Should I upgrade Moodle? (applies to WordPress, Drupal and Joomla too)

Moodle LMS maintenance upgrades is indeed something that needs to be done every once in a while. But how often should you upgrade? This article discusses the the lifecycle of software and what to watch out for when considering upgrading. Though their development cycles may differ, a lot of the same information and strategies could be applied to the maintenance and upgrading of CMS websites such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla.

When it comes to Moodle, there are actually several reasons why you might want to consider limiting upgrading your system to every 3 to 6 months. When considering a major version upgrades, the recommended cycle can be as much as 2 years.

If you are experiencing a specific issue, need (not just want) a new feature, or need a security fix, naturally these would need to be addressed as soon as possible and would therefore fall outside of regularly scheduled maintenance windows.

Here is how Moodle's release cycle works:

Weekly Moodle releases

Although there are new plus (+) releases of Moodle that comes out each week, and that changes to Moodle are put through excellent quality assurance practices before they are released, plus releases are not necessarily completely tested and should not 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 + releases that were truly problematic over the last 5 years… but it does happen.

Minor Moodle releases

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

Major Moodle releases

Major releases of Moodle only come out every 6 months in May and November. 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 only expected that organizations will upgrade Moodle to the next major release only once every year or so.

Long Term Supported (LTS) releases

LTS releases are a special version of Moodle that come out in May every 2 years. If you are looking to reduce your maintenance costs, these are the releases that I recommend to my ongoing clients. 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 2 years, just applying minor release updates. The next LTS release of Moodle will be coming out in May of even numbered years. 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.

It is important to note that you would never want to rush out and update Moodle as soon as a new major release comes out. If your Moodle site makes use of any 3rd party plugins/add-ons or 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, despite best quality assurance by hundreds of volunteers around the world, the introduction of new features often also introduces issues which get addressed over the coming months. You would therefore want to wait 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 performs its own self-maintenance several times a day when it is set-up appropriately for the maximum number of concurrent users and courses. If it isn't, that's when you start running into problems and no amount of upgrading Moodle will solve that.

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