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Patch vs Update: Understanding the Key Differences

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The two main ways to improve software are through patches and updates. While some may use the terms interchangeably, they are distinct processes that serve different purposes. 

By recognizing the differences between patches vs updates, software developers can effectively prioritize and communicate the nature of their releases, and your IT department can easily implement its patch management solution. 

‍What is a software patch?

Software patches are small updates released by software developers to fix specific issues or vulnerabilities in a program. These patches are designed to address bugs, security flaws, or other issues that have been identified after the initial release of the software. A patch is typically small in scope and targeted to address a problem. 

Patches are critical for immediate issues and are released in response to specific concerns or a certain aspect of the program. A software patch can be related to security, performance, compatibility or any other area that requires attention. The purpose of a patch is to provide a quick and efficient solution to a specific issue without making significant changes to the overall software.

What are software updates?

Software updates, on the other hand, are more comprehensive. They are broader, more extensive, and are released periodically to improve the overall functionality of the software. Updates can include changes such as bug fixes, new features, performance enhancements, security improvements, and other changes that provide a better user experience.

Unlike patches, software updates often involve significant modifications to the program. They may introduce new features, change the user interface, or even overhaul the entire software architecture. Program updates are typically released regularly and often scheduled at defined intervals to keep the software current and up-to-date with the latest advancements and user demands.

Key differences between patch vs update

One key difference between a patch and an update lies in their scope and purpose. A patch is a targeted fix for a specific issue or vulnerability, while an update is a more comprehensive upgrade that includes various improvements and changes. Patches are usually smaller in size and quicker to install, as they only address specific problems. Updates, on the other hand, can be larger and may take longer to install due to the extensive changes involved.

Another key difference between a patch vs update is the frequency of release. Patches are typically released as required whenever a specific issue is identified and needs to be addressed urgently. Updates, on the other hand, are usually released regularly, such as monthly or quarterly, to provide a cumulative set of improvements and changes to the software.

What is the goal of patching systems?

The goal of patching systems is to ensure that software remains secure, stable, and functional. Software vulnerabilities and bugs can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access, cause system crashes, or compromise sensitive data. By regularly applying patches, software developers can fix these vulnerabilities and protect users from potential threats.

Patching systems also help in improving the overall performance and reliability of the software. By addressing bugs and performance issues, patches can enhance the user experience and ensure that the software operates smoothly. Additionally, patches can address compatibility issues with new hardware or software, ensuring that the software remains usable in changing technological environments.

Understanding patch compliance

Patch compliance is the level of adherence to an organization or system’s patching policies and requirements. Organizations must ensure that all software patches are applied promptly and consistently to maintain a secure and stable environment. Additionally, businesses that handle certain financial, health, or personal information are subject to government cybersecurity standards and must ensure they meet requirements for PCI (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), or GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

Organizations that must comply with government security regulations must also ensure they meet patch compliance to mitigate security risks, address software bugs, and maintain overall system health. In addition to meeting applicable security regulations, you should establish clear policies and procedures for patch management, including regular patch assessments, testing, and deployment. Ensure that patches are prioritized by the severity of vulnerabilities they address and focus on patches that address the most significant risks first. 

The process of completing a patch vs update

The process of completing a patch and an update may vary depending on the software and the specific requirements. However, there are some general steps involved in both processes.

The first step in applying a patch is to identify the specific problem or vulnerability that the patch is designed to fix. Once you get the patch, it needs to be tested to ensure that it does not introduce any new issues or conflicts with the existing software. After successful testing, the patch can be applied to the affected system or software, typically through an automated update process.

The process is more extensive for software updates. The first step is to identify the areas in the software that need improvement or modification. The new features or changes are then developed and tested thoroughly. Once the update is ready, it’s released to the users who can choose to install it manually or through an automated update mechanism provided by the software.

Common misunderstandings about patch vs update

One common misconception about the differences between patches and updates is that patches are only related to security fixes, while updates are solely for adding new features. Although security fixes are often included in patches, a single update may also include new features and security fixes, making the distinction between the two less clear-cut.

Another misunderstanding is that patches are only released for older versions of software, while program updates are for the latest versions. In reality, both patches and updates can be released for any version of the software, depending on the identified issues or improvements. Software developers strive to provide ongoing support and maintenance for all versions, ensuring that users receive the necessary updates and patches.

Improving security with patches and updates

Both patches and updates play a crucial role in cyber hygiene and improving the security of software systems. Patches are specifically designed to address security vulnerabilities and fix bugs that can be exploited by attackers. By applying patches promptly, you can ensure that your software is protected against known vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of security breaches.

Updates, on the other hand, contribute to security by providing overall improvements to the software. These improvements can include enhanced security features, strengthened encryption algorithms or improved access control mechanisms. By keeping the software current with the latest updates, you can benefit from these security enhancements and safeguard against emerging threats.

Understanding the key differences between a patch vs update is essential for effectively managing software systems. In a distributed environment with devices located on-premises and remotely, keeping up with patches and updates is enough to keep your IT team on its toes — and take time away from other initiatives.

Fortunately, you can automate your endpoint patch management with NinjaOne. All you need is an internet connection. Identify, evaluate, and deploy patches to any device, no matter where it resides. Automate the process and spend 90% less time on the patching process and more time on strategic projects. Get immediate alerts and notifications and gain additional visibility with the patch activity log so you always know your endpoints are up to date.

Don’t leave your patch management to chance. Automate your Windows patch management with NinjaOne.

Next Steps

Patching is the single most critical aspect of a device hardening strategy. According to Ponemon, almost 60% of breaches could be avoided through effective patching. NinjaOne makes it fast and easy to patch all your Windows, Mac, and Linux devices whether remote or on-site.

Learn more about NinjaOne Patch Management, schedule a live tour, or start your free trial of the NinjaOne platform.

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