Non-interactive remote distribution upgrades of Ubuntu

This is mostly a note to myself on how to remotely upgrade a ubuntu server using ssh. Also available on AskUbuntu.

All of these steps assume your package repository is working. Meaning if you execute apt-get update you are not presented with lots of 404s due to having an outdated version. You need to fix that first, so see this answer for that.

0. Update all existing packages

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

1. Set up passwordless execution

Add myself to the list of users that can execute do-release-upgrade using sudo without entering a password is achieved by executing

sudo visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/do-release-upgrade.

and adding the following line, substituting my-username for your own of course:

my-username ALL=NOPASSWD: /sbin/reboot, 

2. Start incremental upgrades

Log out and execute the following command from your computer. It will do an upgrade without prompting you for input (accepting all default answers), wait for the computer to reboot, and then try upgrading again. It runs until you are upgraded to the latest version.

while true; do 
  ssh -T my-user@my-server << EOF
    sudo apt-get clean; # clean up after errors
    sudo apt-get update; # get latest packages
    sudo apt-get dist-upgrade; # upgrade to latest packages
    #the all important step: upgrade to next release
    sudo do-release-upgrade -f DistUpgradeViewNonInteractive;
    sudo reboot; # restart machine
  sleep 120; 


The process might stop if some of the following cases arise:

  1. A package upgrade is broken due to some unsupported deprecated configuration
  2. You end up on a LTS (Long Term Support) version

In my case, an old, broken config of Squid caused the upgrade process to complain, but actually did not seem to stop it. You better fix whatever it complains about anyway before continuing. What actually stopped my upgrades was that on some point in my distribution upgrades, I ended up on 12.04, which is a LTS. An LTS wil by default only upgrade to the next LTS, which comes every two years. In my case this was fine – the less hassle upgrading, the better, but if you do want the very latest stable version, you have to edit the file /etc/update-manager/release-upgrades and uncomment the line where it says Prompt=lts.

3. Fix configuration files to their previous state

Afterwards you will have to move the backed up config files to their previous location as the upgrade process has put default configurations in their place.

Not wanting just the default answers?

This guy has a way to pre-prepare answers for each prompt, but the downside is that you must know how many prompts there are …

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