How to use Pop_!OS refresh install

Jack Wallen shows you how to roll back Pop!_OS to a brand new installation without losing your user data and app configurations.

Finger presses reset red keyboard button.
Image: tashatuvango/Adobe Stock

Pop!_OS has become my daily operating system since I first bought a System76 Thelio a few years ago. Since I started using Pop!_OS, it has grown into a remarkably stable, reliable, and fun Linux distro, and I can’t imagine any more distro hopping.

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However, I’ve encountered some problems lately. There were three main problems I faced, namely:

  • The operating system would restart randomly.
  • X.org would no longer work, forcing me to use the less stable Wayland.
  • VirtualBox would no longer run VMs.

These problems all started when the on/off switch on the machine failed. But even after the replacement, the problems persisted. I contacted the System76 help team who did everything they could to help me. In fact, I’ve never been so impressed with a support team in my life.

In the end, no matter how much time we spent on the problem, we were able to solve it. The machine kept rebooting, X.org didn’t work, and VirtualBox was broken. Finally, Matt Hartley – System76’s support specialist who is a rock star – suggested I do a clean install of Pop!_OS.

Needless to say I was a bit nervous. After all, this was the machine I use every day to do what I do. Although I have other machines to work on, they don’t come close to the System76 Thelio. In other words, I don’t like working on other machines: I’m spoiled.

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Reluctantly, I performed the update installation, and to my surprise, it ran without any issues.

What is the update installation?

Simply put, the update installation performs a factory recovery using an image that is regularly updated on a special partition while leaving all your data and configurations with the ~/ directory untouched. Let me put it this way:

  • All third party applications will be removed.
  • The operating system is reinstalled using a saved image.
  • Any user data found in ~/ will be preserved.
  • All app configurations found in ~/ are preserved.

How to do a clean install with Pop!_OS

It’s remarkably easy. All you have to do is open the Settings app and go to OS Upgrade & Recovery. From this window (Figure A), make sure it says “You have the most recent version of the recovery partition” before proceeding. If not, you need to click to update that partition.

Figure A

The Pop!_OS Upgrade and Recovery section.

Once you have the latest version, click Update to start the process. You will be prompted to restart the computer and the recovery will begin and end much sooner than expected.

When the update installation is complete, you will be presented with the login screen with your user still intact. Sign in again and you can start reinstalling any third-party apps you need.

A very pleasant surprise

I use the combination of Firefox and Opera for my web browsers. After the update installation was complete, I logged back in and immediately began installing the applications I was using, which included Opera. After installing Opera, I opened it up and found that not only were my configurations still intact, but also my recent tabs and history.

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The same was true for all other apps I installed. Within minutes it was almost as if nothing had happened, only my operating system was working as expected.

The only limitation I encountered was remapping all of my external drives. I have a bunch of these and as expected my /etc/fstab blew up when updating. Because of this, I kind of lost all my VirtualBox VMs, but I was planning on removing that drive anyway.

All in all, what System76 has accomplished is really impressive. Now Linux factory reset is almost as easy as doing it on an Android phone or Chromebook. This is one of those things that Linux has needed for a long time, and thanks to System76 we now have it.

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