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How Do Open Source Software Lifecycles Work?

March 26, 2024 Design
How Do Open Source Software Lifecycles Work?

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Software projects follow identifiable milestones as they move towards a successful completion. If you want to give your project the best chances of success, it’s important to understand what those milestones mean and how they’re defined.

This article comes from my Complete LPI Open Source Essentials Exam Study Guide Udemy course and book. You can also view the video version.

What are Software Releases?

There are several types of software releases and some related versioning methods used to keep track of software changes and to communicate them to users. We’ll start with releases.

  • There’s the alpha release – an initial version of software that is typically not feature-complete and is not intended for use by the general public. It is used for testing and internal use only.
  • A beta release is a pre-release version of software that is feature-complete but may still have bugs or other issues. It is released to a limited audience for testing and feedback before the final release.
  • Next will be a release candidate, which is a version of software that is considered stable and ready for release, pending final testing and bug fixes.
  • And finally you’ll produce a general availability release as the final version of software that’s released to the general public.

What is Software Versioning?

Software versioning (sometimes known as semantic versioning) is the practice of assigning unique version numbers to different releases of software.

Here’s a useful example:

vmlinuz-5.19.0-40-generic

In some approaches, the first number in the version number (“5” in this case) is the major version. A major version change indicates significant changes or new features that are not backward compatible with previous versions.

The second number (“19”) is the minor version. A minor version change indicates new features or functionality that are backward compatible with previous versions.

The third number in the version number (“0”) is the patch version. A patch version change indicates bug fixes or minor changes that are backward compatible with previous versions.

Why distinguish between major and minor releases? Major releases are typically used for significant changes or new features that are not backward compatible with previous versions. Major releases are usually announced to users and customers with a lot of fanfare, as they represent a significant milestone in the development of the software.

Minor releases, on the other hand, are used for smaller changes or new features that are backward compatible with previous versions. Minor releases are typically released more frequently and are intended to provide users with incremental improvements to the software.

What Does Backward Compatibility Mean?

Backward compatibility is the ability of a newer version of software or system to work with files, data, and other components created in an older version of that software or system. This means that users can upgrade to the newer version without losing access to their existing data or files.

For example, let’s assume a user has created a document in an older version of a word processing program. If the newer version of the program is backward compatible, the user can open and edit the same document without any issues. This is because the newer version of the program is designed to read and interpret the file format used in the older version.

However, if the newer version of the program is not backward compatible, the user may not be able to open or edit the file created in the older version without first converting or re-creating it in the newer version. This can be a significant inconvenience for users and can lead to compatibility issues and data loss.

Here are some more quick – but important – definitions.

Feature Freeze

Feature freeze is a stage in the software development process where no new features are added to the product or project. It is typically implemented as a deadline by which all new features must be completed and approved before the release of the software product.

The primary goal of a feature freeze is to stabilize the software product in preparation for release. By setting a feature freeze deadline, developers can focus on completing and testing existing features rather than introducing new ones. This allows time for rigorous testing and bug fixing, improving the overall quality and reliability of the software product.

Roadmaps

A roadmap is a high-level strategic document that outlines the goals, objectives, and timeline for a software product’s development. It provides a visual representation of the product development plan, outlining key milestones and the expected timeline for completion.

Roadmaps are useful for communicating the overall direction of a software product to stakeholders, including developers, product managers, investors, and customers.

Milestones

Milestones are specific, measurable achievements that mark progress towards the completion of a software product. They’re typically set at regular intervals throughout the development process and are used to track progress and ensure that the project stays on schedule.

Examples of milestones might include the completion of a specific feature, the successful completion of a testing phase, or the release of a beta version of the software product.

Changelog

A changelog is a document that lists the changes made to a software product over time, including bug fixes, new features, and other updates. Changelogs allow developers and other stakeholders to understand what’s been updated and when.

Changelogs are particularly useful for software products that are updated frequently or have a large number of contributors.

Long Term Support (LTS)

Long term support refers to a software version that is designated for longer-term support and maintenance, typically for a period of several years. During this time, the software vendor provides ongoing support, including bug fixes, security updates, and other maintenance activities.

LTS versions are often used in enterprise environments where stability and reliability are critical. In April of each even year, for example, Canonical will release an LTS version of Ubuntu. These versions are normally supported for four or five years.

End of Life (EOL)

On the other hand, end-of-life refers to a point in time when a software version is no longer supported by the vendor. This means that the vendor will no longer provide updates or fixes for the software, and any security vulnerabilities or bugs that are discovered will not be addressed. This can leave users with unsupported software that may be prone to security risks and other issues.

When a software product reaches its end-of-life, it is typically retired, and users are encouraged to upgrade to a newer version or switch to a different product. The EOL process is often gradual, with the vendor providing advance notice and guidance to users to help them migrate to a new version or product.

Conclusion

You’ve seen how it’s important to understand the stages through which successful software projects will move. And this isn’t just theoretical, because this knowledge gives you the tools to track your progress and quickly identify when things are going off rails.

This article comes from my Complete LPI Open Source Essentials Study Guide course. And there’s much more technology goodness available at bootstrap-it.com

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