Keeping Your Server Up To Date Easily

Many distros have easy ways to keep the OS up to date with security fixes and patches. Probably the easest to use of this group is apt-get. Apt-get originally started off with the Debian distribution where it is responsible for not only updating software, but also install and removing software easily.

Additionally… Some one has ported apt to the Fedora/Redhat distribution where it (in my opinion) blows away any other implementation (yum, up2date, etc).

I install apt on all my Fedora machines and use its features to find, install and keep up to date the server’s installed software.

Probably the biggest problem with Fedora these days is that Fedora’s OS is phased out very quickly. What do you do if you have Fedora Core 1 or Core 2 installed on your server, and the Fedora project has (as of this posting) moved on to other releases. Enter apt, and the Fedora Legacy group. Using Fedora Legacy you can keep your OS up to date with recent patches using their apt repository. You can read more about their repositories here.

You can setup apt under Fedora and point apt to use Fedora Legacy’s apt repository and keep your server up to date quickly and easily.

Here are some handy commands to run with apt:

apt-get update

This command is to update apt and its sources list to ensure that it is looking for the correct version of files to download and install. As a general rule you should run this at least once before using apt.

apt-get install {name of package}

This command will go out to the respoitory and fetch the latest version of the package you specify. eg: apt-get install httpd will install the latest version of apache if it is not installed yet.

apt-get remove {name of package}

This command will uninstall the software package you specify. eg: apt-get remove httpd would uninstall the httpd package if it was installed.

apt-cache search {name of package}

This command is extremely handy if you can’t find the name of the package you are looking for. Sometimes, especially with lib packages, the names can very greatly. apt-cache search php would show you a listing of all the package names that contain php or contain php in the description.

apt-get upgrade

This command is the best command of all. It will look at your server and the list of packages installed, and then it will look at the repository to determine which packages you have installed have been updated. It will then download and install those packages. Very handy. I run this once a week for a server.

Some packages are excluded from being downloaded. Of those is the kernel. On some servers you don’t want to upgrade the kernel if you don’t have to, but sometimes you want to do that because of local user kernel exploits. To get a list of available kernels to install you can run:

apt-get install kernel

This will output a list of kernels that are available and you can select a name from the list to force it to be installed.

I should note that installing a kernel can be risky business, especially when you are not local to the server. Having said that, I have been very lucky with installing kernels from apt-get.

I hope this information shows you that maintaining a server and its software isn’t as hard as you think it is. It just takes a little setup and the right tools. Using apt-get and Fedora Legacy’s apt repositories, you can keep your server safe and secure.

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