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Apple-Generic Versioning

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Getting to grips with Apple’s “generic versioning” can be slightly painful, at first. Application and framework bundles typically have numerous differing version numbers: marketing version, build version; dynamic library current version, dynamic library compatibility version. Exactly how should you reconcile these version numbers? This article explores the questions and offers some answers.

This article illustrates the use of Apple-generic versioning. The associated framework project at GitHub contains a simple stub framework with unit testing. The framework does nothing; it only gives you a version number and version string. The tests verify that versioning works.

It intends to act as a form of template for creating new projects that employ versioning using Apple’s generic scheme. It contains code templates for copying to your own projects, specifically Versioning.[hm] source files; and extracts from AppleGenericVersioning.xcconfig for pasting to your own project’s build settings.

Major, Minor, Patch

Apple’s generic versioning scheme does not support typical X.Y.Z version numbers very well. Apple uses doubles for numeric versions. Hence version numbers are either integers (in fact, floats without a fraction) or floating-point numbers. X.Y.Z cannot fit within a floating-point number–too many decimal points.

This is what Apple documentation says about CURRENT_PROJECT_VERSION, the project build setting for carrying the version number.

This setting defines the the current version of the project. The value must be a integer or floating point number like 57 or 365.8.

If generic versioning does not support major.minor.patch numbers, what does it support?

Short Version, Long Version

Mac application and framework bundles have two version numbers: short and, well, not so short. Short version is also known as marketing version. The not-so-long version is really the build version.

Accordingly, an application’s About panel computes version numbers using the format “Version MV (BV)” by default; where MV is short for Marketing Version, and BV short for Build Version. See Apple’s Technical Note TN2179 for more details.

Mach-O Versioning

Further complications exist for frameworks and dynamic libraries.

Frameworks and libraries under OS X also carry other version numbers within the Mach-O binary, namely the current version and the compatibility version. Both these three-component X.Y.Z version numbers have some basic size limitations. All components are integers of course; but due to bit-width allocations, major (X) has a maximum of 65,535 while minor (Y) and patch (Z) have a maximum of 255. You can guess why. Mach-O format uses 16 bits and 8 bits two store these numbers within the dynamic-library binary.

Note that Mach-O version numbers are explicitly three-tiered X.Y.Z numbers. In fact, if you run otool -L on the binaries, shorter version numbers extend by adding zeros. Version 1 becomes version 1.0.0.

Reconciling With Major.Minor.Patch

How to map a major.minor.patch version scheme to Apple’s generic versioning?

CURRENT_PROJECT_VERSION by default defines the bundle version (long, i.e. build version) and at the same time the dynamic library version number. That is, DYLIB_CURRENT_VERSION tracks CURRENT_PROJECT_VERSION. When you change the build-version number using Apple’s agvtool (Apple-generic versioning tool), you change both the current library and current project version together.

That being the case, marketing version can track major.minor version bumps while long build version becomes a rolling patch number; rolling because it never resets. It acts as a build stamp. In this Apple-generic reconciliation with major.minor.patch therefore we have:

  • Market major: major incompatibility changes
  • Market minor: minor compatible changes
  • Build major: rolling build counter
  • Build minor: not used

If you are using Git for version control, the build version can become the number of commits.

When to Bump Versions

Make version increments with reference to your public API.

  1. Bump the short major version number when incompatible API changes occur. This includes: removing things, changing things in terms of size or visibility or semantics.

    When you increment the major version, reset the minor version to zero. Let the long version continue incrementing.

  2. Bump the short minor version number when compatible API changes occur. This includes adding new things.

  3. Bump the long version number when any change occurs.

How to Bump Versions

Long Version Bumps (Build Version)

agvtool new-version X.Y



Short Version Bumps (Marketing Version)

agvtool new-marketing-version X.Y

sets CFBundleShortVersionString in your Info.plist. This bump changes nothing else, just the marketing version.


This project has two branches:

  • master (ARC-based version)
  • mrr

Only one small difference separates the two branches: automatic reference counting. The master branch employs ARC whereas mrr employs the manual retain-release memory management strategy.