A release candidate is a version of a software program that is usually not in its final form. While the version is functional, it's not quite ready to offer for sale to the general public. An older version of the program may already be on the market and this newer version is just not ready for release, or it may be the very first version of a brand new product.
The terms “release candidate” and “beta version” are often used interchangeably, but the two are technically not the same things. Both refer to functional programs that are not fully tested. A release candidate, also known as an RC, has fewer identified glitches that must be addressed before the program can be test marketed to a small sector of consumers. By contrast, beta versions typically have more bugs that need to be ironed out before being released to consumers for more thorough testing. This, in essence, technically makes the beta version a precursor to an RC.
Of course, the ultimate goal of the release candidate is to emerge as a final product that will catch the interest of consumers and result in wide spread popularity for the new software offering. Because consumers tend to have little to no patience with software that interacts poorly with existing programs and operating systems, developers undertake a great deal of testing and refining software products before the first consumer test is conducted. This will include trying the software on many different platforms and running it alongside other popular programs to determine if there are any negative consequences.
When bugs are discovered in a release candidate, the issue is addressed and the testing continues to ensure the fix did not create any new problems. If bugs are found at the RC stage, usually only one round of fixes are required. If more than one round of fixes are needed, then the product probably went to the RC stage prematurely. Once the developers are certain that the release candidate is efficient and presents no major issues, the program can move on to the RTM stage. This means the product can be released to marketing or manufacturing, meaning the product can now be mass produced.