CC Open Source Blog

CalVer to SemVer


by Timid Robot Zehta on 2022-11-11

Creative Commons (CC) tried to use CalVer (calendar versioning), but encountered too many issues and decided on SemVer (semantic versioning) instead.

Why we chose CalVer

Years ago, the CC technology team standardized on using CalVer as our versioning scheme. Specifically, we selected YYYY.0M.MICRO. CalVer:

  1. YYYY - Full year - 2006, 2016, 2106
  2. 0M - Zero-padded month - 01, 02 ... 11, 12

  3. Micro - The third and usually final number in the version. Sometimes referred to as the "patch" segment.

The use of CalVer was inspired by Ubuntu, pip, SaltStack, and others. It was thought that CalVer not only matched SemVer in communicating potential risks to users, but also gave additional temporal context. Also, many argue that the promises of SemVer’s MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH go unfulfilled often enough that they lose meaning and that the differences between MINOR/PATCH are too poorly defined (more on these later).

Issues Encountered with CalVer

Time/Duration Is Not Primarily Relevant

CalVer is often favored by projects for which time/duration is of primary relevance (ex. Ubuntu releases which have a limited support window). However, none of CC’s projects have time/duration as a primary relevance.

MAJOR Expectations and Slow Iteration

SemVer is a formalization of longstanding convention. Many many users, especially developers, expect the first number of a versioning scheme to indicate change severity. With YYYY indicating current release year, the YYYY.0M.MICRO versioning scheme might set an expectation of significant changes or improvements (ex. 2021.09.1 to 2022.02.1) even when the content of the changes are trivial. With YYYY indicating original release year, a slow moving but stable and functional release might appear abandoned or insecure (ex. 2019.03.2 in 2022).

Poor Support for CalVer

We also encountered poor support for CalVer in software and systems. For example, NPM currently strips leading zeros which breaks CDN integration (CalVer and CDN compatibility · Issue #588 · creativecommons/vocabulary).

Using SemVer

Our experiment with CalVer is a win for the scientific method. We can be more confident, today, that SemVer will treat both the developers and users of CC software better than CalVer.

SemVer’s Promises Commitments

The CC Technology team sees SemVer as a set of commitments we are making to the users and developers of CC open source software. We may not achieve perfection in fulfilling those commitments, but they outline expectations and we hope you’ll open an issue if we make a mistake.

CC SemVer Specifics

We will be using SemVer (semantic versioning) going forward. To add additional clarity, we will avoid mixing functionality changes and bug fixes in releases:

  1. MAJOR version when you make incompatible API changes
  2. MINOR version when you add functionality in a backwards compatible manner
    • Releases that increment the MINOR version must not include bug fixes
  3. PATCH version when you make backwards compatible bug fixes
    • Releases that increment the PATCH version must not include functionality additions

When a bug fix technically changes functionality, we will release a bug fix (incrementing only the PATCH version) as the change preserves the intended functionality.