How to upgrade from Linux Mint 19.3 to the latest version Mint 20

It's not easy to move from Linux Mint 19.3 to 20. Follow these steps and you can migrate successfully to the latest and greatest version of the best Linux desktop.

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I've long thought Linux Mint is the best current Linux desktop. Its Cinnamon interface is easy to learn and use. It runs quickly on PCs that would choke on Windows 10. And, it's fast, secure, and works well. However, upgrading from one major release to another? That's not so easy. But you can do it if you follow these step-by-step instructions. 

Note: If you've never used a Linux terminal and you've no clue what the shell command Advanced Packaging Tool (APT) is, this upgrade is not for you.  

Mint 20 Upgrade Prep

Before upgrading, I recommend you download Linux Mint 20 and burn it to a bootable USB stick. You do this after downloading the ISO file by right-clicking it and selecting  "Make Bootable USB Stick."

With your new Mint 20 USB stick in hand, place it in a USB port, reboot your system, and set its firmware to boot from the USB stick.  Once you're up and running, make sure your PC will run Mint 20 without any trouble. For example, check your network connection, make sure you can still connect with your network drives, and that your printer still works. 

You'll also want to give yourself plenty of time for this upgrade. The Mint 20 files themselves, in my case, came to over 1.5 Gigabytes.  I suggest giving yourself at least two hours from start to finish. I did it in less than an hour, but I have a fast internet connection and I've been working with Linux for decades.  

That understood, let's move on.

If you're running a 32-bit version of Linux Mint 19.3, you can't directly upgrade to Mint 20. That's because there is no 32-bit Mint 20. If you're still running a 32-bit PC, Mint 19.3 is as far as you can go with Mint. If you want to keep your old machine running a high-quality newer Linux distro, check out  Bodhi Linux, Puppy Linux, or Peppermint.

Not sure which version you have? Run the following command from your terminal shell.

$ dpkg --print-architecture

Mint: Check system architecture

Mint: Check system architecture

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If the command's result is "amd64" you're good to upgrade. If it says "i386" you're stuck with the 32-bit version. You can, of course, keep using Linux Mint 19.3. It's still an excellent choice for years to come. Mint will support 19.3 until April 2023.

Getting your Mint system ready to upgrade. 

That done. It's time to get your current Mint 19.3 PC up to date. You do this with the following steps:

  • Launch the Update Manager with "Menu -> Administration -> Update Manager."
  • Press the "Refresh" button to update the cache.
  • Click the "Select All" button to select all updates.
  • Press the "Install Updates" button.
  • Follow the instructions from the Update Manager and install all updates until the manager tells you "Your system is up to date."
  • Reboot the computer.
Mint Update System

MInt Update System

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Next, let's create a system snapshot so if something goes wrong, you can restore your PC. You should have been doing this all along. Even if you have been good about making snapshots, it's a good idea to make one last snapshot before upgrading. You do this with the following commands:

  • Launch Timeshift with "Menu -> Administration -> Timeshift."
  • Follow the wizard to select a destination for your snapshots.
  • In the toolbar, click on the "Create" button to make a manual snapshot of your operating system.
  • Close Timeshift.
Make Mint Timeshift image

Make Mint Timeshift image

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Besides making sure you have a way to step back in case something goes wrong, this is an important step for advanced users. When you update to Mint 20, the upgrade program overwrites your customized /etc/ configuration files with default configuration files. You can restore these files individually from your Timeshift snapshot. Most users won't need to bother with this. 

Next, since I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, I suggest you backup your personal files and current software selection with the Backup Tool. You follow these steps:

  • Launch Backup Tool with "Menu -> Administration -> Backup Tool."
  • Select and backup your Personal data
  • Select and backup your Software selection.
  • Close Backup Tool.
Running Mint Backup

Running Mint Backup

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Installing Mint 20

Now, let's check to see if there are any obvious problems with upgrading your system. You do this by opening a terminal and installing the Mint 20 upgrade program with the command: 

$ apt install mintupgrade

Once mintupgrade is installed, you test for possible trouble by running:

$ mintupgrade check

Follow the on-screen instructions. In particular, as mintupgrade will tell you, pay close attention to any conflicts, which might stop the upgrade. After the command runs, you're going to see some messages and a huge number of files listed. You can check them over by using your mouse to go up the terminal's display to its beginning and slowly scrolling your way down.

