Semantic Versioning Cheat Sheet

A quick guide on Semantic Versioning and why you should care.

3 min read

Semantic Versioning Cheat Sheet

So here's a cheat sheet for understanding semantic versioning. I've used this off an on throughout my career, especially at Bankrate. Granted, this was always done automatically using something like semantic-release, but having an understanding of how semantic versioning works will let you know what tools like this are doing, and when they muck things up (because, they do).


Semantic versioning adds predictability, and predictability is the secret ingredient for everything good in developer experience. Even if a tool sucks, if it's predictable, it's much easier to work with. Semantic versioning makes changes to your software more predictable, hence, suck less :)

Ok enough chit chat let's do this.


So the format is pretty simple:

  • MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH, e.g., 1.4.2

This is the convention for seeing the state of a software's version at a glance. If you've got 1.4.87 then they've been putting out some fires and hot fixes for sure (this assumes 87 patch releases).

When to Update:

  1. MAJOR version (1.x.x)

    • When: Make incompatible API changes.

    • Rule: Reset MINOR and PATCH to 0 when MAJOR increments.

    • Example: 2.0.0

  2. MINOR version (x.1.x)

    • When: Add functionality in a backward-compatible manner.

    • Rule: Increment MINOR by 1, reset PATCH to 0.

    • Example: 1.5.0 (from 1.4.2)

  3. PATCH version (x.x.1)

    • When: Make backward-compatible bug fixes.

    • Rule: Increment PATCH by 1.

    • Example: 1.4.3 (from 1.4.2)

Let's put a label on it:

  • Pre-release versions: Append a hyphen and a series of dot-separated identifiers immediately following the PATCH version.

    • Example: 1.0.0-alpha, 1.0.0-alpha.1, 1.0.0-0.3.7, 1.0.0-x.7.z.92


So these are the principles of semantic versioning, and basically the "why" behind why this practice is used.

  • Backward Compatibility: Changes should not break the API in a way that would force users to change their own code unless it's a MAJOR version change.

  • Clarity and Predictability: Version numbers should convey meaningful information about the changes in the release.

Some more tips

  • Document changes meticulously in a changelog. There's a bunch of AI tools that can generate change logs now so it's not such a chore anymore, but nonetheless change logs are a great way to not piss off (as many) developers.

  • Make sure the change logs make breaking changes clear. Like, very clear about what will be broken.

  • Let a robot do all this stuff and use a semantic versioning package.

In 2024 and beyond, I wouldn't recommend managing the semantic versioning manually once a project begins to grow, but it's good to have a conceptual understanding of the format and ideas behind it.

Now, go build some stuff!

If you're really into this nerd stuff you can read more here: