What version of Linux am I running?

What version of Linux am I running?

Get these quick commands to figure out what Linux kernel version and distribution your system is running.

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The question "what version of Linux" can mean two different things. Strictly speaking, Linux is the kernel, so the question can refer specifically to the kernel's version number, or "Linux" can be used more colloquially to refer to the entire distribution, as in Fedora Linux or Ubuntu Linux.

Both are important, and you may need to know one or both answers to fix a problem with a system. For example, knowing the installed kernel version might help diagnose an issue with proprietary drivers, and identifying what distribution is running will help you quickly figure out if you should be using apt, dnf, yum, or some other command to install packages.

The following will help you find out what version of the Linux kernel and/or what Linux distribution is running on a system.

How to find the Linux kernel version

To find out what version of the Linux kernel is running, run the following command:

uname -srm

Alternatively, the command can be run by using the longer, more descriptive, versions of the various flags:

uname --kernel-name --kernel-release --machine

Either way, the output should look similar to the following:

Linux 4.16.10-300.fc28.x86_64 x86_64

This gives you (in order): the kernel name, the version of the kernel, and the type of hardware the kernel is running on. In this case, the kernel is Linux version 4.16.10-300.fc28.x86_64 running on an x86_64 system.

More information about the uname command can be found by running man uname.

How to find the Linux distribution

There are several ways to figure out what distribution is running on a system, but the quickest way is the check the contents of the /etc/os-release file. This file provides information about a distribution including, but not limited to, the name of the distribution and its version number. The os-release file in some distributions contains more details than in others, but any distribution that includes an os-release file should provide a distribution's name and version.

To view the contents of the os-release file, run the following command:

cat /etc/os-release

On Fedora 28, the output looks like this:

NAME=Fedora
VERSION="28 (Workstation Edition)"
ID=fedora
VERSION_ID=28
PLATFORM_ID="platform:f28"
PRETTY_NAME="Fedora 28 (Workstation Edition)"
ANSI_COLOR="0;34"
CPE_NAME="cpe:/o:fedoraproject:fedora:28"
HOME_URL="https://fedoraproject.org/"
SUPPORT_URL="https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Communicating_and_getting_help"
BUG_REPORT_URL="https://bugzilla.redhat.com/"
REDHAT_BUGZILLA_PRODUCT="Fedora"
REDHAT_BUGZILLA_PRODUCT_VERSION=28
REDHAT_SUPPORT_PRODUCT="Fedora"
REDHAT_SUPPORT_PRODUCT_VERSION=28
PRIVACY_POLICY_URL="https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Legal:PrivacyPolicy"
VARIANT="Workstation Edition"
VARIANT_ID=workstation

As the example above shows, Fedora's os-release file provides the name of the distribution and the version, but it also identifies the installed variant (the "Workstation Edition"). If we ran the same command on Fedora 28 Server Edition, the contents of the os-release file would reflect that on the VARIANT and VARIANT_ID lines.

Sometimes it is useful to know if a distribution is like another, so the os-release file can contain an ID_LIKE line that identifies distributions the running distribution is based on or is similar to. For example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux's os-release file includes an ID_LIKE line stating that RHEL is like Fedora, and CentOS's os-release file states that CentOS is like RHEL and Fedora. The ID_LIKE line is very helpful if you are working with a distribution that is based on another distribution and need to find instructions to solve a problem.

CentOS's os-release file makes it clear that it is like RHEL, so documentation and questions and answers in various forums about RHEL should (in most cases) apply to CentOS. CentOS is designed to be a near clone of RHEL, so it is more compatible with its LIKE than some entries that might be found in the ID_LIKE field, but checking for answers about a "like" distribution is always a good idea if you cannot find the information you are seeking for the running distribution.

More information about the os-release file can be found by running man os-release.

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About the author

Joshua Allen Holm
Joshua Allen Holm - Joshua Allen Holm, MLIS, MEd, is one of Opensource.com's Community Moderators. Joshua's main interests are digital humanities, open access, and open educational resources. He can reached at holmja@opensource.com.