How to upgrade

This article details how to upgrade an Ubuntu Server or Ubuntu cloud image to the next release.

Upgrade paths

Ubuntu supports the ability to upgrade from one LTS to the next LTS in sequential order. For example, a user on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS can upgrade to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, but cannot jump directly to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS. To do this, the user would need to upgrade twice: once to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, and then upgrade again to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

It is recommended that users run an LTS release as it provides 5 years of standard support and security updates. After the initial standard support, an extended support period is available via an Ubuntu Pro subscription.

For a complete list of releases and current support status see the Ubuntu Wiki Releases page.

Upgrade checklist

To ensure a successful upgrade, please review the following items:

  • Check the release notes for the new release for any known issues or important changes. Release notes for each release are found on the Ubuntu Wiki Releases page.

  • Fully update the system. The upgrade process works best when the current system has all the latest updates installed. Users should confirm that these commands complete successfully and that no further updates are available. It is also suggested that users reboot the system after all the updates are applied to verify they are running the latest kernel. To upgrade run the following commands:

    sudo apt update
    sudo apt upgrade
  • Users should check that there is sufficient free disk space for the upgrade. Upgrading a system will make your system download new packages, which is likely to be on the order of hundreds of new packages. Systems with additional software installed may therefore require a few gigabytes of free disk space.

  • The upgrade process takes time to complete. Users should have dedicated time to participate in the upgrade process.

  • Third-party software repositories and personal package archives (PPAs) are disabled during the upgrade. However, any software installed from these repositories is not removed or downgraded. Software installed from these repositories is the single most common cause of upgrade issues.

  • Backup any and all data. Although upgrades are normally safe, there is always a chance that something may go wrong. It is extremely important that the data is safely copied to a backup location to allow restoration if there are any problems or complications during the upgrade process.


It is recommended to upgrade the system using the do-release-upgrade command on Server edition and cloud images. This command can handle system configuration changes that are sometimes needed between releases.


To begin the process run the following command:

sudo do-release-upgrade

Upgrading to a development release of Ubuntu is available using the -d flag. However, using the development release (or this flag) is not recommended for production environments.

Upgrades from one LTS to the next LTS release are only available after the first point release. For example, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will only upgrade to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS after the 20.04.1 point release. If users wish to update before the point release (e.g., on a subset of machines to evaluate the LTS upgrade) users can force the upgrade via the -d flag.

Pre-upgrade summary

Before making any changes the command will first do some checks to verify the system is ready to update. The user will be prompted with a summary of the upgrade before proceeding. If the user accepts the changes, the process will begin to update the system’s packages:

Do you want to start the upgrade?  

5 installed packages are no longer supported by Canonical. You can  
still get support from the community.  

4 packages are going to be removed. 117 new packages are going to be  
installed. 424 packages are going to be upgraded.  

You have to download a total of 262 M. This download will take about  
33 minutes with a 1Mbit DSL connection and about 10 hours with a 56k  

Fetching and installing the upgrade can take several hours. Once the  
download has finished, the process cannot be canceled.  

Continue [yN]  Details [d]

Configuration changes

It is possible during the upgrade process the user gets presented with a message to make decisions about package updates. These prompts occur when there are existing configuration files edited by the user and the new package configuration file are different. Below is an example prompt:

Configuration file '/etc/ssh/ssh_config'
 ==> Modified (by you or by a script) since installation.
 ==> Package distributor has shipped an updated version.
   What would you like to do about it ?  Your options are:
    Y or I  : install the package maintainer's version
    N or O  : keep your currently-installed version
      D     : show the differences between the versions
      Z     : start a shell to examine the situation
 The default action is to keep your current version.
*** ssh_config (Y/I/N/O/D/Z) [default=N] ?

Users should look at the differences between the files and decide what to do. The default response is to keep the current version of the file. There are situations where accepting the new version, like with /boot/grub/menu.lst, is required for the system to boot correctly with the new kernel.

Package removal

After all packages are updated the user will again remove any obsolete, no longer needed, packages:

Remove obsolete packages?  

30 packages are going to be removed.  

Continue [yN]  Details [d]


Finally, when the upgrade is complete the user is prompted to reboot the system. The system is not considered upgraded until a reboot occurs:

System upgrade is complete.

Restart required  

To finish the upgrade, a restart is required.  
If you select 'y' the system will be restarted.  

Continue [yN]
1 Like

This documentation lacks a warning to purge 3rd party software before a release upgrade is started.

It should explain that do-release-upgrade will disable PPAs and other third party apt repositories, but that it will not, however, remove and downgrade software installed from those. And point out that this is the most common cause of upgrade failures (resulting in daily upgrade failure bug reports by users).

1 Like

I’m relatively new to Ubuntu.

I built and run a Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS using Virtualmin as a system helper for configuration. I built a similar non-production machine to test the upgrade process when it becomes available at the end of July.

I ran the “do-release-upgrade -d” command. That seemed to work all OK, but when I rebooted the machine I discovered that the upgrade had installed a lot of unwanted software, including a game!

This surprised me a tad as I would have thought that it should have just upgraded what was there. This might well be because I have jumped the gun on the upgrade.

Should be (somehow) highlighted once every two years.

Fetching and installing the upgrade can take several hours. Once the  
download has finished, the process cannot be canceled.  

This is not the case.
I ctrl-c’d because the download hanged. Due to a switch from wifi to wired.
do-release-upgrade wouldn’t continue.