wanted a commercial support contract, it would be available. Old, unsupported versions wouldn’t necessarily come with the option for commercial support. So basically support means that Canonical will continue to maintain, fix, and update that version for free. It also means that they offer additional, paid, commercial support for that version.

Based on Debian

Ubuntu is based on Debian. It basically uses Debian’s architecture and infrastructure as a foundation. Debian generally keeps three releases in active maintenance at all times. The stable release is the official, current, production release of Debian. This is recommended for normal use. The testing distribution is comprised of packages aren’t yet accepted as stable yet but are being prepared for that. The packages generally need more testing before the release will be deemed stable. The desirable thing about this is that the packages will be newer and more up to date. The unstable distribution is the version that is in current development. If you are helping develop Debian or if you absolutely have to have the latest versions of all packages and enjoy life on the edge, this is for you. Ubuntu releases are based off of Debian unstable and testing releases. We will have more on this below.

Normal Ubuntu Release

A normal or regular Ubuntu release is every version that is not an LTS release. These are based on the Debian Unstable release. They will only be supported for 9 months. This means that after this, no further updates will be available. If you want to keep your system up to date and secure, you will need to upgrade to a newer version once this time is up.

LTS - Long Term Support Release

A new LTS release comes out every two years. This is the April release for even numbered versions or even years. LTS versions are based on Debian testing releases. The big advantage with this type of release is that you can depend on it getting updates and fixes for many years to come. Specifically, this type of release will remain supported for 5 years. The packages are going to tend to be more secure.

For older versions, the desktop edition would only provide support for 3 years while the server edition would provide support for 5 years. This has changed for versions 12.04 and up. Now, both desktop and server editions have 5 years of support.

For an LTS release, the developers start by stabilizing the release early on. One way they do this is by limiting the number of new features considerably. Some features are added directly into the release. Other features would not be included. They would be installable from the repos if the user chooses to add them later. Another way that it is stabilized is by preferring to avoid structural changes. Structural changes would include modifications to the default collection of applications. It would also include avoiding too many library updates. System layer changes are avoided. These include things like changing the kernel, Udev, or something like that.

An LTS release will have undergone more testing. The window for development for the release is shorter and the Beta cycle is longer. This results in fewer new features that could potentially have problems. It also allows for more time to catch bugs and fix issues. They will be more focused on enterprise use, hence the focus on avoiding risk. This also means that it is geared towards multiple installation environments for both desktop and server installs.

Beyond providing security and bug fixes, point releases will maintain hardware compatibility and provide support for newer hardware.

The intent of an Ubuntu LTS release is not to be a feature based release. Existing features will be strengthened, cleaned up, and improved. New features can sometimes be included but there will be fewer as the objective would be to avoid them. These are not meant to be cutting edge as you might expect with the other releases. This is why they are based on Debian testing instead of Debian unstable.

Releases

Releases come out every six months for both Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server. Other flavors, like Kubuntu for example, don’t necessarily produce LTS versions following the same intervals as the main Ubuntu distribution.

If you want to see what version you are currently running, you can use the following command.

lsb_release –a

Note that this command also works on Red Hat based systems.

End of Life

End of life means that a release is no longer supported. This means that no further fixes or updates will be issued. This is not just limited to features but also to security. Any reported bugs will not be fixed for an end of life version.

If you want to check the status of your system, you can use this command:

ubuntu-support-status