Next, if there are no showstoppers, it's time to download the Linux Mint 20 files. Do this by running:

$ mintupgrade download

Besides downloading the files, this command will, for a short time, switch your file repositories from Linux 19.3's file libraries to Linux Mint 20's repositories. 

Once all the files are here, you've come to the point of no return --the following command:

$ mintupgrade upgrade

Running Mint 20 upgrade

Running Mint 20 upgrade

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This will upgrade your system to Mint 20 while deleting your Mint 19.3 system files. Your documents and other personal files will be untouched. It will give you one last warning, so cross your fingers, rub your rabbit's foot, and then you're off to the update.

It will also take some time. According to Linux Mint's head developer, Clement "Clem" Lefebvre, "The upgrade is quite intensive and it can temporarily freeze. This can last for up to 10 minutes at times and it can also freeze Cinnamon. This is OK, be patient and give it time."

If you're still locked off, Clem recommends you "log out completely, drop to console (CTRL+ALT+F1) and run "mintupgrade upgrade" from there."

On my machine, a Dell Precision 3431 Workstation, with an Intel Core i7-9700 processor, with a 512GB SSD, and 16GBs of RAM. I had no trouble at all with the upgrade.

Once the update is done, mintupgrade will tell you to reboot with the shell command: 

$ sudo reboot

Rebooting into Mint 20

Rebooting into Mint 20

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You'll then need to remove your USB drive. When the system gets ready to reboot, reset your PC's firmware to boot from your main drive. When you reboot, you may get a choice of booting from Ubuntu. If you do, choose that option.

That out of the way, you should have a perfectly functional system ready for work. If not, Mint recommends you post to the "How to upgrade to Linux Mint 20" comments section; the Linux Mint forums, or, if you know your way around Internet Relay Chat (IRC), you can ask in real-time on the Mint IRC channels. 

But, we're not quite done yet.

Finishing up and cleaning up

You still need to do some final spit and polish work. If you have third-party repositories, as I do for the Chrome web browser and the Steam gaming system, you'll need to restore them. Fortunately, the upgrade program backs up these repositories in the directory

/home/you-user-name/Upgrade-Backup-tricia/APT/sources.list.d

Typical Mint APT repository directory.

Typical Mint APT repository directory.

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In each file within this directory, you'll find the URL you need to add to your Software Sources directory to update your third-party programs. You do this by copying the line and then running:

  • "Menu -> Administration -> Software Sources."
  • Go to Additional Repositories.
  • Press Add and enter the repository address.
  • Click OK
Restoring optional repositories in Mint 20.

Restoring optional repositories in Mint 20.

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Next, you may need to get rid of some packages, which either no longer exist in 20, or have a different version number. If you don't get rid of them, Mint may foul up on you. Here's how to fix this: If you've closed Software Sources, reopen it this way: 

  • Launch the Software Sources tool from "Menu -> Administration -> Software Sources".
  • Open the "Maintenance" tab and click on "Downgrade Foreign Packages".
  • Select all foreign packages and click "Downgrade".

On my system I had none. Next, you need to delete any foreign programs. Once more, use the Software Tools:

  • Menu -> Administration -> Software Sources."
  • Open the "Maintenance" tab and click on "Remove Foreign Packages".
  • Do not delete all files willy-nilly. Some packages--in my case Zoom--are programs you've previously installed yourself. Only select those foreign packages that you're sure are out of date, and click "Remove."
Removing out-dated "foreign" software packages

Removing out-dated "foreign" software packages

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Last, but never least, run the Update Manager one more time. Even in its first weeks out, Mint 20 has received many updates. To do this, take the following familiar steps:

  • Launch the Update Manager with "Menu -> Administration -> Update Manager."
  • Press the "Refresh" button to update the cache.
  • Press the "Select All" button to select all updates.
  • Press the "Install Updates" button.
  • Follow the instructions from the Update Manager and install all updates until the manager tells you "Your system is up to date."
  • If necessary, reboot the computer.

Congratulations! You should now have Linux Mint 20 ready for action.

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