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How to Check OS Version in Linux

How to Check OS Version in Linux
05.03.2024
Reading time: 8 min
Hostman Team
Technical writer

The popularity of the powerful and versatile Linux operating system lies in the variety of available versions. From Ubuntu to Red Hat, from Mint to Fedora, each Linux version offers users unique features and benefits. It is important to check Linux OS version for compatibility, as varied versions have different software requirements.

Using an older version may not allow you to install and run the latest software updates. Some hardware components may not be supported by certain Linux versions. Knowing your OS version can help you troubleshoot any compatibility issues. Therefore, it is important to check the Linux OS version and know which one you're using.

Knowing your OS version in Linux is obligatory for security reasons. All operating systems release updates to address security vulnerabilities, and Linux is no exception. If you know your OS version, you can be sure that the necessary security updates are installed. This is especially important for businesses and organizations dealing with confidential information and requiring strong security control.

Another reason for checking Linux OS version is for support purposes. Various versions differentiate by support lifecycles. They have limited time to receive updates and support from developers. Knowing your OS version gives you an idea of ​​when it needs to be updated. An unsupported Linux version can leave your system vulnerable to security threats and compatibility issues.

Popular Linux distributions and their versions

It’s important to check the Linux OS version as the operating system offers a large selection of distributions, each with its own unique features and characteristics. Common forms include Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, CentOS, Fedora and Mint.

Ubuntu is famous for its user-friendly interface and regular updates. Debian is known for its strict adherence to free software principles. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) offers a stable and secure platform for businesses. CentOS provides similar features to users for free. Fedora is distinguished by its frequent updates and use of the latest software. Mint features a more traditional desktop environment.

Each version differs in software, desktop environment, and support lifecycle. Each distribution has various versions or releases with different code names and updates. Ubuntu has editions such as Bionic Beaver, Cosmic Cuttlefish and Disco Dingo, while Fedora has editions such as Silverblue and Workstation. They satisfy different needs and preferences of a wide range of users.

Each Linux distribution has its own unique version numbering system, because it is an open-source operating system developed and maintained by a community of developers. Therefore, each distribution has its own set of developers who make decisions about naming and numbering their releases. Users can easily determine which version they are using and what changes have been made since the last update, and developers can track their progress and plan future releases. 

Typically a three-level version numbering system with numbers separated by dots is used. The first number is a major release for updates or changes to the distribution, the second number is a minor release for bug fixes, security updates, and minor feature additions, the third number is a hotfix release for minor bug fixes and updates.

Ubuntu uses a version numbering system in the format 'XX.YY.ZZ', where the first number is a year, the second is a month of release, and the third number is incremented with each new release that month. The system displays the age of release and frequency of updates.

Code names, such as names of animals or cities, are also used to recognize releases of Linux distributions. Fedora uses code names for its releases like 'Bordeaux' and 'Heisenbug' to make it easier for users to navigate the different versions.

There are many ways to find out the version of the Linux operating system and get distribution information about it. We’ll cover the most commonly used. Read on to learn how to check OS version in Linux.

How to check the Linux OS version through the 'lsb_release' command

You can apply the lsb_release command to check the Linux OS version. You’ll receive detailed information about the distribution, release, and codename of your operating system.

  1. To start, open the terminal;

  2. Type the command:

lsb_release -a
  1. Press Enter to view a list of information displayed in your terminal.

C56d4f7a 2f24 4048 Be0c 67c63857aca6

  • The Distributor ID line is a name of your Linux distribution, for instance, Ubuntu, Fedora, or CentOS.

  • The Description line is a brief description of your Linux distribution with details such as the release number and the codename of your system.

  • The Release line is a display of the specific version of your Linux distribution, such as '18.04' for Ubuntu or a name like 'Bionic Beaver.'

  • The Codename line is your system’s codename assigned to each version of a Linux distribution, such as 'Bionic Beaver' for Ubuntu 18.04.

