6.8. Release engineering

The FreeBSD project has a Release Engineering team with a principal release engineer that is responsible for creating releases of FreeBSD that can be brought out to the user community via the net or sold in retail outlets. Since FreeBSD is available on multiple platforms and releases for the different architectures are made available at the same time, the team has one person in charge of each architecture. Also, there are roles in the team responsible for coordinating quality assurance efforts, building a package set and for having an updated set of documents. When referring to the release engineer, a representative for the release engineering team is meant.

When a release is coming, the FreeBSD project changes shape somewhat. A release schedule is made containing feature- and code-freezes, release of interim releases and the final release. A feature-freeze means no new features are allowed to be committed to the branch without the release engineers' explicit consent. Code-freeze means no changes to the code (like bugs-fixes) are allowed to be committed without the release engineers explicit consent. This feature- and code-freeze is known as stabilising. During the release process, the release engineer has the full authority to revert to older versions of code and thus "back out" changes should he find that the changes are not suitable to be included in the release.

There are three different kinds of releases:

  1. .0 releases are the first release of a major version. These are branched of the -CURRENT branch and have a significantly longer release engineering cycle due to the unstable nature of the -CURRENT branch

  2. .X releases are releases of the -STABLE branch. They are scheduled to come out every 4 months.

  3. .X.Y releases are security releases that follow the .X branch. These come out only when sufficient security fixes have been merged since the last release on that branch. New features are rarely included, and the security team is far more involved in these than in regular releases.

For releases of the -STABLE-branch, the release process starts 45 days before the anticipated release date. During the first phase, the first 15 days, the developers merge what changes they have had in -CURRENT that they want to have in the release to the release branch. When this period is over, the code enters a 15 day code freeze in which only bug fixes, documentation updates, security-related fixes and minor device driver changes are allowed. These changes must be approved by the release engineer in advance. At the beginning of the last 15 day period a release candidate is created for widespread testing. Updates are less likely to be allowed during this period, except for important bug fixes and security updates. In this final period, all releases are considered release candidates. At the end of the release process, a release is created with the new version number, including binary distributions on web sites and the creation of a CD-ROM images. However, the release is not considered "really released" until a PGP-signed message stating exactly that, is sent to the mailing list freebsd-announce; anything labelled as a "release" before that may well be in-process and subject to change before the PGP-signed message is sent. [11].

The releases of the -CURRENT-branch (that is, all releases that end with .0) are very similar, but with twice as long timeframe. It starts 8 weeks prior to the release with announcement of the release time line. Two weeks into the release process, the feature freeze is initiated and performance tweaks should be kept to a minimum. Four weeks prior to the release, an official beta version is made available. Two weeks prior to release, the code is officially branched into a new version. This version is given release candidate status, and as with the release engineering of -STABLE, the code freeze of the release candidate is hardened. However, development on the main development branch can continue. Other than these differences, the release engineering processes are alike.

.0 releases go into their own branch and are aimed mainly at early adopters. The branch then goes through a period of stabilisation, and it is not until the Release Engineering Team decides the demands to stability have been satisfied that the branch becomes -STABLE and -CURRENT targets the next major version. While this for the majority has been with .1 versions, this is not a demand.

Most releases are made when a given date that has been deemed a long enough time since the previous release comes. A target is set for having major releases every 18 months and minor releases every 4 months. The user community has made it very clear that security and stability cannot be sacrificed by self-imposed deadlines and target release dates. For slips of time not to become too long with regards to security and stability issues, extra discipline is required when committing changes to -STABLE.

Figure 6.8. Process summary: release engineering
Process summary: release engineering


These are the stages in the release engineering process. Multiple release candidates may be created until the release is deemed stable enough to be released.

[FreeBSD, 2002E]



[11] Many commercial vendors use these images to create CD-ROMs that are sold in retail outlets.

All FreeBSD documents are available for download at http://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/

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