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What are the differences between an Ubuntu Long Term Support release (LTS) and a normal release?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 70 down vote accepted

There is a new release every 6 months (apart from Dapper, which was delayed 2 months). Every two years, the release is a Long Term Support version.

  • Normal releases before 13.04 are supported for 18 months.

  • Starting with 13.04, normal releases are only supported for 9 months.

  • LTS releases before 12.04 are supported for three years on the desktop and five years on the server.

  • LTS releases 12.04 and later are now supported for five years on both the desktop and the server.

    Now, support means:

    • Updates for potential security problems and bugs (not new versions of software)

    • Availability of Commercial support contracts from Canonical

    • Support by Landscape, Canonical's enterprise oriented server management tool set

    The Desktop refers to the packages that are in the main and restricted repositories, these are the ones that have the little Ubuntu icon next to them in Synaptic or are marked as Supported in the Software-Centre respectively.

    The Server packages are the ones in the "server-ship" and "supported-common" seeds (there's a directory of all of the different seeds available).

This is what this looks like:

enter image description here
via the Release end of life info page | Ubuntu


The primary reason for using an LTS release is that you can depend on it being updated regularly and therefore secure and stable.

As you can see from the diagram, people who have installed the 8.04 LTS server don't need to worry about replacing it for still another 2 years! Fantastic. :-)

As if this wasn't enough, Ubuntu release an additional version of the last LTS between releases - such as 8.04.1, that incorporates all of the updates up to this point. This is called a Point-Release (or sometimes snapshot). Those are released every quarter to half year, as needed.

In addition to support, there are Development strategies that differentiate an LTS release:

  • The base of the operating system, Debian, comes in three versions: Stable, Testing and Unstable. Normally, Ubuntu is based on Unstable; the LTS releases are based on Testing. Starting with 14.04 LTS, all new releases will be based on Debian Unstable.

  • The Development effort for an LTS release in focussed on providing a rock solid base, not only for customers who want the LTS release, but also for the next Three ubuntu versions to come.


Thanks to Oli for demystifying that last part, I wasn't quite sure about it.

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1  
Does it mean that every Ubuntu version has its own repositories? –  Olivier Lalonde Dec 12 '10 at 20:34
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@Olivier Yes they do –  Stefano Palazzo Dec 12 '10 at 20:50
    
Why actually does Ubuntu base of Debian's Unstable and Testing for its normal and LTS releases (respectively) ? –  matt Feb 3 '14 at 14:23

Canonical provides security updates for the LTS releases for 3 years on the desktop and 5 years for the server version. The normal release is only supported with updates for 18 months.

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Also starting with 10.04 Ubuntu is based on Debian Testing for the LTS releases. (Though usually most of the software ends up being a bit newer at release time). –  NightwishFan Dec 6 '10 at 1:57

The most important thing (for most people) is how long you get to use an install without having to do a release upgrade. A non-LTS version of Ubuntu only gets updates for 9 months from its release so to stay up-to-date —which is critically important— you need to upgrade twice a year; you need to upgrade through every Ubuntu version…

Conversely an Ubuntu LTS release is supported for 5 years and you can upgrade directly from LTS to LTS. This gives you long-lived, solid base to target and test on that makes it super-easy to release-upgrade when you decide to. It's therefore ideal for mass deployment, high-availability systems, and just people who don't like doing release-upgrades.

In the last two LTS versions, point-updates have also been made available to support newer hardware (it's a kernel, driver and X stack), which boosts the utility of the LTS versions over their lifespan. The original stacks are maintained too.

Most other applications won't jump versions, so it makes for a solid, predictable deployment.

In terms of the Ubuntu development process, Ubuntu pulls many of its packages from Debian. Debian has multiple versions too (stable, testing and unstable) that usually correlate with package age. The package pull for an LTS will favour the more stable Debian version. I'm certain there are exceptions to this.

There also is supposedly more focus on bug fixing for an LTS release. More people have a vested interest in the success of an LTS so I'd like to think more people test it pre-release.

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Just for clarification, what is LTS+1, LTS+2, etc.? –  Clay Smalley Dec 6 '10 at 2:35
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@ClaySmalley the next version after the LTS release is called LTS+1 (also, the next version of ubuntu is sometimes called e.g. maverick+1 or ubuntu+1) –  Stefano Palazzo Dec 6 '10 at 3:42

Previous desktop LTS releases were supported for 3 years.

However, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS will be supported for 5 years both for desktop and server releases.

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Simply put, LTS releases introduce fewer new technologies than Normal releases, and replaces them with Long Term Support of the older, more time-tested technologies that have proven track records of working like said.

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