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Red Hat Enterprise Linux Life Cycle

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The problem with Red Hat is that it represents a moving target driven by its corporate goals and the greed of its brass. The latter means that it slowly but surely destroys Linux in the name of profitability.

They also try to bind the users to their distribution by incessant and excessive stream of patches, sometimes with several patches a day. Some subsystems such as systemd are patched almost each patch cycle representing a variation of the theme of the "car in permanent repair mode"

Even so called security patches which represents a small subset of total parches are highly questionable: Red Hat does not provide any information to what exact vulnerabilities the particular patch addresses, outside really big SNAFU when some high provide customers are affected and the scandal unfolds.  So most probably only few of them matter.  But they less a nuisance than the application of all patches, and as such they are preferable.

Typically Red Hat releases minor updates once a year or so. That means that you can expect ten minor(dot) updates for the life of the particular version. And true enough, the last minor update for RHEL6 was RHEL 6.10. RHEL7, which proved to be more fragile and less stable then RHEL6,  probably will exceeds that. As of December 2020 it reached level of 7.9 and it still has four years to go.

Generally, I would recommend against too much zeal in applying patches to Red Hat systems. IMHO it is enough to update only on minor releases (with some lag) and use only security patches for your quarterly or monthly updates until a new minor release emerges, unless you experience a real problems with the particular version.  Which now happens more and more often.

In general, security provided by the security updates is by-and-large an illusion, as RHEL is so complex that it is reasonable to assume that it contains infinite number of zero day exploits. As such it can not be made more secure by applying a couple of dozen fixes. So at best this is a ritual like a variation of classic sysadmin ritual of "waving a dead chicken": security now is mainly architectural thing with firewall being the first and most important line of defense.  SElinux also can play a role but it is very complex and few sysadmin learn to use it properly.

On other words, no amount of patches can change Red Hat for the better, much like no amount of patches can change Microsoft Windows for the better. It is inherently insecure system, especially against qualified and determined attacker with some financial resources and/or financial incentives.

In this sense RHEL sucks even more then Suse and Ubuntu, as SE Linux subsystem is very complex and few sysadmin learn it and use correctly, and it does not have much simpler and more elegant AppArmor subsystem, which solves the problem for the packages which use ports to communicate (such as http, ssh and other servers)  by essentially providing per application  value of umask for each directory.

Red Hat provides bug fixes (aka  Urgent bug fixes)  only for the following 20 packages

  1. bind,
  2. bash,
  3. chrony,
  4. grub2,
  5. grubby,
  6. glibc,
  7. gnutls,
  8. kernel,
  9. libgcrypt,
  10. libvirt,
  11. nss,
  12. openssh,
  13. openssl,
  14. python 3.6,
  15. qemu-kvm,
  16. rpm,
  17. sudo,
  18. systemd,
  19. wget,
  20. yum/dnf

Urgent bugs not on the list may be addressed at Red Hat discretion.

The policy applies ONLY on current active minor releases per the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Life Cycle Policy.

Note: Active minor releases refers to the period of time a specific minor release is maintained. For example, RHEL 8.1 with EUS is active for 24 months from general availability.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Life Cycle Policy

Red Hat offers subscription services for each major release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux throughout four life-cycle phases—called Production 1, 2, and 3, and an Extended Life Phase.

The Red Hat Enterprise Linux life cycle phases

The Red Hat Enterprise Linux life cycle phases are designed to reduce the level of change within each major releasei over time and make release availability and content more predictable.

The Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, 6, and 7 Life Cycle*:
  Extended Life-cycle Support
(ELS) Add-On**
 
Production 1 (~ 5 ˝ years) Production 2 ( 1 year) Production 3 (~ 3 ˝ years) Extended Life Phase (Ongoing)  
Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11+  
                                                               

* The life-cycle time spans and dates are subject to adjustment.

