How To Keep Ubuntu Up To Date - Essential Guide

Get the latest software on your Ubuntu PC


This guide will show you how to and why you should keep Ubuntu up to date.

If you have just installed Ubuntu for the first time you might be annoyed when a little window pops up asking you to install hundreds of megabytes worth of important updates.

The actual ISO images aren't updated on the website constantly and therefore when you download Ubuntu you are downloading a snapshot from a point in time.

For instance, imagine you downloaded and installed the latest version of Ubuntu at the end of November. That version of Ubuntu will have been available for a few weeks. Undoubtedly due to the size of Ubuntu there will have been a number of important bug fixes and security updates during that time.

Rather than update the Ubuntu image constantly it is much easier to include a software package which makes it possible for you to download and install any updates. 

Keeping your system up to date is essential. Failing to install security updates is akin to locking all of the doors on your house whilst leaving all the downstairs windows open.

The updates provided for Ubuntu are much less intrusive than those supplied for Windows. In fact, Windows updates are infuriating. How often have you had to hurriedly boot your computer to print out tickets or get directions or do something else that needs to be done quickly only to find the words "Update 1 of 246" appear?

The funny thing about that scenario is that update 1 to 245 seems to take a few minutes and the last one takes ages.

Software And Updates

The first piece of software to check out is Software & Updates.

You can open this package by pressing the super key (Windows key) on your keyboard to bring up the Ubuntu Dash and search for "Software". An icon will appear for Software & Updates. Select this icon.

Ubuntu software updates

The Software & Updates application has 5 tabs:

  • Ubuntu Software
  • Other Software
  • Updates
  • Authentication
  • Additional Drivers

For this article, we are interested in the Updates tab, but, as an overview, the other tabs perform the following tasks:

  • The Ubuntu Software tab lets you choose which repositories to use for downloading Ubuntu software
  • The Other Software tab lets you choose third party repositories
  • The Updates tab we will get to shortly but obviously deals with keeping your system up to date
  • The Authentication tab provides signed keys for trusted software providers
  • The Additional Drivers tab lets you install proprietary hardware drivers

The updates tab is what we are interested in and it has the following checkboxes:

  • Important security updates
  • Recommended updates
  • Pre-released updates
  • Unsupported updates

You definitely want to keep the important security updates checked and you want to keep recommended updates checked because this provides important bug fixes.

The pre-released updates option provide fixes targeting specific bugs and they are only proposed solutions. They may or may not work and may not be the final solution. The recommendation is to leave this unchecked.

Unsupported updates are used to provide updates to other software packages not provided by Canonical. You can keep this one checked. Most updates however are provided via PPAs.

The checkboxes tell Ubuntu the types of update you are looking to be informed about. There are however dropdown boxes within the Updates tab which let you decide how often to check and when to notify you about updates.

The dropdown boxes are as follows:

  • Automatically check for updates (options include daily, every 2 days, weekly, fortnightly, never)
  • When there are security updates (options include display immediately, download automatically, download and install automatically)
  • When there are other updates (display immediately, display weekly, display every fortnight)
  • Notify me of a new version of Ubuntu (for any new version, for LTS versions, never)

By default the security updates are set to be checked daily and you are notified about them immediately. Other updates are set to be displayed weekly.

Personally for security updates I think it is a good idea to set the second dropdown to download and install automatically).

Software Updater

The next application you need to know about for keeping your system up to date is the Software Updater.

Ubuntu software updater

If you have your update settings set to display immediately when there are updates this will load automatically whenever a new update requires installation.

You can however start the software updater by pressing the super key (Windows key) on your keyboard and searching for "software". When the Software Updater icon appears, select it.

By default the Software Updater shows a small window telling you how much data will be updated (i.e. 145 MB will be downloaded".

There are three buttons available:

  • Settings
  • Remind Me Later
  • Install Now

If you haven't the time to install the updates right away, press Remind Me Later to delay it. Unlike Windows, Ubuntu will never force the updates on you and you will never have to wait for hundreds of updates to install whilst you are trying to do something important and even whilst you are installing updates you can continue using the system.

The Install Now option will obviously download and install the updates to your system.

The Settings option takes you to the Updates tab on the Software & Updates application.

Before you install the updates, you might want to see exactly what is going to be installed. There is an option to display Details of updates, should you select it.

Doing so shows a list of all the packages that will be updated along with the size of them.

You can read a technical description of each package by clicking on the line item and clicking the technical description link on the screen.

The description usually shows the currently installed version, the available version and a brief description of potential changes.

You can choose to ignore individual updates by unchecking the boxes next to them but this is not a recommended course of action. I would definitely use this screen for information purposes only.

Most of the time, you won't need any of that, and you'll only need to press Install Now to kick off the installation.

The Command Line

Like with most things in the Linux world, there's also a way to handle updates on Ubuntu from the command line. Like with other command line utilities, this method is much simpler and more direct that the graphical utilities. The drawback, if you can call it that, is that you need to actually use the command line.

Open up a terminal. Once you have it. Type the following command in to the terminal window, and press Enter on your keyboard.

sudo apt update

You'll be asked to enter your password. Go ahead and do so. As soon as Ubuntu verifies your password, it'll update its database of available software. It should only take a couple of seconds, depending on your connection.

Update Ubuntu from the command line

After it's done updating, run the following command to check for software updates.

sudo apt upgrade

You may be asked for your password again, but you probably won't be, as long as you didn't wait too long. Ubuntu will then look for available updates. When it finds everything, it'll let you know what needs to be updated in the terminal window. At the end, it'll ask you to press either 'y' or 'n' to confirm or cancel the update. Press y, and hit Enter on your keyboard.

Ubuntu will run the update, and let you know when it's finished. As you get more accustomed to this, you can combine it into one simple command.

sudo apt update && sudo apt -y upgrade

That will automatically run and accept the changes as soon as you enter your password.


This article is item 4 in the list of "33 things to do after installing Ubuntu".

Other articles in this list are as follows:

Other articles will be added shortly but in the meantime check out the full list and follow the links made available within.

Was this page helpful?