Updated: 01/31/2023 by Computer Hope

An update may refer to any of the following:

Fictional Update key on a keyboard, in place of the left Shift key.

1. An update is new, improved, or fixed software that replaces older versions of the same software. For example, updating your operating system brings it up-to-date with the latest drivers, system utilities, and security software. Updates are often provided by the software publisher free of additional charge.

Why do I need to update?

Updates fix any problems with software or hardware that were not detected before the product was released to the public. If you don't update, the computer could encounter those problems or be vulnerable to attacks.

What needs to be updated?

All software and hardware eventually need to be updated. Typically, software or hardware stops updating when the related company goes out of business, stops supporting the product, or reaches EOL (end-of-life). For computers, the operating system is one of the most frequently updated software. Other frequently updated programs include web browsers, office programs, hardware drivers, and printer software.

How to update a program

Unfortunately, there is no standard for how software is updated. However, we've created the following list containing the most common ways.

  • Online programs - Any program connecting to the Internet should automatically check for updates when its first runs.
  • Help menu - Pressing F1 or accessing the help menu from the file menu should allow you to check for updates.
  • Operating system - Today, all operating systems are updated using software included with the operating system.
  • OEM program - An OEM (original equipment manufacturer) computer (e.g., Dell or HP) often includes assistant programs to help with checking and downloading any updates for the pre-installed programs included with the computer. For example, HP (Hewlett-Packard) includes the HP support assistant program for managing updates.
  • Developer/publisher website - Many software developers and publishers update software through their websites. Check their website for any available updates, which may include bug fixes and added features.

Do I need an Internet connection for updates?

Today, all updates are done through the Internet. So, to update the computer and its software, it needs an Internet connection.


If you can use another computer with Internet (e.g., school, work, or cybercafe), updates can be downloaded on that computer, copied to a USB (universal serial bus) flash drive, and installed from the flash drive.

What happens if I don't update?

Several things can happen if you do not update. Below are the most common symptoms you encounter if you do not update.

  • Fix errors - Most updates fix errors; if you don't update, you'll get those errors.
  • Security vulnerabilities - Updates also patch security holes. If you don't update, your information may be compromised.
  • Fix conflicts - Discovering conflicts with other programs and hardware is common. If you don't update, conflicts may cause problems with other programs.

What are update versions?

To categorize the different states of computer software as it's developed and released, each update has a version number (e.g., version 1.0 being the first version). When a program is updated, it changes the version of the program to help identify the applied fixes. See our version page for further information on this term.

Differences between software upgrades and updates

An update and upgrade are two different things. Updates are usually free and often have a small file size. An upgrade is usually not free and has a much larger file size. For example, if you have Windows 7 and want Windows 10, you would "upgrade" to Windows 10. However, if you had Windows 10 and needed to install fixes for security vulnerabilities or other problems, you would "update" Windows. See the upgrade definition for information on this term.

Should I install all updates?

All recommended updates should be installed. Other updates labeled as optional updates or supplemental updates are not required and should only be installed if needed.

Why does it take so long to update?

The total time it takes for any update to complete depends on how long it takes to download the update. The download speed can vary depending on your Internet connection and the server's speed in providing the update. Newly released updates may take longer if thousands of people get the update simultaneously. For example, you may have a fast connection, but if 14,000 people download a two-gig update for a game simultaneously, it takes longer.

What would prevent an update from happening?

Unfortunately, even an update can run into problems. Below are different reasons why an update may run into problems.

  • The program or files used by the program are still running and cannot be updated while being used. Reboot the computer to make sure this is not the case.
  • The update being used is for a different type of computer, processor, or program. If multiple updates are available, download the version for your computer, processor, operating system, and program version.
  • The software being updated is pirated. For some pirated software to run, it must be modified, which can prevent updates from working. Purchase the program.
  • The files being updated are corrupted or infected. If you have an anti-malware program, run it on the computer. To verify nothing is corrupt, uninstall the program and then install the program. Once reinstalled, rerun the update.
  • The update itself has problems and needs to be recreated.
  • The update is not compatible with your computer or the hardware in your computer. To get a custom update or find special instructions, you'd need to work with the developer of the update.

2. An update is installing the latest up-to-date code and fixes. For example, Computer Hope may recommend updating your software to resolve an issue you may be experiencing.

3. When used as a verb, updated describes anything changed with an update. For example, all of the pages on Computer Hope have an updated date under the page's title to indicate when it was last modified.

Fix, Hotfix, Preventive maintenance, Refresh, Rolling release, Security terms, Software terms, Version