The Difference Between Updating and Upgrading Your Custom Software

Updates and upgrades: two terms, different impacts. Explore the distinctions between software updates, subtle tweaks, and upgrades, unveiling their necessity and strategies within custom software development.

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We have all experienced the little pop-up from our operating system or smartphone app notifying us that it’s time to update our software.

Most of the time, software updates happen automatically without us even knowing it. Some of the time a confirmation is required, and less often, the entire application changes overnight.

This is the difference between a software update, and a software upgrade. A software update is generally something very minor while a software upgrade can result in an entirely different solution altogether.

In this blog we unpack a few of the differences between the two, why they both happen and how to deal with them in your custom software project.

Software Updates

Software is the combination of hundreds and thousands of lines of code across endless pieces of hardware components. There are so many points of failure that it’s impressive anything works at all.

For a standard web application, you need to ensure your software is running on a server. This server runs many different pieces of software, such as the operating system, the application runtime used to run your server application as well as any other libraries and dependencies that the application might have.

We can think of all of these pieces of software as thousands of tiny cogs in a massive machine that need to all work together in order for the software to operate.

Whenever a security flaw is found, or a new piece of hardware is introduced/upgraded or a dependent piece of software is changed, there is a potential need for a software update.

Because all the various components change frequently, it is important to ensure that your custom software project is maintained to function with all the various components changes.

Often times, these updates are not noticeable at all to the end-user and don’t take very long to change. The idea is not to introduce any breaking changes or new features, but rather to continuously maintain the currently deployed features that the software offers.

Software Upgrades

Even though the terms read and sound similar, a software upgrade is an entirely different ball game.

Software upgrades typically introduce entirely new features and functionality for the end-user. Sometimes, this can introduce breaking changes or entirely new user experiences that require either data migration or user education.

Software upgrades are typically driven from a functionality requirement change, either from a changing business process or new end-user requirements.

Therefore, software upgrades need to be treated as entirely new subprojects within your custom software project and should not be treated lightly. Most non-technical stakeholders can easily run into the conundrum of a bug vs a feature. Software upgrades are definitely feature changes.

This often ties in nicely with the agile development methodology, which encourages continuous changes or upgrades to your software to meet the needs of your stakeholders.


Software updates are driven by uncontrollable forces, such as the ever-changing nature of every dependent piece of hardware or software in your application, most importantly security flaws that need to be patched.

Software upgrades are driven by the constantly changing business and/or consumer requirements and need to be treated as entirely separate projects in order to ensure successful deployment.

Both need to happen in order to ensure that you release and maintain safe and amazing solutions for your end-customers, in order to stay ahead of your competitors.

At Appstrax, we thrive to ensure that all of our custom software is developed as safely and securely as possible, with best practices in mind. We also understand the constantly changing nature of business and consumers and are ready to jump in and ensure your software is ready and released to market as timely as possible.

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