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What are the advantages for updating so often?

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6 Answers 6

Ubuntu is a distribution that uses the Linux kernel. Linux is a highly modular kernel and therefore the kernel is commonly discussed because a lot can be done with it. For example, you could take the kernel, patch it up with lots of fixes, tweak other settings, strip out everything you won’t need, and then replace your original kernel with your final product, and it will run just fine (assuming it was done right).

The updates usually consist of

Security Fixes

Virtually every single kernel update will have some sort of security fixes that close up holes that have been discovered. This is probably one of the most important reasons to update your kernel, as you’ll always be safer with a patched kernel.

Stability Improvements

Not only do kernel updates bring with it security fixes, but it can fix other issues that could possibly make the system crash through regular use.

Updated Drivers

Every major kernel update is guaranteed to include the latest open source drivers for all of your devices. Out of all the drivers being updated, the graphics drivers are probably those that you’ll notice the most, as every refresh usually adds a bit more performance.

New kernel functions

Occasionally, major updates to the kernel in Linux also brings some new functions. These functions are basically parts of the kernel that programs can use to do some sort of task or operation.

Increased Speed

Last but not least, many major updates to the kernel improve the overall speed of the system. While some changes can be very subtle, others aren’t and can make a big difference, such as the famed 200-line patch that increased the overall productivity of a Linux machine by quite a bit.

In the end, it’s very worthwhile to update your kernel for Linux whenever you can. For consumer-type users, the benefits that come along with it far outweigh the risks. Additionally, each kernel that you update to will have been tested for at least a couple of days by developers and test users to ensure that it runs without a hitch.

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Within an Ubuntu release, the kernel is not usually updated to the next version as released upstream; instead, we get specific packages for specific issues (SRUs). You listed five categories of updates. But does Ubuntu update the kernel to provide new kernel functions or increased speed? Under what circumstances are updated drivers provided? Under what circumstances are updated drivers provided by kernel packages? (And is increasing speed the only way performance can be enhanced in the upstream kernel?) –  Eliah Kagan Jan 18 '13 at 23:02
Great answer! I have to disagree that the benefits outweigh the risks for consumer-type users though. It almost always breaks the usage of video card drivers and requires additional work to get working again. This is a major roadblock for Linux to become mainstream for the average person that is not willing to learn how to fix their computer. Heck, I'm a techie and even I can't be bothered to waste my time on it so often. –  Levinaris Apr 3 '13 at 13:29

Here is a list why the kernel got updated: http://www.ubuntuupdates.org/package/canonical_kernel_team/quantal/main/base/linux-tools-3.5.0-22

  • Version: 3.5.0-22.34 2013-01-08 23:19:18 UTC
  • Version: 3.5.0-22.33 2013-01-02 23:08:48 UTC
  • Version: 3.5.0-21.32 2012-12-11 21:08:43 UTC
  • Version: 3.5.0-20.31 2012-12-05 15:08:46 UTC
  • Version: 3.5.0-19.30 2012-11-13 19:08:30 UTC

All include a long list of fixes so the best answer to me seems: those kernel bug fixers have been doing a lot of work so there have been more moments to offer a kernel upgrade.

It might have something to do with the kenelversion 3.5.0. This was a big update so it will include a bit more bugs where some might be easy to fix.

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The main reason is to provide fixes to security flaws that get discovered, fix stability bugs, and provide updated hardware support.

Some notes about kernel updates:

  • Because the running kernel is kept loaded in memory, it possible to keep working indefinitely without rebooting after a kernel update. This will continue running the old kernel. Of course, you will then remain vulnerable to any security issues fixed in the update until you reboot. If you are just using a low-security workstation and you're in the middle of something, that risk may be acceptable. Consider reading the changelog for the update to see whether it contains security fixes for flaws that may affect you.

  • Ksplice is a kernel extension that allows the running kernel to be updated in memory, without rebooting. This is useful for servers for which downtime (disruptions when rebooting) is costly.

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Kernel updates tend to add new features and drivers as well as fixing problems on the old one's and a few bug fixes along the way... It's beneficial to update your kernel although you dont HAVE to...

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Frequent updates may not always be an advantage but as far as security goes, it is. If some kind of weakness is found in the kernel it could potentially be used to compromise the system until it is fixed. So it's best if as little time as possible passes from the discovery of a security hole until it's been fixed. There's really no reason to wait and leave an open security hole while there's a perfectly good fix available.

It's good to always have the latest kernel. Even if there's no security problem, an update might fix a bug or improve stability. And of course, new features are nice.

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All code has bugs. So does linux kernel code. Kernel updates fix kernel bugs early, before there is a zero-day exploit.

If you update, you are a moving target for an attacker. If you update on time, you move faster than any anyone can point. This makes you more or less safe from viruses and trojans.

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An exploit is zero day if it's used in the wild first, and not discovered before that. So by definition, patches cannot prevent zero-day exploits. –  Eliah Kagan Jan 18 '13 at 22:58
@yanychar, Do you really realise what a zero day exploit is? –  saji89 Jan 19 '13 at 6:29
@EliahKagan I don't see the issue here. If a bug is fixed before it is discovered by some malicious user, then you cannot have a zero-day exploit using that bug. –  howardh Jan 19 '13 at 23:28
@howardh If the bug is discovered by someone other than the person who exploits it, it is by definition not a zero day bug, and an exploit for it (even if released before the bug is ever fixed anywhere) is not a zero day exploit. –  Eliah Kagan Jan 20 '13 at 2:18

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