5 Stages of the Software Release Life Cycle

By Sydney Wess / 1 December 2021

The software release life cycle encompasses everything that needs to happen before new software is usable. This includes design, development, testing, and additional phases. Companies should spend time learning about the software release life cycle to understand how to tackle their next project.

From conception to general release, the average piece of software undergoes quite an extensive journey. It begins simply as an idea or notion, later being developed into working code, tested repeatedly, improved upon, and finally released to its intended audience. This whole process is known as the software release life cycle or software development life cycle.

The software release life cycle, is essentially a framework that can be followed when developing software. Development teams can break it down into several stages, and different businesses may have their own names and definitions for each stage. On a general basis, however, the life cycle consists of five main stages: pre-alpha, alpha, beta, release candidate, and general release. 

This guide will take a look at each of those stages, in turn, exploring what happens in each stage and why each stage is significant for the software release life cycle on the whole.

Pre-Alpha

The pre-alpha phase is the initial phase of the software release life cycle. This stage basically encompasses everything that happens before developing and releasing an alpha version of a program. This includes all of the following aspects of design and development

  • Research: The pre-alpha phase typically begins with market and industry research, looking into trends, audience needs, and other aspects to decide what sort of app should be developed, what functions it should have, and so on. 
  • Planning: The planning phase is also part of the pre-alpha stage of the software release life cycle. Planning involves putting together a plan for the design and development of the app through the release life cycle, all the way to general release. During this stage, objectives and aims should also be identified and set out. 
  • Design: After research and planning, comes design. This is when assigned engineers will essentially develop the blueprints for the app. Design teams will plan out how the app will look, how it will function, and create a general overview for the app that the development team can work with. 
  • Development: During the development phase, coding will begin for the app and it will actually start being put together, according to the specifications set out in the previous design phase. During this stage, many new versions of the base app will be developed and released as new features and functions are added, building up towards a fully featured program.

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Alpha

The next step of the software release life cycle is the alpha stage. This is essentially the first big testing phase for the app.

It's still relatively early in development, with many bugs and issues to iron out. Still, an alpha build should at least have the program’s core functions covered and have some level of functionality. 

It can then be released in-house and tested by developers, engineers, and other users to see how it responds to different inputs, how it copes in different situations, and whether or not it meets the requirements laid out in pre-alpha planning. Various forms of testing can be used during the alpha stage, from white-box testing to block box and gray box testing.  

The main aim of the alpha stage is to find errors and issues with the app in its current state and address them, focusing on stability and function. It's all about getting the program to work the way it should.

You can take other design elements and factors like the user experience into account in the next stage.

Beta

The next step of the software release life cycle is the beta launch or beta testing phase.

This is the next level up from alpha. At this point, the software itself should be relatively stable and carry out its intended functions. It may still have some bugs and issues to address, but the main focus of this stage is optimizing the app as much as possible.

Typically, during a beta launch, the program will be made available to a select audience of public users. These users are usually selected according to specific demographics to match with the developer's target market. They will be asked to test out the app in its current state and provide feedback on its experiences.

The main aim here is to collect user feedback about the program to determine what people think about it. Beta testing can help spot bugs that the team hadn’t noticed earlier.

Still, the primary objective is to see how users feel about it and use their feedback to make necessary changes or improvements.

Release Candidate 

The software release life cycle then continues with the release candidate phase. As the name implies, a release candidate is a software version that is almost ready for release and in a stable state. You will have made improvements and alterations throughout the beta phase to reach this point, but one last round of testing is needed to verify that everything works.

Therefore, release candidate testing will take place. This can come in many forms, including manual and automatic testing, and it's usually done in-house, with developers and software engineers actively testing all aspects of the program and trying to break it and push it to its limits. This is done to build confidence in the product ahead of a wide launch and verify that it works as it should.

General Release 

The final stage of the software release life cycle is the general release. This comes after all prior testing, checking, and verification. At this point, the piece of software is made available to consumers for purchase and usage. 

Marketing, commercialization, compliance testing, and distribution may also be included in this process, with the ultimate aim of getting the program out to the intended audience and allowing them to make use of it.

The Software Release Life Cycle Must Be Followed with Care

This guide has shown the main steps of the software release life cycle. It's essential for each action to be taken seriously and carried out with the requisite care and diligence. If any step is overlooked or undervalued, the stability and usefulness of the final product can be damaged.
 

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