What is a Rolling Release Linux and What is the Real Benefit of Using it

What is a Rolling Release Linux Distribution?

In the Rolling Release Linux distribution, you only install your operating system once and never bother reinstalling and restoring your data.

The rolling release Linux distributions have been around for a long time, but not everyone knows what they offer. Nowadays, rolling release Linux distributions are becoming much more popular.

So, what is a rolling release Linux distro? The answer is in the lines below, but before that, let’s clarify something important.

What is a Fixed Release Linux Distribution?

In fixed release development, software versions are made that must be reinstalled over the previous version. A fixed release distro is a distribution that’s being released regularly every few months.

It contains heavily tested and verified software packages, ensuring everything is stable and “everything just works.”

Chances are, you are using a fixed-release operating system right now. For example, think of Ubuntu 21.10 and Ubuntu 22.04. These are two versions of an operating system that supports different hardware and technology and requires you to install the new version to utilize the latest features.

Furthermore, it’s imperative to know that there will be an “End of Life” (EOL) for each version in this development model, after which the dev team will no longer release updates.

In other words, no more updates imply open security holes and compatibility issues with the latest hardware.

What is a Rolling Release Linux Distribution?

Many Linux distributions opt for what’s known as a rolling release model. An operating system based on the rolling release model (also known as Continuous Delivery) has two main characteristics.

  • First, you install your operating system only once and then never again.
  • The second is that the operating system gets continuously updated.

Some popular rolling release Linux distributions include Arch Linux, Manjaro, openSUSE Tumbleweed, Void Linux, Gentoo, Solus, and EndeavourOS.

Everything on Linux is divided into software packages making Linux a modular operating system. Every package, including kernels and drivers, can be upgraded using a package manager. This is why a rolling release model is applicable for the Linux distributions.

A rolling release Linux distribution continuously updates individual software packages and makes them available to its users as soon as they’re published.

As the distro user, this means that you always have the newest version of the software installed. In other words, you enjoy new features as soon as they’re released.

Rolling release distributions don’t have OS versions in the same way as a distro like Ubuntu. Instead, they are updated continuously whenever new software is available.

Compared to conservative stable release distributions, for example, Debian, where users can wait years for new versions of software, rolling releases make new software available very quickly.

Let us now outline the main benefits and drawbacks of adopting rolling release distributions.

Pros

Install once and update forever. You don’t have to nuke everything and reinstall it every 6-12 months. The upgrade process is generally painless and incremental. The newer versions of software arrive, and the installation keeps percolating.

Additionally, 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 a rolling release.

There are no prompts for version upgrades. With rolling release distros, this never happens.

Last but not least, you can say goodbye to packages made for a specific OS version. In rolling release distros, there are no versions to dictate what packages you can install.

Cons

Of course, there are drawbacks to rolling release Linux distributions. The main one is that they should not be used as a server platform.

This is because their software is updated too frequently, implying that it has not had enough time to be thoroughly tested for any possible issues.

Furthermore, although rare, it is possible that the next update to break the system’s operation. Again, this is related to installing the most recent insufficiently tested versions of software packages or incompatibilities between them.

Conclusion

So, the main benefit of a rolling release model is the ability for the end-user always to have the newest software version installed. The goal is to get updates to users as quickly as possible.

So, if you’re the one who wants the latest features and services straight out of the production, then rolling distributions are the best deal for you.

But if stability, security, and predictability are important, then a conservative distribution like Debian is probably the better choice.

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

Bobby is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, Bobby has worked as a Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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