A programming tutorial discussing software versioning.

In software management, you will often hear about the concepts of versioning and version control. While both pertain to key “repository services”, each term refers to principles that, while related, are distinct from one another. In order to become proficient in content management, it is important that you understand what distinguishes one from the other. This programming tutorial will provide an overview of each versioning and version control, while highlighting their differences.

What is versioning?

In software development, versioning is a type of numbering or naming scheme that allows development teams to keep track of changes they make to the project code. The changes may include new functions, features, or bug fixes. Occasionally, entirely new functions and features are released based on developments across multiple versions.

The version number is usually easily accessed within the software as well as on the company website so that stakeholders outside of the development team – mainly users – can identify exactly which piece of software they are working with. This information can be utilized when reporting bugs to the company or if users require support.

In fact, we recently covered Versioning in a recent article. It focused mainly on the most popular versioning system, known as semantic numbering. Semantic numbering is composed of three numbers, separated by a period (.) (i.e., 9.5.0), which represent Major, Minor, and Patch fixes. The convention for semantic versioning is to assign a version number of 1.0.0 upon a software product’s release. From there, the Major, Minor, and Patch numbers are increased according to the type and degree of changes.

There are many other versioning schemes, including:

  • Date-of-release: The software version number is the date of the release. For example, 20.06 (June 2020).
  • Unary numbering.
  • Alphanumeric codes.
  • Sequential numbering.
  • Names such as Kepler, Luna, Indigo, and Mars.

What is version control?

A recent tutorial on our site listed the many Benefits of Version Control. In doing so, it also provided an explanation of what version control encompasses. It states:

“Version control, also known as source control, is the practice of tracking and managing changes to software code.”

With most systems being software driven these days, it should come as no surprise that version control is also achieved utilizing specialized version software called version control systems (VCS). Both command-line and GUI-based VCS track changes in files and code over time by keeping an extensive history of all activity on a collection of code (called a repository). The various development streams are stored as branches and each update is marked as a commit. GUI-based version control software allows developers to compare changes visually, by showing the exact lines of code where modifications were done. If things go astray, it is also easy to revert to earlier changes.

Version control tools prevent developers from clobbering each other’s work in collaborative environments using content check-in / check-out facilities that prevent two or more people from working simultaneously and unknowingly on the same file. If someone tries to edit something that someone else has “checked out,” the system will alert them that the item is “locked” and potentially give them the option to override their lock if necessary.

The main drawback to using VCS is that, with only one person able to checked out content at any one time, processes can become very linear. Many teams work around that limitation by having multiple people work on the same code simultaneously and then carefully merging in all the changes so as to not break the application. One way to do that is to employ code reviews. However, that can itself cause workflow routines to drag as a result of multiple review iterations between authors and code reviewers.

What are the differences between versioning and version control?

Having defined both versioning and version control, we can now compare the two with respect to their differences.

Versioning is a scheme that helps software development teams keep track of changes they make to software project code by identifying successive versions. As such, it assists in the creation and management of multiple software product releases. While they have all the same general functions, some versions will be improved, customized, or upgraded.

Meanwhile, version control is a way to ensure efficient and collaborative code sharing and editing among several different developers of a system. This helps team members track and manage changes to the software source code over time. Using a version control system, these developers may work on different versions of the product at any given time within the larger system.

Final thoughts on version control versus versioning

Although both versioning and version control play essential roles in the creation and management of software products, each applies to a different part of that process. You can think of versioning as a naming and/or numbering scheme, whereas version control is a system that keeps all of the different versions separate from each other, while providing access to all of them.

SEE: Best Practices for Versioning

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