Updated: 12/31/2020 by Computer Hope

An update may refer to any of the following:


1. An update is new, improved, or fixed software, which 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 needs to be updated. Typically, the only time software or hardware stops being updated is when the related company goes out of business or stops supporting the product. For computers, the operating system is one of the most frequently updated software. Other frequently updated programs include web browsers and office programs.

How to update a program

Unfortunately, there is no standard for how software programs are updated. However, we've created the following list of ways a program may be updated.

  • Online programs - Any program that connects to the Internet should automatically check for updates when it is first run.
  • Help menu - Pressing F1 or accessing the help menu from the file menu should have the option to check for updates.
  • Operating system - All operating systems today are updated using software included with the operating system.
  • OEM program - An OEM computer (e.g., Dell or HP) often include assistant programs to assist with checking and downloading any updates for the pre-installed programs included with the computer. For example, HP includes the HP support assistant program for managing updates.

What happens if I don't update?

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

  • Fix errors - Most updates fix errors, and 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 - It is not uncommon to discover conflicts with other programs and hardware. If you don't update, conflicts may happen and 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 software 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 a small file size. An upgrade is usually not free and 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.

Why does it take so long to update?

The total time it takes any update to complete is mostly dependent on how long it takes to download the update. The download speed can vary depending on your Internet connection and the speed of the server providing the update. Newly released updates may take even longer to complete if thousands of people are getting the update at the same time. For example, you may have a fast connection, but if 14,000 people are downloading a 2 gig update for a game at the same time, it takes longer.

2. The process of running an update on the computer that installs 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.

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