Why CiviCRM Long Term Support (LTS) is important
Long Term Support (LTS) releases of CiviCRM are versions that are maintained for use by organizations for multi-year periods of time. The first official version of CiviCRM released as a LTS was version 4.4 and announced in October of 2014. 4.4 was the official LTS version until CiviCRM 4.7 was released, at which point version 4.6 was officially designated as the new LTS. The CiviCRM Core Team and several partners and contributors maintained version 4.4 and 4.6 until 2017, when Skvare and Compucorp officially took responsibility for the maintenance of CiviCRM 4.6 LTS.
Why have a Long Term Support release?
CiviCRM is open source software with a vibrant and active community of developers and contributors. New functionality and features are being added on a daily basis and a new iterative version of CiviCRM is released approximately once per month.
The nature of open source software projects, and CiviCRM in particular, is to accept code developed from a wide variety of contributors, to satisfy a wide variety of use cases. With each release, the Core Team and contributing partners add new features at the request of organizations. In addition the CiviCRM Core Team and supporting partners diligently work on improving the underlying architecture of CiviCRM, upgrading software libraries and dependencies that CiviCRM relies on to function.
In doing so, it can sometimes be the case that changes happen in code that affect how the software operates, or causes customizations to break and need refactoring and maintenance to continue working as before. This is standard across any open source project, but it incurs a cost to all organizations that use the software because they must maintain internal expertise, or hire external expertise to analyze, upgrade, and adjust to any changes in newer versions. This is doubly so for larger organizations with heavily enhanced or customized installations.
As an open source project matures and evolves the software generally becomes more complicated, and as complication is added, the ability of any group of people to maintain existing functionality becomes more difficult. The CiviCRM Core Team mitigates this fact with the continual maintenance and update of test suites, and by maintaining quality standards for contributors to abide by. Despite this vigilance, it is inevitable that unintended consequences for some use cases occur, and bugs and regressions are sometimes introduced into new releases.
Even if all code is perfect, and does not cause bugs or regressions, changes to the software may necessitate changes to the processes of employees and volunteers of an organization. This may require additional training and documentation for staff, adding to the cost of doing business with the software.
The Purpose of the LTS
The purpose of the CiviCRM LTS releases are to provide organizations a version of CiviCRM with a focus on stability, security, and similarity. This means that generally only bug fixes and security fixes are incorporated into iterative releases of the LTS.
With this approach, the organizations that have their needs met by the LTS version can depend on it to continue to operate as it has been, for the life of the LTS, with a minimum of maintenance cost and risk. If there is no need for new features or functionality, then there is no need to introduce new, untested code or refactored underlying architecture and the risk involved with additional complexity entering the overall system.
The LTS provides a foundation for many organizations to focus resources on accomplishing their mission with a stable LTS system while limiting the cost of maintaining the infrastructure and business processes. Organizations are also assured that if security issues arise, such needs will be addressed and the data will continue to be protected.
LTS releases have been installed and used on production sites for a longer time frame than new short term support releases. They have been heavily tested and used for a wide range of use cases. Major bugs have been found and addressed long ago.
Skvare is proud to continue our contributions to one of the most stable and secure versions of CiviCRM in its long history. Version 4.6 was released on April 3, 2015, and continues to be used by thousands of organizations for over the past 3 years.
LTS going forward
Skvare remains committed to contributing and providing well maintained, secure, and stable versions of CiviCRM to our clients and the broader CiviCRM community. We continue our pledge to maintain the 4.6 LTS through the end of 2018. With the release of a new major version number of CiviCRM, version 5.0.0, Skvare is in communication with the Core Team and other partners to coordinate and establish the next LTS version. If the stability and security of the CiviCRM LTS is important to you or your organization, contact Skvare now to get involved, to access our expertise, or to discuss LTS version support into 2019 and beyond.