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

A brief explanation of the pros and cons of Linux release models.

What is Rolling Release Linux

In Rolling Release Linux Distro you only install your operating system once and never have to bother with reinstalls and restoring your data. The main benefit to a rolling release model is the ability for the end user to always have the newest version of the software installed.

Rolling Release Linux distributions have been around for a long time, but not everyone is aware of what they have to offer. Nowadays Rolling Release Linux distributions are becoming much more popular. So, what is a Rolling Release Linux distro? Well, the answer is in the lines below, but before that let’s clarify something important.

What is a Fixed Release

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 and contains heavily tested and verified software packages making sure everything is stable and “everything just works”. 

Chances are, you are using a fixed release operating system right now. Think of Ubuntu 19.04 and Ubuntu 21.04. These are two versions of an operating system which supports different hardware and technology, and requires you to install the new version in order to utilize the latest features.

It is imperative to know that there will be “End of Life” (EOL) for each version in this development model, after which, the dev team will no longer release updates. No more updates imply open security holes and compatibility issues with the latest hardware.

What is a Rolling Release Linux Distro

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

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

Everything on Linux is divided into software packages making Linux a modular operating system. This is also the reason why a rolling release model is applicable for Linux distro. By using a package manager, each and every package – even kernels and drivers can be updated.

A rolling release Linux distro is a distribution that continuously updates individual software packages and makes them available to its users as soon as they’re published. This means that you as the user of the distro always have the newest version of the software installed. It means you get to enjoy new features as soon as they’re released. But it also means that many things could break if you haven’t updated your system in a while or if incompatibilities are introduced between software packages.

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

The goal of rolling releases is to get updates to users as quickly as possible. 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.

What is the REAL Benefit of a Rolling Release Distro?

  • Install once & update forever. You don’t have to nuke everything and reinstall every 6-12 months or whatever. The upgrade process is generally painless and incremental. The newer versions of software arrive and the installation just keeps percolating along.
  • In rolling release Linux distro you’ll get support for newer hardware faster. Being able to install 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 a rolling release distros, this never happens.
  • 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.

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