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What is an Ubuntu LTS release?

This article was updated in September 2021 to reflect the new Ubuntu lifecycle.

Come April 23rd 2020, Ubuntu 20.04 LTS will be available. It will be the first LTS version of Ubuntu since the 18.04 release, and in this blog, I want to answer the common question, what is an LTS? For a deeper look at the benefits of using an Ubuntu LTS, there’s a whitepaper for that, for anything else, this post will answer your questions. 

What does LTS mean?

LTS stands for long term support. Here, support means that throughout the lifetime of a release there is a commitment to update, patch and maintain the software. For an LTS, there is a shorter development cycle, where engineers and contributors add to the body of the release. And a longer beta testing cycle, where more testing and bug fixing takes place to focus on a release’s performance and stability. 

Without long term support, software can become a security risk. Vulnerabilities develop over time and without mechanisms to patch or update them, systems become exposed and perform worse the longer they remain out-of-date. 

On the other hand, if users stick with the same release too long their system will start to fall behind. While some key features are occasionally backported to old releases, development moves forward. The latest is typically the greatest.

What is an Ubuntu LTS release?

An Ubuntu LTS is a commitment from Canonical to support and maintain a version of Ubuntu for ten years, with the initial five years available for free following Ubuntu’s mission. In April, every two years, we release a new LTS where all of the developments from the previous two years accumulate into one up-to-date, feature-rich release. These releases focus on performance enhancement and stability. The LTS is what we recommend to large scale enterprises, general users and businesses. However, for more dynamic users, every six months throughout those two years there are also developer releases. These releases are kept up-to-date and relevant, with the latest and greatest contributions, but are only supported for nine months at a time.

The concern with anything that claims to last, is what if they’re wrong? Whether you’re an individual user, an SME or a multinational corporation, reliability is crucial. Ubuntu’s focus is on maintaining reliability, security and trust. The first Ubuntu LTS with five years of support was Ubuntu 12.04. Since then, Ubuntu releases have held the same two-year cadence.

This is a good place to point out the naming convention. Regardless of being an LTS or a developer release, the naming convention always leads with the year and trails whether it is an April or October release. For example, Ubuntu 20.04 LTS launches in April 2020. The next release will be in October 2020 and be called 20.10.

An LTS is also a chance to shine a light on the Ubuntu community. Contributions from thousands of developers come together in a release that will be recommended to users for years to come. The community trusts in Ubuntu enough that there are several official ‘flavours’ of Ubuntu that rely on continuous improvement for their own success.  And trust goes both ways, each flavour releases an LTS with the same Ubuntu release cadence, and flavours are backed by the full Ubuntu archive for packages and updates. 

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS

The release date of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is the 23rd of April, for both Ubuntu Desktop and Server. Up to the 23rd, it is possible to download the daily builds for testing or curiosity purposes. The version available here is still in development stages and should not be deployed for production use. Instead, test them on a spare computer or in a virtual machine.

In the lead up to the release, there have been numerous other blog posts with more information. And in the next few weeks, more will follow to describe the new features and decisions made in 20.04. Stay tuned. 

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