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Getting system and program version information

Common Version Description

The commonest form of version information is a string such as "1.1.4". The exact purpose of the three numbers varies, but in most cases they reflect levels of change:

  • 2.x.y is a major version. This usually introduces significant new features beyond those of version 1.p.q. Sometimes it means old behaviour has been removed, changed, or otherwise broken.
  • x.2.y is a minor version. This usually adds smaller new features, adds new behaviour without breaking the old, etc.
  • x.y.2 has many meanings. It may be called patch, build, release or otherwise, and usually starts with a number. Sometimes this is followed by a dash and an alphanumeric sequence. Usually this version represents small changes, fixes to bugs, etc.


Graphical programs in Linux often have an "About" option, commonly found in the Help menu. This usually gives a version number, and some other information like Author and Date.

Programs started from the command line can be given an argument, usually --version and sometimes also -v or similar. This starts them, prints their version information and exits again. You can also invoke any of the programs you start from the gui from the command line by name and use this flag.


Currently, the simplest way to get operating system information is using lsb_release -a and copying the text under "Description"

The command module list lists currently loaded modules on systems which use them. Warwick's login node, godzilla, and cluster machines use modules to control which versions of programs you use.

Other Useful Info

The whatis command gives a basic description about a program where available.

The command which tells you the path to the executable a command is invoking. This can be useful if you are working on a system where you can install things locally.