How to check the OS version in Linux through the 'cat /etc/os-release' command

You can apply the cat /etc/os-release command to check the OS version in Linux. It will help you quickly determine your OS version and show detailed information.

  1. To start, open the terminal; 

  2. Type the command:

cat /etc/os-release
  1. Press Enter to view a list of information displayed on your terminal.

1045c272 3aba 450d 967f 5019a859f72e

  • The ID field is the name of your Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu or CentOS.

  • The VERSION_ID field is the specific version of that distribution, such as Ubuntu 18.04 or CentOS 7.

The cat /etc/os-release command shows other useful information about your operating system, such as the name and version of the operating system kernel, the desktop environment or window manager you are using, and the OS build and release date.

How to check version of OS in Linux through the 'uname -a' command

You can apply the uname -a command to check the Linux OS version. It displays detailed information about your system's kernel version, architecture, processor type, hostname, and even the date and time of the last system boot.

  1. To start, open the terminal; 

  2. Type the command:

uname -a
  1. Press Enter to view a list of information displayed on your terminal.

Uname

The output typically includes the Linux operating system kernel version and system architecture to ensure that you download and install the correct version of the software, avoiding compatibility issues and potential bugs. The command also provides information about the last time the system booted for analyzing system performance and identifying potential problems.

Other ways to check OS version in Linux

  • The hostnamectl command

This is a new way to check the Linux OS version, available on systems using systemd. It provides more detailed data than previous methods, including kernel version, architecture, and hardware platform.

  1. To get the output, open the terminal; 

  2. Type the command:

hostnamectl
  1. Press Enter to view a list of information displayed on your terminal.

C44fdb8b A09a 4a03 A1d4 8d35d06fe483

  • The /etc/os-release file

The /etc directory contains configuration files and scripts used by the system, including the os-release file with information about the OS version

To get the output, open the terminal and enter the command:

cat /etc/os-release

83621b31 F710 4db3 A72a B70fcaee3e61

  • The /etc/issue file

This file with system information is used for login prompts as well as for checking the OS version in Linux.

To get the output, enter the command:

cat /etc/issue

F6085c18 3b4d 49bb B4c5 277389d53352

The name and version of the operating system are displayed here.

  • The version file

Some Linux distributions have a version file in the /etc directory with information about the distribution and version.

To get the output, open the terminal and enter the command:

cat /etc/version

The distribution name and version number are displayed here.

How to Check Linux OS Version Using GUI

This operating system has several ways to check your OS version. We have already explored the common methods through the command line interface. Now let’s learn how to check the Linux OS version without command. This is where the graphical user interface (GUI) comes into play, offering a convenient way to access system information.

You need to access the system settings:

  1. To start, click on the 'Activities' button on the top-left corner of the screen;

  2. Enter 'system' in the search bar;

  3. Navigate to the 'System Settings' window and click the 'Details' option to display the OS name, version, and other system information in a new window.

Checking the OS version in any Linux distribution is similar and differs slightly only in names of the buttons or windows in the search bar:  

  • In Ubuntu click on the 'Activities' button and type 'System Settings' in the search bar, then navigate to the 'Details' tab.

  • In Fedora click on the 'Show Applications' button and type 'Settings' in the search bar, then navigate to the 'About' tab.

  • In CentOS click on the 'Applications' button and navigate to 'System Tools' and then 'Settings', then navigate to the 'System' tab.

Conclusion

Linux OS versions vary in underlying architecture, package management system, desktop environment, security features, compatibility, and release cycles. Each version has its own unique set of features and benefits, so users can choose the one that best suits their needs and preferences. Understanding your Linux OS version helps you in troubleshooting and solving problems, providing a better insight into the system's capabilities and limitations, allowing you to make informed decisions when it comes to upgrading or modifying the system.

Now you have learned the different methods on how to check OS version in Linux through special commands or using GUI. Choose the best way for yourself and use it. Regularly checking and updating your Linux OS version is a good practice to ensure productive and hassle-free operation of your computer. This ensures that the system is running the latest version and all necessary security protocols are installed.

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