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Upgrading Linux Mint

by Michael Burton

Linux Mint is now (December, 2017) distributing version 18.3 of its operating system. When you have as many computers as I do, you should be looking for ways to upgrade your machines without having to do a fresh installation. The Linux Mint maintainers are doing their best to help with this problem.

However, before you upgrade to, or freshly install, the latest Linux Mint, there are several important things you should do:

  1. Back up the current version of your operating system, so you can alwasy go back if necessary.
  2. Back up all your home directory data, in case you accidently erase it during the O/S upgrade.

Important: Be sure to update your O/S using the Update Manager before you do any of the following.

Back Up (Snapshot) Your Current O/S

The LM maintainers have added a great new utility to the repositories to help you snapshot your operating system. The utility is called 'timeshift'. It uses the command line 'rsync' command to determine if files have already been backed up, and will only back up those files that have been changed since the last backup. You can tell it to backup up any or all of the following: on-demand, boot, hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. timeshift uses cron to schedule these events.

timeshift uses a setup wizard to help you configure itself for your particular computer. One of the questions it asks is what partition to store the snapshots on. If you chose the partition containing your home directory, timeshift will create what looks like another user in the /home/ directory called 'timeshift', and will store all its snapshots in that directory.

Please note that timeshift can take a snapshot of your home directory along with the O/S snapshot, but I don't recommend you do that. If you did, when you use timeshift to reload the O/S, it would also reload your home directory contents, removing anything you have done between the time of that snapshot and and the time you do the restore. That is NOT a good thing. I recommend you use a separate back up program to back up your home directory.

Back Up Your Home Directory

Linux Mint comes with a Backup Tool to perform the backup function, but I have never been comfortable with that tool. I have found an easy to use alternative for that tool, which is a shell script called 'XBT' (eXternal Backup Tool). You can obtain it from a collection of bash scripts written by Joe Collins, who maintains a web site called EzeeLinux. Joe is a YouTube contributor who produces very easy to understand videos about Linux.

You can pick up the script collection by going to the EzeeLinux Bash Scripts page and downloading 'ezeelinux_bash-script_collection.zip'. Use your archive manager to open up the .zip file and to extract the 'xbt' file. I recommend you have a directory in your home directory called 'bin/' to put the file in. If you have to create the bin/ directory when you do all this, you should log out and back in, so Linux Mint will know about your home directories' bin/ directory and can include it in your terminal path.

XBT uses the 'rsync' command to back up your /etc and /home directories, but it backs them up onto an external storage device. What this means to you is you need an external storage media with a label of 'XBT_Drive'. You can create such an external media by using the LM 'USB Stick Formatter'

Please note several important things from the picture: you must format the drive with the ext4 file system. You also must label it as 'XBT_Drive'. Include the capital letters. Also note: this will freshly format the media and you will lose anything that is currently on it.

To perform the home directory backup, connect the external media to your computer. Start up a terminal and simply type

xbt

Upgrade or Frashly Install Your Computer to the Latest Linux Mint

Upgrading

You are now ready to upgrade your computer. The easy way to do this is to open the Update Manager and click on the Edit menu item and the 'Upgrade to "Linux Mint 18.3 Sylvia"' item. A wizard will pop up and just follow the steps.

When the upgrade is finished, you must reboot your system to use the new 18.3 Linux Mint.

Fresh Installing

Upgrading was the easy way to install Linux Mint 18.3 on your computer. If your LM version is too old to do that or you want to install over another version of Linux, you must do a fresh installation.

You can completely install a new version of Linux Mint without destroying the data in your home directory. The trick is to NOT format the partition where the home directory resides. Here's what you do.

You must have a DVD or memory stick with a bootable copy of LM 18.3. Insert the media into your computer and boot into it. It will take quite a while for the machine to fully boot up, as it is doing everything in memory and the media is a lot slower than your hard drive or SSD.

Double click on the Install Linux Mint icon. The installer will load. Go through each of the installation screens until you get to the one titled 'Installation type'. Select 'Something else', then click on Continue. You will then get a screen that looks like this:

If you have one partition (plus a swap partition), then set it up as ext4 and root (/) but do not format it, as it will contain the home directory. (The unchecked format box is circled in red).

If you have more than two partitions, set the smaller one up as the ext4 root partition and format it. The larger partition will be your home partition. Set it up too, but do not format it.

The only other thing you have to do in the installation is defined the main user. Be sure to create the same user as the original installation had. If you don't, then all your old data will be in a different directory and will be hard to access.

That's it. I hope you enjoy your new operating system.