Monday, August 26, 2013

Artful Versions

When you focus on modular resilience, one item that helps a great deal is to pay attention to versioning. Version numbers are of use not only for change management but for testing and customer support as well. Apps developed with Microsoft tools keep their version numbers in a config file. You should standardize on a common meaning for the four subparts of version numbers.

Upgrades that produce a system that is incompatible with a prior release should increment the "major" version number. Upgrades that retain compatibility but that add significant functionality, should upgrade the "minor" version number. Bug fixes that get packaged into a distribution should increment the "release" version number. Finally the developers should increment the fourth component, the "build" number, with every compilation.

I like to present versions to the customer as major dot minor, for example this is versions 2.4 of the software. This version should display in a welcome pop-up and in the title bar of the main screen of your application. But for purpose of technical support I like to display (in a pop-up "About" box) something like version 2.4.3 build 118. Of course all of the version components are retrievable using the system reflection class.

Another helpful trick is to include a parallel matching version number within the backing database. When the client begins to run your software, make sure the version number in the data is compatible with the number in your software.

You should also version all of the modules within your software in a similar fashion. Although the component module versions aren't typically presented to the end user, reflect them to a called module (for debugging purposes) so that the called class can display the version of the invoker whenever it throws an error.

Sometimes it may seem superfluous, but it only takes about 30 seconds to update a version number, and with multiple developers on a project you will find that having this tracking available is invaluable.