Are you new to the world of Linux? Have you heard about rolling release Linux distributions but feel a bit lost in understanding them? Well, you’ve landed in the right place!
This article is tailored for folks like you, aiming to demystify the concept of rolling release Linux distros and highlight their exciting benefits.
Let me begin by saying that the world of Linux is vast and varied, offering a plethora of distributions for different needs and preferences. Among these, a special category that often sparks interest is the “rolling release model.”
This model, unlike the traditional release cycle, offers a unique approach to software distribution and management. In this article, we’ll delve into what rolling release is, its advantages, notable examples, and why it might be the right choice for you. But before that, let’s clarify something important.
What is a Fixed Release Linux Distribution?
A fixed (point) release distro is a type of Linux-based operating system that follows a specific release schedule, so it’s made that must be preinstalled/upgraded over the previous one.
Yes, I know it may not sound very clear to you, so here’s a simpler explanation.
Imagine Linux as a big, ever-changing puzzle. Developers keep adding new pieces (features) and fixing old ones (bugs). In a fixed-release Linux distribution, the creators of the OS take a snapshot of this puzzle at a specific point in time.
Once this version is released, they no longer change the main pieces. They might add some small patches or updates, mainly to fix security issues, but the big picture stays the same. This is great for users who want stability and don’t want to deal with frequent major changes.
Now and then (like once a year or every few years), the developers take a new snapshot of the Linux puzzle, making a new version with the latest pieces. So, users can upgrade to this new version if they want the latest features and improvements.
Chances are, you are using a fixed-release operating system right now. For example, consider Debian 11 “Bullseye” and Debian 12 “Bookworm.” These are two versions of the same operating system but support different hardware and technology and require you to install the new version to utilize the latest features.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to understand that each version of a fixed-release Linux distribution comes with a predetermined “End-of-Life” (EOL) date. This date marks when the developers cease providing updates for that specific version.
At the same time, the rolling release Linux distributions offer solutions to these constraints, so let’s explore their benefits and drawbacks.
We highly recommend consulting our extensive guide “Rolling vs. Point Releases: Which Linux Distro is Right for You?” for an in-depth understanding of the differences between rolling and fixed release models.
What is a Rolling Release Linux Distribution?
Simply put, a rolling release Linux distribution is a software development model where updates are continuously rolled out to the system.
Unlike fixed-release models, where updates are provided in a more scheduled and less frequent manner, rolling releases ensure your system is always up-to-date regarding the latest software versions, performance improvements, and most cutting-edge features.
Everything on Linux is divided into software packages, making it a modular operating system. So, every package, including kernels and drivers, can be upgraded using a package manager like APT, DNF, Pacman, etc.
Here’s why, in the rolling release model, these software packages, including the core system components, are updated regularly and promptly as soon as they are available.
Lastly, it’s crucial to grasp the following essential point – rolling release Linux distros don’t have OS versions in the same way as distributions betting on fixed release model.
Although some of them apply these, they are more to mark more significant updates landing in the stable distro’s repositories, and of course, upgrading to the “new version” involves merely running the update command for the package manager you are using.
Advantages of Rolling Release Distros
With all said above, let’s summarize the main benefits you get by opting for a rolling release Linux distro.
Rolling releases are the perfect platform for developers, enthusiasts, and professionals who need the latest desktop environments, software features, or development tools. You can access the newest functionalities without waiting for the next major release.
Install Once, Use Forever
Unlike traditional release models, rolling releases eliminate the need for major system upgrades. This means you can say goodbye to the hassle of re-installing your OS or dealing with potential upgrade-induced issues every few months or years.
On top of that, in contrast to the fixed releases, you can also say goodbye to software packages made for a specific OS version. This means there are no versions to dictate what packages you can install as long as the necessary dependencies are in place.
Better Hardware Support
In the rolling release Linux distro, you’ll get support for newer hardware faster. Installing the latest kernel as it becomes available upstream is one of the advantages of the rolling releases, offering better support for the newest hardware.
Rolling Release Distros Drawbacks
Using a rolling release Linux distribution can be an exciting experience, as it constantly provides the latest software updates and features. However, it also comes with several drawbacks.
Rolling releases update frequently, and each update can bring significant changes. While this means you get the latest features, it can also mean more bugs and less stability compared to distributions that focus on providing thoroughly tested updates.
So, although rare, it’s possible the next bunch of updates to break the system’s operation.
Although rolling releases often provide the latest security patches, the frequent changes can also introduce new vulnerabilities. The rapid pace of updates might lead to oversight of security configurations or compatibility with existing security measures.
Not Suitable for Server Use
One of the main drawbacks to rolling release Linux distros is that they are not recommended to be used as a server platform. Why? Because a server running a rolling release is in a state of constant change. For servers where stability and predictability are essential, this can be problematic.
Rolling release distributions often appeal to more experienced users comfortable with frequent changes and potential troubleshooting. For beginners, the constant updates can be overwhelming and require a steeper learning curve to maintain the system effectively.
Popular Rolling Release Distros to Explore
- Arch Linux – Known for its simplicity and customization options. It’s a hit with tech-savvy users who like tailoring their system to their needs.
- Manjaro – Based on Arch, it offers a more user-friendly experience, making it an excellent choice for those new to rolling releases.
- openSUSE Tumbleweed – Offers a robust and stable rolling release experience with strong community support.
- Void Linux – Systemd-free Linux distro with a BSD taste, which, like Arch, offers the highest level of customization but is also suitable for more advanced users.
Is Rolling Release Right for You?
- Desktop usage.
- Tech enthusiasts and professionals who need the latest software and features.
- Users who prefer continuous small updates over occasional large upgrades.
- Rolling releases require more hands-on maintenance and troubleshooting.
- It’s not the best fit for systems where absolute stability is critical, like servers in a production environment.
Linux distros following the rolling release model offer a dynamic and up-to-date computing experience. They are ideal for those who enjoy staying on the forefront of technology and don’t mind the occasional troubleshooting that comes with constant updates.
So, if you’re the one who wants the latest features and services straight out of production, then rolling distributions are the best deal for you. Dive in and see what the world of rolling release Linux has in store for you.
However, if stability, security, and predictability are important, a more conservative distribution like Debian, Ubuntu LTS, or openSUSE Leap is probably the better option.
As with any choice in the Linux universe, it’s all about finding the right fit for your needs and preferences. Thanks for your time! Your feedback and comments are most welcome.