3 Things You Need to Do Before Upgrading to Ubuntu Precise

Finally, Ubuntu 12.04 has landed, but before you rush to upgrade to the latest version, here are some things that you need to do.

1. Decide whether to install from scratch or upgrade your existing version

In my past experience, upgrading an existing version of Ubuntu to the latest version always left a bad taste in the mouth. Downloads are slow, upgrade took forever and the completed product always break things here and there. This is worst if you are two or more versions behind as the transition from GTK 2.x (11.04 and below) to GTK 3.x (12.04) would undoubtedly break some of your applications and settings. However, I have read news that the upgrading process in Ubuntu Precise is much smoother and less things are breaking, so it might worth a try.


My advise is: if you are using a much older version of Ubuntu (11.04 and below), it is good to reformat your PC and install from scratch. This will rid your system of any old and useless files, applications and settings. On the other hand, if you are inexperienced with PC formatting, don’t wish to spend the extra time and effort to install from scratch and don’t mind things breaking (the breaking could be minimal if you are upgrading from 11.10), upgrading using the Upgrade Manager is your best bet.

2. Backup, backup and backup

No matter what, you should always backup your system. In case the upgrade fails and you have to re-install from scratch, you still can recover your files from the backup.


There are several things that you will need to backup:

Files and documents

Needless to say, you should always backup your important files and documents. One good way is to back them up to the cloud, using either Dropbox, Ubuntu One or Box. When combined, the 3 cloud storage services give you a whopping 57GB of storage space to use, which should be sufficient for most users. Alternatively, you can also use the built in backup manager – Deja Dup to backup your system. That will require you to use an external hard drive or partition.


Most of us don’t just use the default applications in Ubuntu. Most of the time, we will install new applications using third-party PPAs. To save you the trouble from sourcing these PPA again after re-installing, you can backup your list of PPAs and restore them after the re-install.

There are two main places where your PPAs are kept. If you are using the add-apt-repository command or the Software Sources to add your repository, they are kept at the “/etc/apt/sources.list.d” folder. To backup this folder, you can use the command:

tar -cvzf myppas.tar.gz /etc/apt/sources.list.d/

This will create a tar file in your home folder. You can then move this tar file to your backup drive or Dropbox.

To restore, place the tar file in the Home folder and use the command:

sudo tar -xvzf myppas.tar.gz
sudo apt-get update

If you have added your PPAs manually, they are most likely to reside in the “/etc/apt/sources.list” file. To backup this file, use the following command:

cp /etc/apt/sources.list /your-backup-folder/

Replace the “your-backup-folder” with the actual filepath to your backup folder.

To restore,

cat /your-backup-folder/sources.list >> /etc/apt/sources.list
sudo apt-get update

That’s it.

Note: You will most probably have duplicate or obsolete PPA in the list after the restoration. You might want to use “sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list” to remove the unwanted PPAs (follow by “Ctrl + o” to save and “Ctrl + x” to exit) before you run the “sudo apt-get update” command.

Backup config files

The config files are one thing that many people overlooked while backing up their systems. Failing to backup the config files won’t break your system, but you will have to manually configure the settings for each app again.

In Gnome, the config files are usually stored in the “/.local/share” and “/.config” folders, but some apps could have their own config folders like “/.gnome2”, “/.VirtualBox”,”/.Thunderbird”,”/.wine” etc.

One good way to backup your config files is to setup your UbuntuOne account and sync these config folders. On your next install, UbuntuOne will automatically restore your config files to their rightful locations.

3. Test out with a Live CD first

This isn’t necessary all the time, but if you have some old applications that are critical to your business and you are not sure if they are supported in Precise, you can download the ISO file and test it with a Live CD or in Virtualbox. You can proceed to install after you have verified that it can fulfill your needs. In addition, for new user who are planning to switch to Ubuntu, testing with the LiveCD is the best way to find out if you really like the distro and whether you should switch from your existing OS.



It never hurt to be careful. While you are eager to jump onto the bandwagon and upgrade to the latest version, doing a little bit of housekeeping and backing up could save you tons of trouble later on.

What other precautions do you take before you upgrade your system?

Image credit: by BotheredByBees


Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.

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