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apt-get dist-upgrade does not upgrade Linux distributions (though it does update kernels). From the manual on apt-get, the description of dist-upgrade:

dist-upgrade in addition to performing the function of upgrade,
also intelligently handles changing dependencies with new versions
of packages; apt-get has a "smart" conflict resolution system, and
it will attempt to upgrade the most important packages at the
expense of less important ones if necessary. So, dist-upgrade
command may remove some packages. The /etc/apt/sources.list file
contains a list of locations from which to retrieve desired package
files. See also apt_preferences(5) for a mechanism for overriding
the general settings for individual packages.

That doesn't explain the dist part, so what does it mean or stand for?

  • Are you asking why it is named dist-upgrade? – muru Sep 6 '15 at 21:39
  • @muru Yes, I am. – Melab Sep 6 '15 at 21:52
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apt-get dist-upgrade does not, by itself, upgrade the release of the distribution, yes. However, it can upgrade the release if apt's sources point to the repositories of a newer releases. That is, if I changed the sources from those of wheezy to those of jessie, then I could upgrade the release from wheezy to jessie by using dist-upgrade. upgrade cannot do so, irrespective of the sources, since it cannot download new dependencies or remove conflicting ones.

This is how Debian is upgraded from one release to the next.

Therefore, dist does stand for distribution, since it can, and does, upgrade the distribution.

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When you update packages inside a stable Debian release the packages won't change much (it is stable after all). You won't need apt-get dist-upgrade.

So changing dependencies like those mentioned in apt-gets manpage will only happen when you change the release (for example from wheezy to jessie), or when you use testing or unstable which are rolling releases.

So yes, in a way apt-get dist-upgrade is usually used to update your distribution to the next release (or in the case of the rolling releases to their latest update).

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