Linux Mint: how to upgrade quickly and safely to 20 Ulyana


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The method for upgrading 19.x to 20 Ulyana, is different from the method for upgrading 19.2 to 19.3 Tricia.

First I'll describe the method for upgrading from 19.x to 20, and then the way to upgrade within the 19 series (19.2 to 19.3).

From 19.x to 20: before you start: is it wise to upgrade at all, yet?

1. Linux Mint 19.x is still supported until May, 2023. So if you're running 19.x now, it's wise to consider if you really want to upgrade at all, yet.... After all, you can afford to wait for some time. It's safest to upgrade before May, 2021 though.

From 19.x to 20: a clean upgrade is best, so avoid an in-place upgrade

2. The best way to go from the older Mint 19 series to the newer Mint 20 series, is to apply a clean upgrade. Which means a fresh installation: format the hard disk partition on which the older version resides, and install the later version cleanly on that empty partition.

This reduces pollution, diminishes the risk of complications and is undoubtedly the fastest way to do it.

Only in-place upgrading within a particular Mint series is safe and easy. Within a series, you can simply upgrade the older version to the later one by selecting the upgrade option in Update Manager...

The reason for this distinction is, that Linux Mint uses only LTS versions of Ubuntu as codebase. Within a Mint series that's always the same Ubuntu version, so the upgrade to a later Mint within the same series is technically no big deal. Most of the codebase remains the same then.

The Linux Mint 19 series contains 19, 19.1, 19.2 and 19.3. They all have the same base, namely Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. Which makes upgrading within that series swift and safe.

But the Mint 20 series (which starts with Mint 20 Ulyana) is based on an entirely new Ubuntu, namely Ubuntu 20.04 LTS. This is a major leap in code base, which increases the upgrade risks considerably.

On the basis of my own rather negative experiences with Ubuntu release upgrades, I consider it too big a step for too many systems. Because system tweaks and/or (manually installed?) drivers which were right for 19.x, may be wrong or even disastrous for 20.x.

The only way to make sure that no such deleterious leftovers are inherited in 20, is a clean installation. So a clean installation of Mint 20 is definitely better than upgrading Mint 19.x to 20 in-place.

With a clean installation, with previous formatting of the target partition, you have the least chance of troubles afterwards. This old wisdom is valid for every operating system under the sun.....

Furthermore, a clean installation of Mint 20 will probably be a lot quicker than an in-place upgrade, because it doesn't require the complicated replacement of a tweaked and running system. It can't be compared in any way to an in-place upgrade within the 19 series, which leaves most of the codebase intact.

So I advise to avoid doing an in-place upgrade from 19.x to 20. The best way to do a clean upgrade instead, is as follows:

Optimal situation (most common): no separate home partition

3. By default, the Mint installer doesn't create a separate home partition. Which is good, because I discourage creating a separate home partition.

Among other things, it makes upgrading more simple. Proceed as follows:

Backup your important files

3.1. You will probably want to save some things from the old installation. For this, keep a USB memory stick or an external USB hard drive at hand.

a. Backup your documents, pictures and music (duh).

b. Backup your bookmarks.

The easiest way to backup your Firefox bookmarks is from within Firefox itself: 

Bookmark button - down below: Show All Bookmarks - change "Import and Backup" to "Export...."

Copy the exported .json file  to your USB memory stick. After you've installed the new Mint, you can use the Import function in Firefox to, well, import your old bookmarks.

c. Save e-mails and some application settings.

First, make the hidden files visible.

Launch your file manager.

Use the shortcut (key combination) Ctrl h to make the hidden files visible, or do it like this:

In the task bar of the file manager: View - check: Show hidden files

Now close the file manager and open it again.

Now you can see the hidden files and folders in your user folder (with a dot before the name, such as .config/google-chrome). They contain application settings.

Some of those you'll want to keep. For example: if you use Thunderbird as e-mail application, then the e-mails are in the hidden directory .thunderbird (as well as the account settings of Thunderbird and its address book).

If you want to save your e-mails and settings, copy this directory onto the USB memory stick.

Same goes for other specific application settings that you want to keep.

The rest is easy

3.2. The next things to do are easy.

a. Boot your computer from the new Mint DVD. If you have a modern computer with UEFI, you get to see the boot menu of the DVD first. Select Start Linux Mint 20.

After the booting has completed, launch GParted from the menu:
Menu - Administration - GParted

Then use this fine disk partitioner, to completely destroy the Mint partitions. Including the swap partition.

All actions you do in Gparted have to be confirmed by a click on the Apply button in the panel, before they are being executed. An extra security measure, no doubt....

Note: don't format the Mint partitions, just destroy them. The result will be "unallocated free space". Have a separate home partition? Destroy it as well (good riddance...).

Note: a swap partition (if you have such a thing) needs to be unmounted before you can destroy it. In Gparted, you can do that as follows: click with the mouse on the swap partition, then right-click with the mouse, and choose Swapoff.

b. Reboot your computer. Don't remove the Mint DVD.

c. Let the DVD check itself for errors: in the beginning, hit the space bar and choose "Check the integrity of the medium" in the DVD boot menu.

d. When no errors are found, boot your computer from the DVD again. On a modern computer with UEFI you'll get to see the boot menu of the DVD: choose "Start Linux Mint 20".

e. Establish internet connection and start the installation by clicking the desktop icon of the installer.

