When Should I Update my Joomla Website?
When I first started working with Joomla nearly 6 years ago the update path was different than it is today. Up until 2.5 it seemed to work just fine and while it always felt like the odd ball to me it worked. So the general rule was until a version reached .5 it was considered a short term stable release (STS), which meant you could still use the .x version prior to .5 but you did so at your own risk. If you absolutely needed what was coming in the new release you installed it and dealt with the constant struggle of updating it and fixing everything that broke along the way. Otherwise we was told to wait until the long term stable release (LTS) was out.
So here we are well into the development of the 3.x series but not quite to that stable release those of us who live by the old rules have been waiting for which should be 3.5... STOP.... because the rules have changed! In fact they started to change during the fiasco that was Joomla 1.6 and 1.7 and has been a basically undocumented whirlwind ever since.
It would seem that information is getting updated on the Joomla site but it is a work in progress. We can only hope the delay is due to time constraints getting to it and not that they will be changing it yet again. I want to keep my Joomla sites up to date and I rely on the information I read on the Joomla site to be accurate and up to date. This it seems has not been the case for some time but we are just now hearing the real truth rather than some water cooler stories.
They are doing away with the STS and LTS release cycle in favor of using the Semantic Versioning platform. This is great news because standards are what make things better for everyone, but it left me with some questions that don't get answered directly on the Joomla site and I was lucky enough to find the right page that gave a link to the information they are not going out of their way to describe (you can find it here).
So the rumors were right and there is no more STS or LTS. The thing is only the name has changed and the numbers mean something slightly different but the process is still very much the same. We are exchanging the terms STS and LTS for "Major version" and "Minor version". To get you up to speed with what you need to see we will take a look at where we are with Joomla 3.x today. Currently they just released Joomla 3.3.0. How this reads according to the versioning is the first 3 is the Major release, the second number 3 is the Minor release for that version and the 0 indicates the patch version of the Minor release.
If you read the versioning information you will see if you had asked the question I did wanting to know how to tell if it was a stable release the versioning will take care of that clearly and directly. If a version is still in Alpha or Beta they need to clearly declare that at the end of the version number. So if we looked back on the beginning of the 3.x version prior to a stable release it might have looked like this "3.0.4-alpha" or "3.0.4-alpha.1". By appending the version with a hyphen and a series of dos to separate the identifier they can clearly mark a version to indicate its current state. There are some variables here and we will probably not see this being taken advantage of until Joomla 4.x is started.
According to the documentation I read it tells me this versioning will not kick in as the new standard until we get to 4.x. So regardless what the haphazard designers say when they tell me it is safe to use 3.x in a production site I was not inclined to jump on that boat until now. I am still leery since the separation of beta and stable release was never admitted so in reality there is no sure way to say that Joomla 3.3.0 is a stable release and not a beta version like we have come to know it and will be beta until the release of 3.5.
Even so, I have always taken the position that I will not update a site (or migrate as it was going from 1.5 to 2.5) until the first growing pains are discovered and fixed. That usually did not happen until about the 5th sub version. So for example I did not start looking to migrate to 2.5 until it reached what I considered the stable version which was 2.5.5
Hopeful this was useful to you and next I will be talking about migration and what it meant for Joomla. Like the versioning the topic of migration vs upgrade is clouded in mystery and the facts are not clear on the Joomla pages.