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What is a Point Release?

By Robert Grimmick
Updated May 16, 2024
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In computer software, a point release is usually a minor update to an existing software product. The name comes from the a method of software versioning in which a major version number is followed by a period or “point,” which is in turn followed by the minor release number. Point releases typically correct bugs or add minor enhancements to a program rather than introduce major new features, but there is nothing preventing large-scale revisions. Unusual numbering systems have been used to indicate moderate changes or development releases. During development, this system can help programmers keep track of changes.

Version numbers are a common way for developers and users alike to keep track of changes in software programs. Although there is no official standard for labeling different versions, many developers use a tiered approach that separates revisions by the scale or number of changes introduced in each new version. These different tiers are separated by decimal points, with the top-tier or major version number at the far left. Generally speaking, the more decimal points to the right of a software update, the fewer changes in that update. A program updated from 1.0 to 1.1, for example, would have more significant changes than a program updated from 1.0 to 1.0.1.

A point release is an update to a software program that increases any portion of a version number following a decimal point. An update that brings a program from 1.0 to 1.1 can be considered a point release, but a release that jumps from 1.1 to 2.0 cannot. The changes in a these updates are often relatively small and may fix bugs, patch security flaws, or add minor new features. A point release that adds no new features is sometimes known as a maintenance release. They are typically provided at no cost to existing customers of commercial software, although some companies have broken with this convention to release more feature-rich point releases at a cost.

Point releases can sometimes be released under unusual numbering schemes that skip over some numbers or reserve certain numbers for special purposes. One computer operating system sold in the late 1990s went from version 8.1 to 8.5, skipping three versions to indicate it contained more significant changes than the previous version. Some open source software splits the development versions from the more stable public releases with an even-odd numbering system after the first decimal point.

During the software release lifecycle, the multi-stage process of developing a software project from idea to stable product, the point release system can help programmers keep track of one another’s code changes. This is especially important in open source projects where many different volunteers contribute in a decentralized fashion. Since changes take place rapidly during development, additional decimal points are often used until a product is ready for public release.

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