Google+ Badge

Sunday, June 29, 2008

What Are Patches And Do You Need Them?

A patch is generally the term used to refer to pieces of software that are created to give updates or fixes to existing programs that need to be rehashed or repaired. Patches fixes bugs, replaces graphics and improves a program’s performance or functionality. Patches are very useful and are usually needed if there are certain imperfections in the programs you are using, however, patches that are not made perfectly can also lead to other problems.

What are the Type of Patches?

Programmers create different forms of patches, each having its own function and characteristics. Software that have proprietary policies are delivered as executable files instead of sources. Such types of patches alters the executable program run by the user by either completely replacing the entire executable program or just making changes to the binary file.

Other patches may also be circulated as actual source code themselves. In such cases, there would be certain textual differentiation between the original source code and the one included in the patch. Such kinds of patches are made for projects that have open sources. For these types of patches, the programmers assume that the users would be able to do the update themselves without the help of executable files.

Patches may also come in larger forms. And since the term patch is usually associated with small or short fixes, bigger patches are sometimes called service packs or software updates. Microsoft Windows are known to use such terms to refer to their updates. However, even in the guise of another name, they are still patches nonetheless.

Other operating systems such, as Linux, among other systems that are similar to Unix, have patches that are distributed as full software packages. Such patches have their own installers that work so that they can serve as an upgrade to current existing versions or as stand-alone installers that can be set up by themselves.

How are patches used?

Patch sizes vary and may be as small as some kilobytes or go as high as a hundred megabytes and higher – the larger the size, the larger the change the patch is bound to do. Typically, when media, such as pictures and sounds, are changed or added instead of program, files become rather large. This is usually seen in patches designed to update or modify computer games.

Unlike software designed for initial installation process, patches generally are faster to apply. Some patches may be acquired from the manufacturers and sent to users in diskettes or discs, while others may be downloaded through the internet. Patches that are downloadable could take longer to acquire depending on the connection speed.

Most patches that are designed for operating systems and software for computer servers are created to fix important holes in the security system. Some operating systems allow automatic update or semi-automatic updating that allow the continual feed of patches whenever there are changes done by their authors.

A lot of people, especially those in the corporate world, decline getting totally automatic updates because there were many experiences of patches causing glitches. Some software experts also believe that allowing totally automatic updates may let software companies acquire limitless control over people’s computers. Thus, varying degrees of automation has been offered in relation to getting patches.

The use of totally automatic updates is rather more popular for the consumers because most operating systems, Microsoft Windows in particular, have added them as a support tool. The automatic updates for Windows has also been set as default by its creators.

Some users, especially network system managers, are very wary about installing patches. They put off applying them until they have clear proof that the fixes are stable. Most large patches or those that promote sudden significant alterations are distributed first with limited availability as beta tests for qualified developers who would know what to do in case something wrong happens.

Patches that are made to modify the programming of hardware are called firmware and are rather challenging because they entail complicated steps such as re-embedding sets of code on devices that involves that total modification and installation new codes for programs instead of just simple alterations to the existing version. Usually such patches perform delicate modification processes that could compromise the device if not installed properly, rendering it useless.

Do you really need patches?

There is no quick answer to this question. Patches are intended to improve the performance of your programs, however, they have to be very stable so that they would not do more harm than good. Before installing a patch, check for its stability by asking around about reported problems with installation.

You can check internet forums regarding users’ experiences with the particular patch you are about to apply. It is usually wise to put off the patch installation for some time before going with it to see how people react to its effects.