Central system updates with Topgrade

In One Fell Swoop

© Photo by Lucian Petronel Potlog on Unsplash

© Photo by Lucian Petronel Potlog on Unsplash

Article from Issue 274/2023

Topgrade detects all the package managers installed on a system and executes them one by one at the command line.

The times when the preferred source for an application was a distribution's own archives are definitely over for the majority of users today. In addition to third-party repositories, Flatpaks, AppImages, and snaps, the average user's filesystem also hosts PIP (Python), Cargo (Rust), npm (Node.js), or Homebrew (macOS) based installations. All of these installations bypass the operating system's update mechanisms, forcing you to update them separately.

One way out of this uncomfortable situation is the Topgrade package manager. Topgrade was recently abandoned by the original developer after five years [1], but the community is now continuing to maintain the tool as Topgrade-rs [2]. For simplicity's sake, I will simply refer to the community fork of the tool as Topgrade in this article.

One for All

Topgrade promises to launch all package managers used on the system one by one via a single terminal command, as well as install updates available for them, even on remote machines. This offer does not just apply to Linux, but also to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), Chocolatey and Scoop on Windows, and FreeBSD and DragonFly BSD. Topgrade relies on the fwupd daemon to integrate firmware from the Linux Vendor Firmware Service (LFVS) [3]. In addition, the tool updates far more software, such as Pi-hole, tmux, and Vim plugins. An overview is available on GitHub [4].

You can pick Topgrade up from the AUR for Arch Linux (as well as Manjaro and other Arch offshoots). NixOS and Void Linux also offer the tool. The project's GitHub instance offers the source code and binary packages for the x86_64, AArch64, and ARMv7 architectures, as well as for Apple Darwin and Windows.

Topgrade requires at least version 1.6.2 of Rust, which is already included in many distributions. You can check the version number by typing rustc --version. For Debian, you need at least Debian Testing to deploy version 1.6.3. On Ubuntu, a 22.04 release will do nicely; Fedora 37 also comes with the right version in place. If the command fails to find rustc on your system, you need to install the package using your distribution's package manager and then check the version again.

Cargo Installer

The easiest way to install Topgrade – ironically bypassing the respective native package system – is with the Cargo Rust package manager. On most systems, you will first need to install Cargo and resolve some dependencies via the package manager (Listing 1, line 2 or 4) and then update (line 6).

Listing 1


01 ### Set up Cargo on Debian
02 $ sudo apt install cargo pkg-config libssl-dev
03 ### Set up Cargo on Fedora
04 $ sudo dnf install cargo pkg-config openssl-devel
05 ### Cargo update
06 $ cargo install cargo-update
07 ### Set up Topgrade
08 $ cargo install topgrade

The next step is to set up Topgrade (line 8). The last step of the build process can take a few minutes. Then add the following line to the search path at the end of your ~/.profile file (Figure 1):

export PATH=$PATH:$HOME/.cargo/bin
Figure 1: When done, the build process reminds you to add the cargo directory to your path.

Topgrade's configuration file, ~/.config/topgrade.toml, supports both general and specific settings for individual package managers. This is also where you specify the hostnames of the remote computers you want to update via SSH. The prerequisite for this is that Topgrade is already installed on the remote computer.

Then, as soon as you run the topgrade command, the application executes the upgrade commands in all of the package managers discovered on your system. It starts with the distribution's native package manager, followed by Flatpak and Snap and the other candidates (Figure 2).

Figure 2: After the native upgrade and upgrading Flatpaks or snaps, Topgrade checks whether any firmware needs to be upgraded.


Topgrade is not witchcraft. It simply provides the logic to detect and execute all existing package managers one by one. Topgrade is not suitable for people who want to exclusively use the distribution's package manager. However, if you do use Flatpaks or snaps and run a Raspberry Pi or a server with Pi-hole or other services, then Topgrade will handle much of the administration work for you.

In testing, a system update with Topgrade worked without any problems on Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora (Figure 3). Distrobox was the only software that failed to update. Unable to figure out the reason, I filed a bug report.

Figure 3: The update sequence is the same on all systems. This is a fresh installation of Fedora 38, so Topgrade doesn't have much to do.

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