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Q. How do I know what packages are available to be updated on my Debian / Ubuntu Linux system?

A. You can use standard command line utility called apt-get or GUI tool called Synaptic Update-Manager.

List all packages which could be updated

To list outdated package use apt-get command has following two options:
=> -u : Show upgraded packages; Print out a list of all packages that are to be upgraded.
=> upgrade : It is used to install the newest versions of all packages currently installed on the system

Type the following command at shell prompt:
$ sudo apt-get upgrade
$ sudo apt-get -i upgrade


Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree... Done
The following packages will be upgraded:
  debconf debconf-i18n e2fslibs e2fsprogs file findutils klibc-utils libblkid1 libc6 libc6-i686 libcomerr2 libklibc libkrb53 libmagic1
  libpam-modules libpam-runtime libpam0g libss2 libssl0.9.8 libuuid1 linux-image-2.6-686 linux-image-2.6.18-5-686 locales perl perl-base
  perl-modules tar tzdata
28 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 39.6MB of archives.
After unpacking 148kB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]?

To updated just say yes to prompt - "Do you want to continue". Alternatively, you can type the following command:
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

Synaptic GUI Package Update Notifier

Synaptic works hand-in-hand with Update-Manager to inform you about updates to the software installed on your system. If software or security updates are available, Update-Manager will display a pop-up message and an icon in the notification area on your GNOME desktop. To update your system, click on the notification icon, enter your password and click OK.
How to keep your Ubuntu / Debian system up-to-date
(Fig. 01: Synaptic GUI Package Update Notifier [ Image credit Ubuntu Project] )