Software changes to Red Hat Enterprise Linux are delivered via individual updates known as errata advisories through the Red Hat Customer Portal or other authorized portals. Errata advisories can be released individually on an as-needed basis or aggregated as a minor release. Errata advisories may contain security fixes (Red Hat Security Advisories or RHSAs), bug fixes (Red Hat Bug Fix Advisories or RHBAs), or feature enhancements (Red Hat Enhancement Advisories or RHEAs). All errata advisories are tested and qualified against the respective, active Red Hat Enterprise Linux major release. (For example, a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 RHSA will be applied cumulatively to the latest Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 version and patch set.) All released errata advisories remain accessible to active subscribers for the entire Red Hat Enterprise Linux life cycle. Within each major release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, any errata advisory (including one released as part of a minor release) will be applied cumulatively to the latest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, including any patch sets.

During the life cycle of a major Red Hat Enterprise Linux release, Red Hat makes commercially reasonable efforts to maintain binary compatibility for the core runtime environment across all minor releases and errata advisories. If necessary, Red Hat may make exceptions to this compatibility goal for Critical impact security or other significant issues. Furthermore, major releases of Red Hat Enterprise Linux contain a limited set of backward-compatible libraries included in previous major releases to allow for the easy migration of applications. Typically, Red Hat applies changes in such a way as to minimize the amount of change and to maintain binary compatibility. Exceptions may apply for controlled package re-bases under certain circumstances. The binary compatibility goal is extended to Red Hat Enterprise Linux for use in an application container. However, this is not extended to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Atomic Host or application containers that may run on top of the host since both may include packages or package versions not shipped as part of the latest version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Additional details can be found in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux: Application Compatibility Guide.

The following table details the subscription services, including support and software maintenance, performed during each phase of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux life cycle:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Life Cycle
Description Production 1 Production 2 Production 3 Extended Life Phase7 Extended Life Cycle Support (ELS) Add-On8 Extended Update Support (EUS) Add-On8
Access to Previously Released Content through the Red Hat Customer Portal Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Self-help through the Red Hat Customer Portal Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Technical Support1 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Limited9 Unlimited Unlimited
Asynchronous Security Errata (RHSA)10 11 Yes Yes Yes No Yes8 Yes8
Asynchronous Bug Fix Errata (RHBA)2 11 Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Minor Releases Yes Yes Yes No No No
Refreshed Hardware Enablement3 Native Limited4 Native Using Virtualization Using Virtualization Using Virtualization Using Virtualization
Software Enhancements5 Yes6 No No No No No
Updated Installation Images Yes Yes Yes No No No
  1. Technical Support access depends on the Service Level included in your Red Hat Enterprise Linux Subscription.
  2. Red Hat may choose, as a temporary measure, to address those catastrophic issues with a significant customer business impact with a Hotfix while the Bug Fix errata advisory (RHBA) is being created.
  3. Native hardware enablement is provided by backporting hardware drivers, etc., to the relevant version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Hardware enablement using virtualization is achieved by running an earlier version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as a virtual guest on a newer version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. See the Virtualization description below for details. NOTE: Hardware certification (including the associated hardware limits) applies to the version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux that is being used as the host.
  4. Native hardware enablement in the Production 2 Phase is limited to hardware enablement that does not require substantial software changes. See the Production 2 description below for details.
  5. Software enhancements are additions of new functionality beyond correcting defects or enabling previously existing functionality on a new hardware generation.
  6. Major releases are the primary vehicle for significant software enhancements, although low-impact software enhancement may also be delivered in minor releases.
  7. See the Extended Life Phase description below.
  8. Extended Update Support (EUS) and Extended Life-cycle Support (ELS) are available as optional add-ons. See the EUS and ELS descriptions below.
  9. For existing installations only. See details below for other limitations.
  10. See the Issue Severity Classification page for security severity classifications.
  11. All errata provided at Red Hat's discretion.

Production 1 Phase:

During the Production 1 Phase, qualified Critical and Important Security errata advisories (RHSAs) and Urgent and Selected High Priority Bug Fix errata advisories (RHBAs) may be released as they become available. Other errata advisories may be delivered as appropriate.

If available, new or improved hardware enablement and select enhanced software functionality may be provided at the discretion of Red Hat, generally in minor releases. Hardware enablement that does not require substantial software changes may be provided independent from minor releases at Red Hat's discretion.

