WordPress Release Cycles
A new version of WordPress is released about three times per year, despite the fact that the WordPress development community is made up of primarily volunteer developers who donate their time and talents to the WordPress platform.
Why you need to upgrade WordPress regularly
Don’t get discouraged by how many times you need to upgrade your WordPress installation in a year. With each new upgrade, you find improved security and new features that you can use to improve the experience on your website.
Here are some reasons why upgrading your WordPress installation is important and something every WordPress website owner needs to do every time a new version releases.
Security: As WordPress versions come and go, outdated versions are no longer supported and are the most vulnerable to malicious attacks and hacker attempts. If you’ve heard anything negative about WordPress security, 99.99 percent of the time, it’s because the users were running an outdated version on their websites. To make sure you have the most up-to-date and secure version running, upgrade to the latest version as soon you can.
New features: With major WordPress releases, you always find great new features that boost your efficiency and productivity in maintaining your website or improve your visitors’ experience — or both. Upgrading your WordPress installation makes sure you always have access to the latest and greatest tools and features that WordPress has to offer.
Plugins and themes: Most plugin and theme developers work hard to make sure their products are up to date and compatible with the latest WordPress version. Therefore, plugin and theme developers generally don’t worry about backward compatibility, or working with out-of-date WordPress versions, because keeping their product relevant to the current WordPress version is challenging enough.
To be sure that the plugins and themes you use are current and don’t break any of the features on your site (for example, they stop working or cause errors), make sure you use the latest WordPress version and the latest version of your chosen plugins and themes.
Review release cycles
By the time you upgrade your WordPress installation to the latest version, that version has gone through several iterations, or versions, before it landed in your hands.
Alpha: This is the first phase of the new version, typically the idea phase where developers gather ideas from one another, from users, and from community members. After features are decided, developers develop and testers test until they reach the feature freeze — the point in the development cycle when all new features are considered complete and the development moves on to the beta cycle.
Beta: This cycle is in place to fix bugs and any problems that are reported by testers. Beta cycles can last up to 4–6 weeks, if not more, and many times, WordPress releases several beta versions that look something like WordPress version 3.0 Beta, WordPress version 3.0 Beta 1, and so on.
This continues until the development team decides that the software is ready to move into the next phase of the development cycle.
Release candidate (RC): A version is released as a release candidate when it’s been determined that the bugs from the beta versions have been fixed and the version is almost ready for the final release. You can sometimes see several iterations referred to as RC-1, RC-2, and so on.
Final release: When a version has gone through full testing in several (hopefully all) types of environments (browser systems, different web server configurations, and so on) and user experiences and no major bugs are reported and all bugs from the alpha, beta, and RC phases have been squashed, the development team releases the final version of the WordPress software.
After a version is released as a final release, the WordPress development team starts all over again in the alpha phase, gearing up to go through the development cycle again, ready for the next major version.
Major versus point releases
Notice that WordPress versions are numbered. These numbers show the progress of the development of the software, but the numbers are also software versioning, which is a method of assigning unique numbers to each version release.
Point release: Point releases are relatively minor releases and includes things like minor bug fixes. For example, when the version number jumps from 3.0 to 3.0.1, you can be pretty certain that the new version (3.0.1) was released to fix existing minor bugs or clean ups to the source code, rather than to add new features.
Major release: A major release most often contains new features, and you generally see a large jump in version numbers. For example, when WordPress went from 2.9 to 3.0, it was considered a major release because it jumped a whole number, rather than incrementally increasing by decimal points (although version 2.9 did get versioned into 2.9.1 and 2.9.2 before it jumped to 3.0).
This large jump is a sign that this version includes a few new features, rather than just bug fixes or code cleanup. The bigger the jump in version number, the more major the release is considered to be. For example, if it suddenly jumped from 3.0 to 3.5, that would be an indication of some pretty major new features in that release.