Should I Upgrade / Update Moodle?

Posted in: Moodle, Technology | 0

Updating and upgrades Moodle LMS is indeed something that needs to be done every once in a while and should be part of your regular IT infrastructure renewal plan.

Some of the questions you might (or should) be asking include:

  • Why should I update and upgrade Moodle?
  • How often should I update to a new minor release?
  • How often should I upgrade to a new major release of Moodle?

While it might sound ideal to implement every release of Moodle, it is rarely technically and logistically feasible. With that in mind, there are actually several reasons why you might want to only consider updating your system to a new minor release every 3 to 6 months and upgrading every 2-3 years. However, there may be a perfectly valid reason to occasionally apply a plus (+) update in between to address a bug or security-related issue.

Updating vs Upgrading Moodle

Minor release updates - Good reasons to update Moodle to a new weekly or minor stable release include:

  • Your Moodle site is experiencing specific issues which have been addressed in a minor release;
  • Your Moodle site has known security vulnerabilities.
  • Other components or your web server, database or a Moodle plugin/theme update is no longer compatible with your current version of Moodle;

Still not sure? Consult the Moodle release notes to find out if there are good reasons to update your exiting Moodle site.

Keyboard with Update / Upgrade key.

Major release upgrades - In addition to the reasons for minor release updates, good reasons to upgrade Moodle to a new major release include:

  • You have now or will be soon running out of minor stable releases to which you can update. This is actually a good reason to be using long term support (LTS) versions of Moodle. You won't need to upgrade as often.
  • You need (not just want) to take advantage of a new feature only available in a newer version of Moodle or a third party plugin or theme.

Understanding the Moodle Release Cycle

Here is how Moodle's release cycle works.

Bug fixes - Each major release of Moodle receives bug fixes for 12 months (1 year).

Security fixes - Each major release of Moodle typically receive security fixes for 18 months (1.5 years). Long term support (LTS) releases get 36 months (3 years).

Weekly Moodle Plus (+) releases

There is a new plus (+) release of Moodle that comes out each week, typically on Mondays. Even though changes to Moodle are put through excellent quality assurance practices before they are released, plus releases are not necessarily completely tested and should not be considered if stability is paramount unless they actually address a specific issue you are experiencing. With that said, I've only ever seen one or two plus (+) releases that were truly problematic over the last 6 years… but it does happen.

Plus (+) releases continue to be available for the entire supported lifespan of the major version of Moodle. You can identify plus releases by the plus (+) symbol after the version number. Example: 3.8.1+ followed by the date it was released.

Weekly releases of a stable supported release of Moodle usually only include bug and security fixes.

Minor Moodle releases

There is a new minor release of Moodle that comes out every 2 months - in January, March, May, July, September and November. You would not necessarily want to update Moodle to these right away. A best practice is to wait a few weekly releases to see what issues are being reported by the community and hopefully fixed in a plus (+) release before updating your website. Because minor releases typically only include bug and security fixes, they are often compatible with currently installed 3rd party Moodle plugins and the theme you might be using.

Minor releases continue to be available for the entire supported lifespan of the major version of Moodle. You can identify minor releases by the number after the second decimal point. For example, 3.8.1+ followed by the date it was released. This would be the second (.0 is the first) release of Moodle 3.8.

Minor releases of a stable supported release of Moodle do not normally include new features but only bug and security fixes previously included in weekly plus (+) releases. There have been rare instances that required the instruction of new features such. Examples include the integration of the GDPR plugin, and replacing Google's ReCAPTCHA (v1) with (v2) when Google decided to deprecate their online service. But such changes are very rare.

Major Moodle releases

Major releases of Moodle come out every 6 months in May and November - every 3rd minor release. This is to accommodate schedules of educational institutions that often only have a window of opportunity to upgrade systems over the summer months, be it on the American or the Australian side of the world. It is therefore expected that organizations will only upgrade Moodle to the next major release only once every year or so.

Major stable releases of Moodle always include new functionality, all of the bug and security fixes previously released in minor Moodle releases. It deprecates old functions that have been replaced and introduces new functions.

It is important to note that you would never want to rush out and upgrade to a new major release of Moodle as soon as it comes out. If your Moodle site makes use of any 3rd party plugins/add-ons or a theme, these are not always available at the time of new major Moodle releases. In fact, it can sometimes take several months before they become available.

When a new major release of Moodle first comes out, it goes through quality assurance by hundreds of volunteers around the world to test the introduction of new features and new code which sometimes introduces issues that only get addressed over the coming months. For this reason, you may want to wait for at least one or two minor releases before upgrading your instance of Moodle. This would hopefully give 3rd party developers time to catch up and give you time to ensure that the update doesn't break anything on your Moodle site.

Moodle Long Term Supported (LTS) releases

LTS releases are special major releases of Moodle that come out in May every 2 years. If you are looking to reduce your maintenance costs, these are the recommended releases. What is special about them? They receive security fixes for 36 months compared to regular major releases that only receive these fixes for 18 months. By going with LTS releases, you can stay with the same version of Moodle for almost 3 years, just applying minor release updates. The next LTS release of Moodle will be coming out in May of even-numbered years (2020, 2022, etc). If you are using an LTS release of Moodle, I only recommend minor release updates unless there is a specific new feature that you need.

Moodle performs its own self-maintenance several times a day when it is set-up and configured appropriately for the maximum number of concurrent users and courses. If it isn't, no amount of updating or upgrading Moodle will solve related issues.

-- Michael milette, President
TNG COnsulting INc.

Contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

Michael Milette
TNG Consulting Inc.
www.tngconsulting.ca

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