Last Modified
2016-12-24 21:11:39 -0600


frozen_string_literal: true

The Version class processes string versions into comparable values. A version string should normally be a series of numbers separated by periods. Each part (digits separated by periods) is considered its own number, and these are used for sorting. So for instance, 3.10 sorts higher than 3.2 because ten is greater than two.

If any part contains letters (currently only a-z are supported) then that version is considered prerelease. Versions with a prerelease part in the Nth part sort less than versions with N-1 parts. Prerelease parts are sorted alphabetically using the normal Ruby string sorting rules. If a prerelease part contains both letters and numbers, it will be broken into multiple parts to provide expected sort behavior (1.0.a10 becomes 1.0.a.10, and is greater than 1.0.a9).

Prereleases sort between real releases (newest to oldest):

  1. 1.0

  2. 1.0.b1

  3. 1.0.a.2

  4. 0.9

If you want to specify a version restriction that includes both prereleases and regular releases of the 1.x series this is the best way:

s.add_dependency 'example', '>= 1.0.0.a', '< 2.0.0'

How Software Changes

Users expect to be able to specify a version constraint that gives them some reasonable expectation that new versions of a library will work with their software if the version constraint is true, and not work with their software if the version constraint is false. In other words, the perfect system will accept all compatible versions of the library and reject all incompatible versions.

Libraries change in 3 ways (well, more than 3, but stay focused here!).

  1. The change may be an implementation detail only and have no effect on the client software.

  2. The change may add new features, but do so in a way that client software written to an earlier version is still compatible.

  3. The change may change the public interface of the library in such a way that old software is no longer compatible.

Some examples are appropriate at this point. Suppose I have a Stack class that supports a push and a pop method.

Examples of Category 1 changes:

Examples of Category 2 changes might be:

Examples of Category 3 changes might be:

RubyGems Rational Versioning


Let’s work through a project lifecycle using our Stack example from above.

Version 0.0.1

The initial Stack class is release.

Version 0.0.2

Switched to a linked=list implementation because it is cooler.

Version 0.1.0

Added a depth method.

Version 1.0.0

Added top and made pop return nil (pop used to return the old top item).

Version 1.1.0

push now returns the value pushed (it used it return nil).

Version 1.1.1

Fixed a bug in the linked list implementation.

Version 1.1.2

Fixed a bug introduced in the last fix.

Client A needs a stack with basic push/pop capability. They write to the original interface (no top), so their version constraint looks like:

gem 'stack', '>= 0.0'

Essentially, any version is OK with Client A. An incompatible change to the library will cause them grief, but they are willing to take the chance (we call Client A optimistic).

Client B is just like Client A except for two things: (1) They use the depth method and (2) they are worried about future incompatibilities, so they write their version constraint like this:

gem 'stack', '~> 0.1'

The depth method was introduced in version 0.1.0, so that version or anything later is fine, as long as the version stays below version 1.0 where incompatibilities are introduced. We call Client B pessimistic because they are worried about incompatible future changes (it is OK to be pessimistic!).

Preventing Version Catastrophe:


Let’s say you’re depending on the fnord gem version 2.y.z. If you specify your dependency as “>= 2.0.0” then, you’re good, right? What happens if fnord 3.0 comes out and it isn’t backwards compatible with 2.y.z? Your stuff will break as a result of using “>=”. The better route is to specify your dependency with an “approximate” version specifier (“~>”). They’re a tad confusing, so here is how the dependency specifiers work:

Specification From  ... To (exclusive)
">= 3.0"      3.0   ... &infin;
"~> 3.0"      3.0   ... 4.0
"~> 3.0.0"    3.0.0 ... 3.1
"~> 3.5"      3.5   ... 4.0
"~> 3.5.0"    3.5.0 ... 3.6
"~> 3"        3.0   ... 4.0

For the last example, single-digit versions are automatically extended with a zero to give a sensible result.