Fixed vs. Rolling vs. Semi-Rolling Release in Linux (Explained)

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In the realm of Linux, software updates are typically delivered to users through three distinct models: fixed release, rolling release, and semi-rolling release.

Linux distributions that follow a fixed release model typically focus primarily on delivering security updates and bug patches, while new software packages or updates are typically introduced when a new version of the operating system is launched.

Linux distributions that follow a rolling release model often deliver new software packages or updates with each update, including security enhancements and bug fixes.

In a semi-rolling release distribution, some system components receive continuous updates like a rolling release, while others follow a fixed schedule or remain stable for an extended period.

For a clearer and more precise difference between each of these release models, check out the next section.

Fixed vs. Rolling vs. Semi-Rolling Release Linux Distros

Fixed, rolling, and semi-rolling releases Linux distros offer unique pros and cons, and the ideal choice varies from person to person.

Here’s a comparison to assist you in choosing the best option for your specific needs and personal preferences.

Fixed Release Linux Distros

  1. Stable and Reliable: Fixed-release distributions, such as Ubuntu LTS, Debian Stable, and RHEL, are known for their stability and reliability. Each minor update or major distribution release is thoroughly tested before reaching out to the users.
  2. Long-Term Support (LTS): Many fixed-release distributions offer long-term support versions that receive security updates and maintenance for several years (e.g., 5 or 10 years).
  3. Predictable Updates: The minor or major updates are typically on a set schedule, often every 6 months to 2 years.
  4. Better for Newbies: Fixed-release distros are the best option for Linux beginners because they are typically user-friendly and less likely to encourage any disruption from updates.Β 
  5. Best for Server: Most of the servers and enterprise environments are running on a fixed-release Linux distribution for better stability, security, and reliability.

Rolling Release Linux Distros

  1. Frequent Updates: Rolling release distributions like Arch Linux and Manjaro are famous for their constant updates. While using this distribution, you’ll have access to the latest software packages as soon as they become available.
  2. Cutting-Edge Software: If you want to use the latest DE features, drivers, software, or the latest version of the kernel, rolling releases are the way to go (sometimes systems might break due to the instability between the latest and current system packages).
  3. Minimal Reinstallation: Reinstalling entire systems due to major Linux distribution updates is not required as the regular update keeps your system up-to-date.
  4. More Maintenance: The users using the rolling release distributions should have good skill in Linux command-line and should be comfortable with troubleshooting and handling potential breakages as this distros might occasionally introduce issues with updates.
  5. Experienced Users: Β Experienced Linux users with solid command-line skills typically use rolling-release distributions. Yet, new users can also use it, but it is recommended only on virtual machines for beginners.

Semi-Rolling Release Linux Distros

  1. Core Components: Linux kernel, system libraries, third-party software, and security updates, often adopted in semi-rolling release models. However, it’s important to recognize that each distribution may have its unique semi-rolling release variation with varying priorities.
  2. Critical Components: Complex components like the desktop environment, major Linux updates, or applications demanding the latest libraries may follow a more fixed release schedule. These components are updated less frequently, typically on a schedule determined by the distribution maintainers.
  3. Stability: A semi-rolling release aims to strike a balance between accessing the latest system components for enhanced features and performance while maintaining stability by keeping certain system elements static, thus minimizing the risk of frequent disruptions in user applications.
  4. Long-Term Support (LTS): Certain semi-rolling release distros provide LTS versions for users valuing stability and reliability, offering prolonged security updates and bug fixes, similar to fixed-release distros.

Popular Linux Distributions That Provide Fixed, Rolling, and Semi-Rolling Variants

Fixed Release DistrosRolling Release DistrosSemi-Rolling Release Distros
Ubuntu LTSArch LinuxOpenSUSE Tumbleweed
Debian StableManjaroSolus
OpenSUSE LeapDebian UnstableFedora
RHELGentooChakra Linux

Note that the Linux distributions may alter their direction, as CentOS did when it transitioned and introduced CentOS Stream after discontinuation.

So, always stay informed about distribution updates by following them on their social media platforms, including us on our various social platforms πŸ€“.

It’s also important to note that there is no strict rule dictating that a particular distribution must exclusively use either a fixed or rolling variant for shipment; flexibility in distribution methods exists.

Linux distributions like Debian have three different branches: stable, unstable, and testing. The stable branch of Debian follows a fixed release model, while the unstable branch of Debian follows a rolling release model.

Debian Testing follows a semi-rolling release model that acts as a transitional stage between Debian Unstable and Debian Stable.

Final Word

In summary, Linux distributions can adopt fixed, rolling, or semi-rolling release models. Fixed release distributions for users seeking stability and reliability over cutting-edge software and system features

Rolling release distros are for users seeking the latest software updates over stability, while semi-rolling releases offer a balance for those who value both stability and up-to-date software.

I hope this article has clarified the difference between them and assisted you in choosing your next Linux distribution.

If you have any questions or queries related to the article, then feel free to ask them in the comment section.

Till then, peace!

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