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Feature: System Administration

Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

By Bruce Byfield on November 25, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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With Fedora 10 scheduled for release today, many users are thinking about how they are going to upgrade. A complete upgrade is something you do no more than twice a year, so the details are easy to forget. Also, the Fedora upgrade process, which centers on pointing to a new repository, is more complex than, say, the equivalent Debian process, in which repositories remain constant and only their contents change with a new release. But an even stronger reason for the uncertainty is that a Fedora system can be upgraded in at least four ways, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Regardless of the method you use, before upgrading Fedora, you should look at steps 1 and 2 of the Yum Upgrade FAQ. These steps offer sensible advice about how to prepare for an upgrade. The advice includes reading the release notes to be aware of any problems, doing a current backup, making sure that your system has the latest updates, and dealing with any .rpmnew and .rpmsave files -- the new and old configuration files that have been affected by updates.

At the same time, the FAQ suggests, you might want to do a little housekeeping and remove any unneeded programs or configuration files, on the grounds that the less that is present on your system, the fewer chances for anything to go wrong. The easiest way to deal with such material is to install the yum-utils package, then use its command package-cleanup --leaves.

If you are really cautious, you might want to take the extra measure of removing any proprietary drivers you are using -- especially ones for your video card -- since you will probably have to upgrade those in a separate process after the main upgrade anyway. During the upgrade you can use a free driver instead, since an upgrade hardly requires 3-D graphics.

As a final preliminary, if you have SELinux enabled, turn it to permissive mode, so that it does not react to attempts to change configuration files.

With these preliminaries out of the way, you can start to think of which upgrade process you are going to use.

Upgrading from the CD or DVD

Probably the most familiar upgrade option is to upgrade from a CD or DVD. The Fedora 9 Install Guide summarizes this method neatly:

The installation system automatically detects any existing installation of Fedora. The upgrade process updates the existing system software with new versions, but does not remove any data from users' home directories. The existing partition structure on your hard drives does not change. Your system configuration changes only if a package upgrade demands it.

However, the familiarity of this method is also its chief disadvantage. Because so many people are likely to choose this option, you may face slow download times for the CD image, much less a DVD, in the first few days after a release. Still, if you do manage to download a DVD, you won't need to worry much about accessing online repositories during the actual upgrade, which should speed up the process.

Upgrading manually

Instead of downloading an entire disk image, a simpler alternative is to add to the repositories your system recognizes. Unfortunately, you cannot add repositories via the graphical System -> Administration -> Software Sources, which only enables or disables existing sources. Instead, you have to open a text editor or a command line.

You can use an existing repository definition in /etc/yum.repos.d. as a model to create a new one. The definitions in this directory look complicated, but the only changes you need to make are in the names, base URLs, and GPG keys, all of which you can crib from looking at the repository that you are adding in your Web browser. To make things simpler, you could set the gpgcheck field to 0 to turn off the use of the GPG key, but for security's sake, you should avoid that course. Add the new repositories, reboot, and you will be ready to upgrade.

An easier manual method is to run the command rpm -Uhv In this command, the release number is simply the number of the release. This command will update your repositories, providing informational messages that allow you to track its progress.

After either course, you can begin the upgrade by entering yum upgrade at the command line. If you want to ensure that particular package groups are upgraded, you might want to enter more specific command; for example, to make sure that everything in the Base group is installed, you would enter yum update Base. You can see a list of package groups by entering the command yum grouplist.

Whether you like these manual preparations depends on what type of user you are. If you are an experienced user, you may prefer these methods because they allow you to see exactly what is happening. By contrast, if you are primarily a desktop user, editing configuration files and working from the command line may make you uncomfortable.

Upgrading with fedora-release

A third alternative is to use a convention that Fedora has evolved to help users update their systems to a new release. For a few weeks before and after a release, Fedora provides an updated fedora-release package in the repositories of a new release's alpha, beta, and release candidate repositories, as well as the repository for the previous release. After this period, you can go to a repository for the new release, download its version of fedora-release and install it using the command yum localinstall fedora-release. Reboot after installing the package, and you can upgrade your system using the update applet in the panel's notification tray or by using the command yum update.

This method avoids the long preliminary download of an ISO image, but it forces you either to upgrade at the peak period for use of the newest repository, or, if you wait too long, to perform the extra step of hunting down the necessary version of fedora-release. In other words, delay too long and the main advantage of this method is lost.

Upgrading with PreUpgrade

Since this spring a fourth option is to install Fedora's PreUpgrade package.

Once a release is available, you can run PreUpgrade at any time by entering the command preupgrade as root (in Fedora 10 and later, you will be able to start the program directly from PackageKit, the default software installer). PreUpgrade is a wizard that steps you through the necessary upgrade steps. Your only input to the wizard is to select the distribution to which to upgrade, and click the Apply and Forward buttons to move through the wizard. PreUpgrade downloads the packages needed by the upgrade, and you can continue to work until you are ready to reboot and finish the process.

Using PreUpgrade is probably the easiest way to upgrade, and from the traffic on the Fedora user list, it's probably the one that most people plan to use on Fedora 10. However, experienced users might not appreciate being insulated from system changes by a graphical interface. Also, at least one user has noted that PreUpgrade does not yet verify cryptographic signatures, which might make anyone who is security-cautious hesitate to use it just yet.

Final steps

Whichever method of upgrading you use, the basic upgrade is only the first step. After you have verified that the upgrade has left you with a working system, you will still need to check for any upgrades from alternative repositories such as RPM Fusion. In some cases, you may need to go to a manufacturer's site for new drivers. And if that seems tedious -- well, that's the price you pay for not sticking with Fedora's free-software-only policy.

