With some software names, I had seen seen beta or dev as a suffix to them. I see beta commonly, but dev only with Google Chrome. What is beta and dev ?


For the most part proprietary software has been offered in mainly one version to consumers; a release version. Whereas Open Source software you will often see such development cycle terms such as beta, nightly, dev, etc. In recent years many proprietary software has also started publicly releasing development version[according to my non-scientific observations]. Due to the less common usage of development cycle terms in popular proprietary products consumer literature, advertising and public relations they are not clear to all users.

The most commonly used development cycle terms are listed below. Of course this is a generalization every project may have different developmental philosophies, levels of quality control, and release cycles so they may not match 100% to any single projects releases but should be fairly close.

  • Nightly: Use with lots of caution This is committed code that has probably had no review or testing beyond the one maintainer who committed it. If you want to help with development or report bugs this can be a great thing to install but if so don't complain about bugs and be aware that you are using it an your own risk (with most software that is the case of course but this is extra risky). It is called the Nightly build after the the common practice of building and distributing it once per night - usually automatically with some minimal quality checks.
  • Alpha: Use with a fair bit of caution This usually a specifically chosen point in the development cycle where it is mainly feature complete but has had very little testing or optimization. High chance of breaking chances between version and scary errors but getting safer.
  • Beta: Still be cautious This is also usually a manually chosen point when the development team considers it to be feature complete, and has had *some testing and optimization. Generally safe but still can have nasty errors.
  • Release Candidate (also known as RC): Generally promoted to the largest number of possible development testers since this is usually feature complete, optimized, tested, but still needs more testing on a wide range of systems. Usually you'll run into no problems using these.
  • dev: Still use caution. This is unfortunately used very differently depending on the project; in some projects this may be no better than Nightly whereas in other projects it may be the equivalent to RC. You usually have to read forums or read commit logs to determine exactly what quality/testing level it has had. In fact many projects use this as even earlier version than nightly in their development cycle - like the latest code without even waiting for a scheduled build which gives up to 24 hours for fixes to happen.

All of these often have numbers appended to them which may refer to the revision of the source code in the Code Versioning System (such as example-RC-f9652b7.exe) or sequentially numbered releases (such as example-RC-5.exe).

  • This is mainly meant to be an initial write-up for a FAQ. (ie discuss at will) Mar 22 '14 at 6:21

The Wikipedia page software release life cycle provides a nice overview of the terminology, as well as a great flow chart to complement Nick's answer:

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