During its course, the installer will use the unallocated space automatically, without notification, when you select the "alongside" option for the preservation of your existing Windows. Which is exactly what you want.

So: after you've agreed to its proposal, the installer takes automatically care of the rest!

However, should you feel so inclined, you can also do a manual partitioning.

Separate home partition (less common)

4. I advise against creating a separate home partition.

However, if you already have a separate home partition, and want to keep it, this is a safe and easy way to upgrade to Mint 20. Proceed as follows:

Backup your important files

4.1. Create a backup.

a. Boot the old Mint version for the last time and backup your documents (duh) and your Firefox bookmarks.

The easiest way to save your Firefox bookmarks is from within Firefox itself: Bookmark button - down below: Show All Bookmarks - change "Import and Backup" to "Export...."

Copy the .json file to your USB memory stick. After you've installed the new Mint, you can use the Import function in Firefox to, well, import your old bookmarks.

b. Boot your computer from the new Mint DVD and choose "Start Linux Mint 20".

c. Mount the home partition: launch your file manager and click on the home partition of the hard disk.

d. Then launch a terminal window and open your file manager with root authority, namely with "pkexec".

e. File manager toolbar: View - tick "Show Hidden Files". In all user accounts on the home partition, delete all hidden files and directories with configurations (all directories and files that start with a dot, such as .mozilla and .mplayer).

Notable exception: if you use Thunderbird as an e-mail program, then the e-mails and account settings are in the hidden directory .mozilla-thunderbird. If you want to save your e-mails, copy this directory to the USB memory stick.

f. Reboot anew from the DVD and let it check itself for errors.

g. When no errors are found, boot your computer from the new Mint DVD. On modern computers with UEFI, you'll get to see the boot menu of the DVD: choose "Start Linux Mint 20".

h. Establish internet connection and start the installation by clicking the desktop icon of the installer.

Install the new Mint

4.2. During installation, the best choice is now manual partitioning. Mint itself will be placed on the root partition: give it the mount point "/" (without the quotation marks). It should be reformatted, so make sure that the format box is ticked.

If you have an existing separate home partition, then give that the mount point "/home" (without the quotation marks). Normally you won't want to reformat it: so don't tick the format box.

An existing swap partition will automatically be mounted as Linux-swap. No action needed.

See this page (with screenshots).

Complete your new Mint

5. Done? Now finish your shiny new Mint installation with some polishing (10 things to do first).

Upgrade from 19.2 to 19.3: by means of Update Manager (recommended)

6. An in-place upgrade of 19.2 to 19.3 is easy and safe, because they have the same codebase: Ubuntu 18.04. The main and recommended upgrade method within the 19 series, is by means of Update Manager.

This feature in Update Manager usually becomes available together with the official release of a new Mint version (or a couple of days after that). This feature is the best and recommended way to perform the upgrade.

This is how it works, when it has been made available:

a. First of all it's best to disable the screensaver, so that it won't make a nuisance of itself during the upgrade process.

b. Launch Update Manager and apply all available updates, so that you're sure that you've got the latest version of Update Manager.

c. In the panel of Update Manager you click Edit and then:
Upgrade to "Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia".

d. Then a wizard presents itself, that gives you some information.

After the last step, the installation begins. Wait patiently; sometimes it looks as if nothing happens, but that's just seemingly so. So just wait.

e. After completion of the upgrade you have to reboot your computer.

Note: during the upgrade you won't get a kernel upgrade to the default kernel for Linux Mint 19.3 (5.0.x). There's a reason for that, because that's no problem: it's quite alright to continue to use your current older kernel series in 19.3.

Correct the Grub bootloader menu items

6.1. In the Grub bootloader menu, your Mint may still be called 19.2, and not 19.3. This is harmless. But if you wish to change the menu items into 19.3, this may work:

a. Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

b. Use copy/paste to transfer the following blue line into the terminal:

sudo update-grub

Press Enter.

You're done. Enjoy the beautiful Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia!

Didn't the upgrade succeed? Then try upgrading by means of the terminal, as described below (item 2).

Upgrade from 19.2 to 19.3: by means of the terminal (emergency measure)

7. Sometimes upgrading from 19.2 to 19.3 by means of Update Manager doesn't succeed, for unclear reasons. Even in cases when the official upgrade feature has already been made available.

In that case you can do the upgrade as follows, by means of the terminal:

a. Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

b. In your sources list, replace the Tina source (19.2) by the Tricia source (19.3). For that, use copy/paste to transfer this line into the terminal (it's one line):

sudo sed -i 's/tina/tricia/g' /etc/apt/sources.list.d/official-package-repositories.list

Press Enter. Note that your password remains entirely invisible, not even dots will show when you type it, this is normal.

c. Then you update the packages list, like this:

sudo apt-get update

d. Then you perform the actual upgrade, in this way:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

This may take a while.

e. When it's done: reboot your computer. You're done!

Note: unlike upgrading by Update Manager, this terminal upgrade will also install the recommended kernel for Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia.

If your hardware doesn't run well on that kernel, you can simply boot from the former kernel (it's still there, hidden under "Advanced options" in the Grub bootloader menu) and remove the latest kernel. You can easily remove a kernel by clicking View - Linux kernels in the panel of Update Manager.


Want more tips?

Do you want more tips and tweaks? There's a lot more of them on this website!

For example:

Speed up your Linux Mint!

Clean your Linux Mint safely

Avoid 10 fatal mistakes


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