You can upgrade from one Ubuntu release to another without reinstalling your operating system. If you’re running an LTS version of Ubuntu, you’ll only be offered new LTS versions with the default settings—but you can change that.

We recommend backing up your important files before continuing. You should always have backup copies of your important personal data, but it’s especially important to have them when upgrading your operating system—just in case.

Can You Upgrade?

Whenever a new version of Ubuntu is released, upgrades are immediately available from the previous version. For example, now that Ubuntu 18.04 LTS has been released, you can immediately upgrade if you’re using Ubuntu 17.10.

In general, you can only upgrade from one Ubuntu release to the next release. For example, if you have Ubuntu 17.04 installed and you want to upgrade to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, the upgrade process will install Ubuntu 17.10. You can then go through the upgrade process again to go from Ubuntu 17.10 to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

Upgrades from one Long Term Service (LTS) release to another LTS release are allowed, but they’re delayed to give the new LTS release some time to stabilize. For example, although Ubuntu 18.04 LTS was released on April 26, 2018, you won’t be able to upgrade directly from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS until the release of Ubuntu 18.04.1 LTS, which is expected on July 26, 2018.

Graphical Method

You can upgrade with graphical tools built into the standard Ubuntu desktop, or with terminal commands.

How to Choose Which Version You Upgrade To

By default, standard releases of Ubuntu offer to upgrade you to new standard releases, while long-term support (LTS) releases of Ubuntu offer to upgrade you only to new LTS releases.

For example, if you have Ubuntu 18.04 LTS installed, you won’t be offered an upgrade to Ubuntu 18.10 when it’s released. You’ll just be offered an upgrade to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS when that’s released. But you can change this behavior, if you like.

To find this option, click either the “Activities” button (in GNOME Shell) or the Ubuntu logo button (in Unity) at the top left corner of your screen. Search for “Update” and click the “Software & Updates” shortcut.

You can also open the Software Updater application and click “Settings” to open this window.

Click the “Updates” tab. To the right of “Notify me of a new Ubuntu version,” click the box and select either “For any new version” or “For long-term support versions,” depending on which type of update you want. Click “Close” when you’re done.

How to Upgrade

Ubuntu may inform you that a new release is available via the standard Software Updater tool. However, even if the Software Updater tool doesn’t find an update, you can manually check for it. To upgrade to the latest version of Ubuntu, press Alt+F2, type the following command, and press Enter:

update-manager -c

The Software Updater tool checks Ubuntu’s servers and should inform you that a new version of Ubuntu is available, if one is. Click the “Upgrade” button to upgrade to the newer version of Ubuntu.

If you don’t see a message telling you the new release is available in the Software Updater tool, press Alt+F2, type the following command, and then press Enter:

/usr/lib/ubuntu-release-upgrader/check-new-release-gtk

You’ll see a message telling you a new version is available, if one is. Click “Yes, Upgrade Now” to install it.

Terminal Method

You can also upgrade using a terminal command, which is useful on server systems or other flavors of Ubuntu with different desktop environments.

Before you continue, run the following command to ensure you have the update-manager-core package installed. The commands you’d use to upgrade won’t work without this package installed.

sudo apt install update-manager-core

How to Choose Which Version You Upgrade To

As with the graphical tools above, standard releases of Ubuntu normally offer to upgrade you to the next available version, while long-term support releases will normally only offer to upgrade you to the next LTS version. For example, if you’re running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS when Ubuntu 18.10 comes out, you won’t receive the upgrade because your system is configured to wait for Ubuntu 20.04 LTS by default.

To change this from the Terminal, run the following command to open the /etc/update-manager/release-upgrades file in the nano text editor with root permissions. You can use any other text editor you like, but we’re using nano in the example here.

sudo nano /etc/update-manager/release-upgrades

Edit the “Prompt=” line in the file to say either ” Prompt=normal ” or ” Prompt=lts ” depending on whether you want to be prompted to upgrade to normal releases or only LTS releases.

Save the file and close your text editor. For example, in nano you can press Ctrl+O and then Enter to save the file. Press Ctrl+X to close nano.

How to Upgrade

To check for any available new versions to which you can upgrade, run the following command:

do-release-upgrade -c

The command checks Ubuntu’s servers for any available updates and informs you which version of Ubuntu you’ll be upgrading to. Which versions it offers is controlled by what you have in your system’s /etc/update-manager/release-upgrades file, which we covered in the previous section.

To perform the upgrade, run the following command

sudo do-release-upgrade

Ubuntu begins the upgrade process. You’ll have to type “y” and press Enter to confirm it.

The do-release-upgrade terminal command works similarly to the graphical upgrade tool. You can’t use it to upgrade directly from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS without waiting for the Ubuntu 18.04.1 LTS release.

There is a do-release-upgrade -d command that will upgrade you to the current unstable development branch of Ubuntu. However, this isn’t recommended for production systems. Development versions of Ubuntu are unstable and should only be used for testing.

You Can Always Reinstall Ubuntu

Of course, even if the above tools don’t offer to upgrade your system—for example, if you’re running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and want to upgrade before July 26—you can download the latest version of Ubuntu from the website, make a bootable USB drive or burn a disc, and then reinstall Ubuntu on your system.

RELATED: How to Create a Bootable Linux USB Flash Drive, the Easy Way

While you should be able to reinstall Ubuntu while leaving your personal files in place, you will definitely lose your installed applications during this process. You should also have backups before trying this, as it would be easy for you to accidentally wipe your partitions and erase your files—or for a bug with the installer to accidentally remove them.

Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.