Discussion: align the WordPress release cycle with the industry standard

The standard software release life cycle hasn’t really changed much since the beginning of programming.

WordPress, for the most part, attempts to closely follow the established pattern, with the exception of what can get committed in BetaBeta A pre-release of software that is given out to a large group of users to trial under real conditions. Beta versions have gone through alpha testing in-house and are generally fairly close in look, feel and function to the final product; however, design changes often occur as part of the process..

For the past year, there have been conversations in Slack and in the blog about the release cycle. Here is a recap post with a call for feedback.

The WordPress Release Cycle – Today

Each release cycle spans multiple weeks and different phases.

Phase 1: Planning and securing team leads

This period starts as soon as a branchbranch A directory in Subversion. WordPress uses branches to store the latest development code for each major release (3.9, 4.0, etc.). Branches are then updated with code for any minor releases of that branch. Sometimes, a major version of WordPress and its minor versions are collectively referred to as a "branch", such as "the 4.0 branch". is created for the previous version (the code is copied from “trunktrunk A directory in Subversion containing the latest development code in preparation for the next major release cycle. If you are running "trunk", then you are on the latest revision.” to a new “branch” in the repository), which means that two major WordPress versions are worked on at the same time. For example, active development on WordPress 5.6 started about two weeks prior to the WordPress 5.5 release. 

During this phase, the release leadRelease Lead The community member ultimately responsible for the Release. discusses features for the next release of WordPress. Contributors get involved with that discussion. The release lead will identify focus leads for each of the features. Information is gathered from different sources to put together a scope and schedule, followed by a kickoff post.

Phase 2: Development work begins

The kick-off post (see an example from WordPress 5.6) marks the beginning of structured, organised work towards Beta. The length of the period might vary, based on what was achieved during the period before the announcement and what is planned for the release.

Focus leads assemble teams and work on their assigned features. Regular chats are scheduled to ensure the development keeps moving forward.

Phase 3: Beta 

Betas are released and beta-testers are asked to start reporting bugs. No more commits for new enhancements or feature requests are allowed for the rest of the release.

WordPress generally plans for multiple betas.

Phase 4: Release Candidaterelease candidate One of the final stages in the version release cycle, this version signals the potential to be a final release to the public. Also see alpha (beta).

In WordPress, release candidates are considered code complete, so no new source code is introduced unless it is to fix regressions or serious bugs discovered during RCrelease candidate One of the final stages in the version release cycle, this version signals the potential to be a final release to the public. Also see alpha (beta).. Even then, every commit during this phase needs sign-off from two CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. committers.

This means hard-freeze on all strings, including those in the About page. It is important to do so to allow the Polyglots team to have enough time to translate it.

During this phase, a new branch will be created thus starting a new release cycle while we are finishing the current.

Phase 5: Launch

This is the final version that is launched and available for update through the dashboard or via download.

How to align the WordPress release cycle with the industry standard

With this in mind, here are the changes that could be put in place to align the WordPress release cycle with the traditional software release cycle.

Phase 1: Preliminary Planning

Stays the same in terms of tasks. Can be renamed “Preliminary planning” for brevity and clarity.

Phase 2: Alpha

While traditionally priority has been given to enhancements and new features, it would be beneficial to address also all the bugbug A bug is an error or unexpected result. Performance improvements, code optimization, and are considered enhancements, not defects. After feature freeze, only bugs are dealt with, with regressions (adverse changes from the previous version) being the highest priority.-fixes that are planned for inclusion in the version of WordPress people are working on. 


  • Rename to “Alpha” for brevity and clarity.
  • All the bugs that people want to see fixed in the next release need to be addressed in this phase and not postponed to Beta.

Phase 3: Beta

This is where WordPress differs from the standard. 


Beta phase generally begins when the software is feature complete but likely to contain a number of known or unknown bugs.


Beta is essentially for testing and fixing bugs discovered after the release of Beta 1 (so bugs introduced in Alpha).


  • Hard freeze on Beta (ETA code and strings), except for the About page.
  • The tickets that were not committed and are still on the milestone at the time of Beta 1 release party, should be moved to a later release, even if they are bugfixes.


  • Virtually no new bugs are introduced during Beta. This means focus on testing and subsequent bug fixing. 
  • More efforts and resources could be allocated to beta-testing. 
  • Beta and RC could be and should be fewer and shorter. This is because we address only bug fixes that emerged during beta testing. 
  • Aligning to the norm makes it easier for new people to join since they are used to a certain procedure and they won’t be confused by the way releases are done in WordPress.

Phase 4: Release Candidate

No changes

Phase 5: General Release

Stays the same in terms of tasks. Can be renamed to “General Release” for clarity.

It’s your turn!

Disclaimer: even if everyone is on board, nothing will change for the current release cycle, WordPress 5.6, because we are already in Beta. 

Please post feedback on:

  1. Name changes for Phase 1, 2 and 5
  2. All bug-fixes milestoned to be addressed in Alpha and not postponed to Beta 
  3. Reserving Beta for testing and fixing bugs discovered by testing

Deadline: November 17th, the date scheduled for Release Candidate 1 of WordPress 5.6 and, potentially, when trunk gets branched for 5.7. Extended to December 2nd, to give people more time to respond.


Props @azaozz, @davidbaumwald, @joostdevalk and @ireneyoast for providing historical and technical knowledge on release cycle procedures, and @chanthaboune and @jeffpaul for editing suggestions.