Are there any differences between "update" and "upgrade"?

7 Answers 7


If you're talking about software, there is, imo, even though the two do overlap. (A lot depends on the context: I'm assuming a general one below.)

Usually, when you update a software, you apply patches and additional bits and pieces that the seller provides you for free, in theory to keep your copy in line with the official version (which is likely more stable, more secure and may even provide you with some new / better options, functionalities.)

On the other hand, when you upgrade a software, you usually buy / pay extra for a version unavailable for free. Of course, an upgrade serves as an update as well (in most cases.)

An example: say you have an antivirus program that you did not pay for (it being made legally available for free), but which has a commercial version as well: You usually update its database (to keep you safe from newer threats) - but if you upgrade it, it means you pay for an advanced version that gives you extended protection: not just via an updated database but also through extended capabilities (like email-scanning, link-scanning etc that were unavailable in the free version, no matter how up to date your database was.)

(Again, a real lot depends on the context.)


To update means to bring someone or something up to date, whereas to upgrade means to raise or improve something to a higher standard. The difference between these two is particularly apparent in the world of computers: an update is not always and improvement!

  • 6
    Of course an upgrade is not always an improvement either... ;)
    – awm
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 2:19
  • In the case of software I'm not even sure upgrades are an improvement, but good answer still. Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 21:09

To update means to make something more modern or up to date; it also means to give to somebody the latest (or up to date) information.
To upgrade means to take something to a higher standard/level; it also means to raise somebody to a higher grade or rank.

Looking in the Corpus of Contemporary American for phrases containing update or upgrade, I get the following data:

computer update     1
computer upgrade(s) 12
hardware update     2 
hardware upgrade(s) 11
software update(s)  30
software upgrade(s) 31

The sentences containing hardware update are both referring to a software tool.

The Hardware Update Wizard will search for an updated driver on your local drives as well as on Microsoft's Windows Update site, and it will install the driver if it finds one.

Select the option in the Hardware Update Wizard that lets you choose the location of the search and select the driver (the wording varies).

  • One example not related to computers: "you should update your wardrobe" (to get with the times) vs "you should upgrade your wardrobe" (now that you have been promoted to executive) Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 21:13

Update is a shortening of "bring up to date" and upgrade means to put at a higher grade (as in to make better). You can upgrade your your CPU from 2.4 GHz to 3.2 GHz, but your software update can have bugs that break your computer.

  • 1
    I agree with your answer in general, but I disagree with the line of logic used in the example. It implies software can be faulty but hardware cannot. That just isn't true. As an example, note that Intel recently recalled millions of chips because they were faulty. I realize this is not central to the question, and I do not mean this as any sort of attack. But as a software engineer and former electrical engineer, for me to read this and not comment seems wrong.
    – TMarshall
    Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 23:49
  • 2
    @Marshall , I've re-read it few times but could not find any implied senses you mentioned in your comment Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 10:27

From most answers:

To update means to make something more modern or up to date; it also means to give to somebody the latest (or up to date) information.

Well, the most "up-to-date" is not synonym of "modern".

One can have the most up-to-date SQL Server 2005 with all latest updates and hotfixes but it is behind, in being modern, after SQL Server 2008 (even not updated).

For example Service Pack 4 for SQL Server 4 was released on December 17, 2010, i.e. three years after release of more modern SQL Server 2008.

  • Yes, that's why the definition says "modern or up-to-date" - the two words are not exact synonyms (though they're close in meaning), and update can be used with either meaning.
    – psmears
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 19:03

All the above contributions are laudable and basically linked. Hope this scenario simplifies and clarifies the basics.

Updating as explained earlier implies keeping something up to date thus if the functionality of a particular program is to rectify errors from level 1 to say level 3, updating the program implies maintaining or igniting its efficiency to work effectively within the specified levels (level 1to 3).

But to upgrade the program implies increasing its capacity and efficiency to enable it exceed or work beyond the previous lower levels i.e. levels 4, 5 and upwards.


For example think that there are 10 levels and you are at level 1.

If you update a file it will reach directly to level 10 from level1(up to date) If you upgrade it from level 1 you can reach only level 2 (i.e. step by step )

  • This would be improved if you could show that the definitions of the words define this mode of operation. That is, explain why an upgrade can only be a single step and why you cannot 'upgrade' to the top level directly. Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 11:57

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