Learn about the many benefits of versioning in a software development environment and why developers need software versions.
However your organization distributes its software products and/or services, whether it be as online tools, APIs or downloadable executables, there are a number of compelling reasons for versioning your releases. History has shown that it can be of tremendous benefit to development teams and users alike.
Whether you choose to go with the popular Semantic Numbering scheme (also known as SemVer) or some other versioning system, adopting a consistent versioning scheme is always preferable to none at all. This programming tutorial highlights some of the benefits of versioning software products and/or services.
See: Version Control versus Versioning
Why is versioning important?
In a word: clarity. From the early stages of development to release, it is vital for everyone at every step of the software development chain to be able to identify new features and bug fixes in the code. While an increase in the patch digit of a Semantic Version Number does not in itself provide that sort of information, the change should be enough to prompt further investigation into what is new.
This highlights an equally vital component in versioning: the documentation and communication of changes between releases. These should be kept up-to-date and placed somewhere that is easily accessible to the people who need this information. In the case of testers, that might be a Jira page; for users, a public webpage on the company site or a release email are both good options.
Consistently providing release version and change updates benefits everyone, from other developers, testers and project managers to external stakeholders and, most notably, users. Here are just some of the associated benefits of working with versioning software.
Instantly identifiable latest and greatest
Versioning makes it easy to identify software with the most up-to-date features. This is especially true when using semantic versioning, where steadily increasing version numbers make it instantly apparent which version represents the latest and greatest version of the software — both overall and for each major release number. For example, 3.1.0 is a more up-to-date version than 1.14.0, 1.5.1 or any of the versions between those.
Preview of contents
In a well-structured and efficient software development organization, most changes should be planned well before a release. Publishing these changes along with an anticipated upcoming version number and/or name will allow QA personnel to prepare their test plans.
Other teams can also capitalize on advance information. For example, marketers can start assembling advertising materials in advance so they can spring into action as soon as the software version is updated and released.
Being able to pinpoint a specific version that introduced a bug saves developers a lot of time in tracking down the source of the problem. Combining a versioning scheme with the use of a version control system (VCS) makes an especially potent duo, as it will provide a narrowed scope of code commits to sift through.
Simultaneous development streams
Thanks to versioning, development teams can focus on different product versions simultaneously. For instance, one team can be addressing a bug in one version while another team forges ahead on the latest stream. Once a bug is fixed, code changes can be merged in with the latest codebase using VCS.
Once a snapshot of the codebase has been labeled, the organization can be certain of exactly what will go into a release. Moreover, should anything go wrong, it will be that much easier to roll back to the previous release.
Insight into product evolution
Project managers and other product stakeholders can glean valuable insight into a product’s evolution and progress via a list of releases. Using specialized software makes it possible to drill down into details in each release for even more fine-grained investigation.
Smoother product upgrades
Users of your products — both individuals and organizations — will be better equipped to plan upgrades when they can review your version information. In the case of semantic versioning, one can determine what sort of changes were made based exclusively on the numbers that were incremented (major, minor and patch) and by how much. For example, a user may decide to plan upgrades only for major releases.
Final thoughts on the benefits of versioning
This software development tutorial provided some of the main benefits of versioning software products and/or services. Whichever versioning system you employ, it is important that you are consistent with your conventions and release schedules. Beyond that, try to be as transparent as possible, providing publicly accessible release details as early in the release cycle as you can.
Another oft-overlooked aspect of versioning is user input. Do not be afraid to solicit input from users regarding your versioning scheme. Is it working for them? Is scheduling reasonable? These and many other questions are worth asking.
If your organization has already implemented a versioning scheme, congratulations! You have no doubt reaped many if not all of the benefits listed here. To optimize your processes, you might also want to have a gander at this article discussing versioning best practices.