One of the things that makes WordPress such a fluid and relevant tool is a consistent stream of WordPress releases.
These releases ensure the world’s top CMS is constantly up-to-date and relevant.
They include improvements, bug fixes, added features, developer APIs, and other tweaks that keep WordPress running smoothly and moving forward.
Because some are bigger than others, but still others are small and entirely necessary, WordPress uses a system of major and minor releases.
Sticking to major and minor releases makes it easy for users to install new updates without worrying about harming their WordPress site.
WordPress Major Releases
A WordPress major release is one that is a planned step in the open source software’s progression. They tend to come out every 4-5 months and several beta versions and release candidates of the new update are made available for testing prior to its release.
Since the release of WordPress 1.1, each release has been named after a famous jazz musician. These releases typically include updates to the WordPress core and underlying code such as new features, plugins, and themes.
Many Major WordPress releases now also include the addition of Gutenberg blocks, a new block editor that was introduced in WordPress 4.9.8.
Users are not required to install WordPress Major updates and have the option of running which major versions they choose.
WordPress Minor Releases
WordPress minor releases typically do not come with new features or the introduction of plugins or themes, and unlike major ones, they are typically not planned.
Minor releases are usually released on an as-needed basis, and almost always offer some form of overall improvement to the security of WordPress.
These releases tend to include patches or bug fixes that keep users’ sites safe and stable. For that reason, they are installed automatically.
Some versions may not have many minor releases, while others may require quite a few. There was only one minor version of WordPress 3.6, but there were 34 minor releases for WordPress 3.8.
WordPress Numbering Explained
Because there are so many versions of WordPress released throughout the year, it may be hard to tell what each release contains.
If you’re not exactly sure what the WordPress version numbers mean, you’re not alone.
But WordPress does have a method to its madness.
All releases are either two or three digits, each separated by a decimal point. You will never see a single-digit number for a release.
The first digit isn’t really significant, rather just an indicator of which major version of WordPress a release is for.
Jumping from something like WordPress 4.9 to 5.0 is just the next step in the WordPress numbering process.
The major WordPress releases that come out every 4-5 months are always two digits, like WordPress 5.6.
Any release that features a third digit is a minor release, such as WordPress 5.5.1.
Security updates can come out for current versions of WordPress anytime. It’s even possible for a security update to release the same week as a new major version of WordPress.
For a complete breakdown of WordPress numbers, check out Version Numbering – Make WordPress Core.
The History of WordPress
Many of the features and plugins we take for granted in WordPress today were once ground-breaking new additions introduced in a prior major release.
Things like automatic updates and strong passwords seem like common sense now, but there was a time they didn’t exist.
Learn more about the progression and history of WordPress in WordPress Thorugh the Ages.