What Is a Software Build?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A software build is a set of executable code ready for use by consumers that has been produced by compiling source code. This term can also be used to refer to the building process itself, where developers take their source code and run it through a compiling process to make it functional. Software programs are continuously updated until manufacturers decide to stop supporting them. This can involve a series of builds, many of which are released to the general public.

A tablet computer running a game, a type of software.
A tablet computer running a game, a type of software.

Designers of software typically start by outlining what they want the software to do and how they want to accomplish it. Developers begin developing the source code, the raw material that will make up the backbone of the software. One thing they consider as they work on the source is the need for future builds. Flexible source code can be modified, added on to, and altered as user needs change and the software needs to shift. Rigid code can be harder to work with in the future.

In the software build process, they compile the source code to create a program. They run the result through rigorous testing to make sure it works. If there are problems with the software build, they can return to the source code to modify them. Thus, not every build is released to the public; sometimes a grave mistake makes a build a complete failure, and in other cases, it has too many errors to be ready for general use.

Once developers are satisfied, they can issue a build. Software version numbers provide broad information about the version for customers; for example, 1.0 or 2.0. Build numbers offer more specific details about precisely which software build the customer is using. For example, a word processing program might display “Word Processor 5.0” at startup, letting the customer know that this is the fifth version. In the details about the program, it could display with a build number, in a form like

When the customer has a problem, the support technician may ask for the software build number, as this could be important. There may be a known issue that could be resolved by upgrading the build installed on the customer’s computer or applying a patch. If the problem hasn’t been reported before, the technician can enter a trouble ticket to alert the developers, with as much information as possible about the error for their benefit. This allows them to address the problem in future software builds. Sometimes very odd errors crop up in the wild, like a conflict between two programs the developers would not have thought to test together.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- Those build numbers are used for software that has already been released to the general public and are just as important. Most operating systems go through a number of updates and keeping track of all of them without build numbers would be tough.

Look at it this way. If a build of an OS update is causing a problem, the developer might instruct all people with that build to update to a new one or roll back to an old one. Without the build number, how would a user know if he or she has the defective update and needs to replace it?


The build number is also important for beta testers. Let's say, for example, you have an Internet browser which a few people download and test. There can be daily builds and, quite often, several builds released in the same day. Without the build number, it would be impossible for the developer to field bug reports from users because so many versions of the program are up and running.

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