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What is a Software Patch?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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As people begin to use a software program with frequency, they may note glitches or problems that were not observed during beta testing of the program. Alternately, older software can have compatibility issues with newer systems, or newer software may be incompatible with older systems. In these cases, and often to increase sales or use of software, programmers may create what is called a software patch, designed to fix small bugs, glitches, or address software-to-hardware or operating system compatibility issues.

If you notice consistent problems with a program, it’s easy to research on the Internet whether there is a software patch that might fix the program. In most cases these patches are free, and the majority of them are now simply downloaded from the Internet. A fair percentage of these patches help to address problems, but a poorly composed software patch may actually create new problems.

A software patch has several alternate names. When significant aspects of the software are altered, these may be called software updates instead. Some may be sold instead of available via free download. This is common with various computer games, where you can purchase what are called extension packs. These may change the rules of a game, add new features, or add new scenarios so people continue to play the game. When a game has been on the market for a while, it may be sold in a bundle with several extension packs.

Sometimes, programmers create small free features for current games that don’t warrant being called extension packs. For example in games like Zoo Tycoon® you can download tiny bits of programming that will add a few extra elements to a game, like extra animals you can raise or donation centers to collect more money from your guests. Also, when a game or other software type is popular but has existed for a few years, it may exhibit compatibility problems with newer software, newer computers or newer operating systems. Fans of a type of software that has not been updated to work with newer systems or computers often request that a software patch be made so they can extend the life of the programs they enjoy.

You’ll often find that you need a software patch for programs that were designed primarily for one type of hardware. For instance popular PC programs may not run or work as well on Mac&reg: computers. Sometimes a programmer needs to create both Mac and PC versions. Other times, a program designed for one system isn’t as effective on another and merely requires a software patch to fix glitches.

The modern installation of the software patch is much easier than in the past. This is especially true on PC systems where a person might have to go through multiple command sets in order to get the patch to work. Instead after downloading the software patch, you usually only need to install it, a matter of a couple of minutes depending upon the size of the patch and the speed of your computer.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By jamsie — On May 22, 2011

@Smokve - It's really important that you don't patch anything without really knowing where it's coming from. Some developers don't have your best interest at heart, and patches can contain viruses. Just be careful.

By Smokve — On May 20, 2011

Most times updated software is useful, and developers have the best interest of the user in mind. However, sometimes patching software can generate new glitches or compound old problems.

Windows patch management software is notorious for this in my opinion. I find searching online forums for information about patches and upgrades to be useful before installing anything. There are also websites that have old version of software available for download, or user-developed patches. These alternates usually come with a how to patch software guide for users to install.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia...
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