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I tried to update my system to the latest -STABLE, but got -RC or -PRERELEASE! What is going on?

Short answer: it is just a name. RC stands for ``Release Candidate''. It signifies that a release is imminent. In FreeBSD, -PRERELEASE is typically synonymous with the code freeze before a release. (For some releases, the -BETA label was used in the same way as -PRERELEASE.)

Long answer: FreeBSD derives its releases from one of two places. Major, dot-zero, releases, such as 3.0-RELEASE and 4.0-RELEASE, are branched from the head of the development stream, commonly referred to as -CURRENT. Minor releases, such as 3.1-RELEASE or 4.2-RELEASE, have been snapshots of the active -STABLE branch. Starting with 4.3-RELEASE, each release also now has its own branch which can be tracked by people requiring an extremely conservative rate of development (typically only security advisories).

When a release is about to be made, the branch from which it will be derived from has to undergo a certain process. Part of this process is a code freeze. When a code freeze is initiated, the name of the branch is changed to reflect that it is about to become a release. For example, if the branch used to be called 4.5-STABLE, its name will be changed to 4.6-PRERELEASE to signify the code freeze and signify that extra pre-release testing should be happening. Bug fixes can still be committed to be part of the release. When the source code is in shape for the release the name will be changed to 4.6-RC to signify that a release is about to be made from it. Once in the RC stage, only the most critical bugs found can be fixed. Once the release (4.6-RELEASE in this example) and release branch have been made, the branch will be renamed to 4.6-STABLE.

For more information on version numbers and the various CVS branches, refer to the Release Engineering article.

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