The last step is to check the new .rpmnew and .rpmsave files on your system. Many of them will have minimal effect on your system's daily operations, but some may have security improvements that you should implement right away, while others may undo some of your customizations. Either way, you should examine each one carefully in order to determine what to do with it. Some people automatically accept all changes, while others just as automtically reject them.

Deal with the .rpmnew and .rpmsave files as soon as you've upgraded to the next release, and you can upgrade from the panel applet for another six months before you need to remember the necessary maneuvers for the next version upgrade.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for

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on Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

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Could they have fixed audio? SATA?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 11:56 AM
I'm ready for F10.

Ever since a reboot with a new kernel in F8, I have not had system sounds. NOTHING makes system sounds work. I have even changed sound cards. All through F9, they don't work. Regular sound works fine, but system sounds will not play and nothing makes them play. Surely F10 will fix this?

I also have a Blu-Ray burner for backups -- with F8, again, I rebooted with a new kernel and SATA burners won't work. Not for CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray. I also had SATA break on another F9 machine and I couldn't access my SATA drive for weeks until a bug fix came out.

I stick with Fedora because I need to run IBM software, but the problem I have with Fedora is how things that have worked for many years suddenly break, leaving me in the lurch. I don't have any other problems with Fedora. Just stuff breaking that has worked a long time and been stable.


Re: Could they have fixed audio? SATA?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 12:02 PM
These regressions could be caught during the beta period. Just test their beta releases and file bug reports of things that break since the last stable version and this way you can help them make sure nothing stops working.


Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 03:28 PM
I don't use Fedora so I'm not sure what kernel versions it used in previous releases, but the SATA issue could be because a few kernel versions ago, the hardware naming convention changed such that even PATA (IDE) devices were named like SATA ones in /dev. So for example, the whereas the first IDE HD before might have been /dev/hda and your SATA Blu-Ray burner /dev/sda, with the new kernel, they probably moved to /dev/sda and /dev/sdb, respectively. With that in mind, you probably have to change your /etc/fstab and/or your burning programs to reflect these changes.


Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 03:37 PM
"Because so many people are likely to choose this option, you may face slow download times for the CD image, much less a DVD, in the first few days after a release."

Get a torrent. Solved.


Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 05:35 PM
# Get a torrent. Solved.

Not if you are on a corporate network


Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 05:55 PM
I will be migrating from fc8 to fc10 once the cd's are out. I don't upgrade as I have everything working for audio, video. So fc10 will go on a separate hard disk until it is fully configured.


Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 07:25 PM

[Modified by: Nathan Willis on November 25, 2008 02:49 PM]


Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 25, 2008 10:57 PM
It seems since about FC6, FC7, each step up in version numbers has been a downgrade.

Far better option is to just stick with the one distro version that works, and just update programs and libraries where absolutely necessary. Upgrading the OS twice yearly seems a bit much.


Re: Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 26, 2008 12:10 AM
> Upgrading the OS twice yearly seems a bit much.

You could upgrade once a year. Fedora 9 will be supported for 6 months yet. If that's too long your best bet is to move to RHEL or CentOS for the longer support cycles. Depends on what your needs are.


Then don't!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 26, 2008 03:51 PM
The easiest solution to not upgrading is to find a long-term distro. Try CentOS or one of the Ubuntu LTS releases. It really appears you aren't fully aware of what Fedora is, a bleeding edge distro for folks who either like to live dangerously (although Fedora is useful once you get it configured how you like it) or those who want to grind through a distro and help test out packages before other long-term distros pick them up. Others like the newest kernels because they have hardware that isn't supported in older kernel versions. There are other solutions to that particular problem, but having a bleeding-edge distro is one of them.


Re: Upgrading to the newest Fedora release

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on December 01, 2008 03:41 PM
maybe in this case you wish to consider switching to Debian ? (and before any flamewar starts, let it be known that I am a happy user of both distros)


Upgrade vs Fresh Install

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 26, 2008 02:21 AM
It's much safer to do a fresh install to a spare disk partition than it is to perform an upgrade to an existing system. If you upgrade, there may be no way back if something goes wrong. If you install onto a spare partition, your existing system remains completely unchanged, which gives you not only a backout path, but the option of performing the install again with different parameters. Since I've been dismayed to find on several occasions that new versions of a given distro have dropped support for hardware that I happen to require, it's critical to be able to evaluate the installed distro before committing to it.

The trick, of course, is having a spare root partition in the first place, but disk space is abundantly cheap so that issue usually reduces to moving partitions around before performing the install. If you absolutely don't have enough existing disk space, consider deferring the install until you have added a new drive.

Ideally, your system will allocate several partitions for various root filesystems, one very tiny common boot partition, and a common swap partition. In total this will amount to a small fraction of the total drive size. You are then free to set aside the rest of the drive for a shared filesystem to contain applications, home directories, and so on.

When you perform a system install, you must select which partition to use for the root filesystem. Be absolutely sure to leave all other partitions alone. On really critical systems I've gone to the extent of disconnecting all but the root disk drive in order to ensure that the others cannot be modified accidentally.

Operating system and hardware changes are an expected part of the system lifecycle. You can make these changes a lot easier and less risky by partitioning the system away from applications and data.


Re: Upgrade vs Fresh Install

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 29, 2008 12:43 AM
This is exactly how I do upgrades. I usually skip odd versions, for reason I'm not able to explain, they just seem not as stable as even ones.. So I went from 6 to 8 and now I'm planning to hop to 10.

The best way to upgrade for me has been to install F-(n+2) to a scratch partition still *during rawhide development* as this is when developers can do the most changes without being strangled with updates-testing, bodhi and stuff.

From my experience, once a release goes out, you're less likely to get a fix than when reporting against rawhide..

And yes, I like the factor of being "bleeding edge" as well as having lots of software *and* community of contributors (as opposed to just "users"). Fedora rocks.


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