Minor releases will also include available and qualified errata advisories (RHSAs, RHBAs, and RHEAs). Minor releases are cumulative and include the contents of previously released updates. The focus for minor releases during this phase lies on resolving defects of medium or higher priority.

Updated installation images will be provided for minor releases during the Production 1 Phase.

Production 2 Phase:

During the Production 2 Phase, qualified Critical and Important Security errata advisories (RHSAs) and Urgent Priority Bug Fix errata advisories (RHBAs) may be released as they become available. Other errata advisories may be delivered as appropriate.

If available, hardware enablement that does not require substantial software changes may be provided at the discretion of Red Hat, generally in minor releases. New software functionality is not available during this phase.

Minor releases will also include all available and qualified errata. Minor releases are cumulative and thus include the contents of previously released minor releases and errata advisories, including those from Production 1 Phase. The focus for minor releases during this phase lies on resolving urgent- or high-priority bugs.

Updated installation images will be provided at Red Hat's discretion for minor releases during the Production 2 Phase only if required because of installer changes.

Production 3 Phase:

During the Production 3 Phase, Critical impact Security Advisories (RHSAs) and selected Urgent Priority Bug Fix Advisories (RHBAs) may be released as they become available. Other errata advisories may be delivered as appropriate.

New functionality and new hardware enablement are not planned for availability in the Production 3 Phase. Minor releases with updated installation images may be made available in this Phase.

Extended Life Phase and Extended Life-cycle Support Add-On:

During the Extended Life Phase, a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription provides continued access to previously released content on the Red Hat Customer Portal, as well as other content such as documentation and the Red Hat Knowledgebase. Advice for migrating to currently supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux versions may also be provided.

For versions of products in the Extended Life Phase, Red Hat will provide limited ongoing technical support. No bug fixes, security fixes, hardware enablement or root-cause analysis will be available during this phase, and support will be provided on existing installations only.

Red Hat reserves the right to terminate the ongoing support in the Extended Life Phase for a particular version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux at any time.

As an optionally available Add-On to a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription, Red Hat offers an Extended Life-cycle Support (ELS) subscription. Available during the Extended Life Phase of the product life cycle for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and 5, the Extended Life-cycle Support Add-On delivers critical-impact security fixes and selected urgent-priority bug fixes that are available and qualified. ELS subscriptions are delivered after the end of Production 3 Phase for the last minor release.

For guidance on how to best modernize your Red Hat infrastructure with a solution that meets your business needs, contact Red Hat Consulting.

Life-cycle Dates

All future dates mentioned for "End of Production 1" and "End of Production 2" are close approximations, non definitive, and subject to change.

Version General Availability End of Production 1 End of Production 2 End of Production 3 (End of Production Phase) End of Extended Life-cycle Support End of Extended Life Phase
3 October 23, 2003 July 20, 2006 June 30, 2007 October 31, 2010 January 30, 2014 January 30, 2014
4 February 14, 2005 March 31, 2009 February 16, 2011 February 29, 2012 March 31, 2017 Ongoing
5 March 15, 2007 January 8, 2013 January 31, 2014 March 31, 2017 November 30, 2020 Ongoing
6 November 10, 2010 Q2 of 2016 Q2 of 2017 November 30, 2020 N/A Ongoing
7 June 10, 2014 Q4 of 2019 Q4 of 2020 June 30, 2024 N/A Ongoing

Extended Update Support

Red Hat offers the Extended Update Support (EUS) Add-On to a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription for those customers who wish to standardize on a specific minor release for an extended period of time. The EUS Add-On allows customers the flexibility to decide when to take advantage of new Red Hat Enterprise Linux features, including new hardware enablement.

Under a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription, all available RHSAs and RHBAs are provided for the current active minor release until the availability of the next minor release. By contrast, EUS delivers—for a specific minor release—an independent, extended stream of those Critical impact RHSAs and selected Urgent Priority RHBAs that are available after that specific minor release and in parallel to subsequent minor releases. For EUS subscribers, Red Hat generally will continue to proactively provide Critical impact RHSAs independent of customer requests if and when available. See the list of packages included in EUS here.


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