It seems like this should be true but I wanted to make sure. Thanks!


Short answer

No, they are not the same. apt-get upgrade doesn't handle changing dependencies between versions, so if a package has changed dependencies, it wont be upgraded (it'll be "held back"). See the long answer for more details.

Using the Software Updater and using sudo apt-get update ; sudo apt-get dist-upgrade (note the dist-) would be almost equivalent, except that one's obviously a GUI and the other's a console application and also a few very minor informational differences.

Long asnwer

From man apt-get,

  • apt-get upgrade:

               upgrade is used to install the newest versions of all packages
               currently installed on the system from the sources enumerated in
               /etc/apt/sources.list. Packages currently installed with new
               versions available are retrieved and upgraded; under no
               circumstances are currently installed packages removed, or packages
               not already installed retrieved and installed. New versions of
               currently installed packages that cannot be upgraded without
               changing the install status of another package will be left at
               their current version. An update must be performed first so that
               apt-get knows that new versions of packages are available.

    (emphasis by me)

    This means that a newer version of a package which has a new dependency not required in the old version will not be upgraded with this method (unless the new dependency was already installed). These will be shown as "Held back".

  • apt-get dist-upgrade:

           dist-upgrade in addition to performing the function of upgrade,
           also intelligently handles changing dependencies with new versions
           of packages; apt-get has a "smart" conflict resolution system, and
           it will attempt to upgrade the most important packages at the
           expense of less important ones if necessary. The dist-upgrade
           command may therefore remove some packages. The
           /etc/apt/sources.list file contains a list of locations from which
           to retrieve desired package files. See also apt_preferences(5) for
           a mechanism for overriding the general settings for individual

    (emphasis by me)

    This means that with this command instead of upgrade, packages with new (or removed) dependencies can by upgraded.


A good example of the difference between the two is when a new Linux kernel is released. This is packaged into the linux-image-generic package which always depends on the latest package of the Linux kernel. Because the dependencies of linux-image-generic change with each kernel upgrade, upgrade wont upgrade it.


It's nearly the same but not exactly. For example, when kernel updates are offered, sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade is needed to get those updates.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade will tell you that some packages have been held back.

Using the Software Updater makes everything seamless and you won't see anything held back.


With apt available, phased updates (mentioned by pabouk) are the most salient difference between updating with the Software Updater and the command line.

These days, the apt utility--which didn't exist when this question was posted but would likely have been included in the question if it had--is an increasingly popular alternative to apt-get for upgrading packages. They are similar: the same package (also called apt) provides both, and everything apt can do, the traditional apt- utilities can too, though in some cases you would have to pass special configuration options. But apt is closer than apt-get to the Software Updater. Like the Software Updater, sudo apt upgrade is capable of installing new packages when the new version of an existing package declares them as dependencies.

So these days, users who are concerned with this distinction can just run sudo apt upgrade instead of sudo apt-get upgrade if they want new dependencies to be installed automatically. Consequently, the Software Updater's feature of delaying some updates slightly, to determine if they are stable in the wild and limit damage if they are not, is now probably the main difference between using the Software Updater and updating on the command-line.

This behavior of the Software Updater is due to the phased updates policy. That policy--implemented in the Software Updater but not in apt-get (or apt)--has been one major difference between the two methods ever since the policy was introduced, and pabouk commented about it a couple years ago:

There is another difference: apt-get does not use PhasedUpdates so sometimes Software Updater shows less updates than apt-get. See Why Does Software Updater Say No updates Available, but apt-get upgrade Shows updates available?.

pabouk Feb 25 '15 at 7:34

This may always have been the most significant difference, in that one could always run sudo apt-get dist-upgrade when faced with the upgrade action's unwillingness to install new packages or uninstall existing ones. However, when updating from the command-line, the relative importance of phased updates increases with apt:

  • Like apt-get, the apt command will download and install updates even if they would be delayed due to the phased updates policy if the Software Updater had been used instead.
  • But unlike apt-get, the apt command's upgrade action will install new packages that were not previously installed but are required as dependencies for new package versions.

Aside from (a) preferring a graphical interface and (b) its desktop integration providing notifications when updates are available, the main current reason one might use the Software Updater that it is the easiest way to participate in phased updates.

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