One of my peers insist that one should say "install a patch". I believe on the contrary that "apply a patch" is more natural and one can only "install a program" when it comes to piece of software.

A quick search in google tells me that the words apply and patch are more often associated as the words install and patch. There is nonetheless a lot of result for it, and searching for "install a patch" is more succesful as searching for "apply a patch".

Knowing that a google search is not ideal to find an answer in this domain, I would like to know when using apply is favored, and when it is better to use install with the word patch.

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    I would apply a patch to a program I had installed – mplungjan Feb 22 '11 at 10:19

Apply a patch seems more natural, to me, as it reminds me of apply a patch referred to a piece of cloth applied to a weak point. I also normally use the word patch when referring to an operation made to source code.

Install a patch would mean to run an installation program that patches an application, or a file present on a computer.

Instead of using apply a patch, or install a patch, I would use patch as a verb.
As reported by the NOAD, to patch means, when used in computing contexts, "correct, enhance, or modify (a routine or program) by inserting a patch".

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    Agree, though "to patch" could also refer to the creation of a patch... – Stein G. Strindhaug Feb 22 '11 at 11:21
  • I think of applying a patch as a manual process (e.g. using a hex editor and manually changing values). Installing a patch is what most people do: download and run an installer. To confuse matters more: when I think of the old-fashioned patch metaphor, I think of sewing/ironing a patch! – horatio Feb 22 '11 at 20:43
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    @horatio: Would running a script be considered as running in installer in this case? – Eldroß Feb 24 '11 at 9:32
  • @Eldros: If the script is something like patch, to which you need to provide the right arguments to obtain the right effect, then I would not call of installer. If it's a script that does all, and eventually ask optional parameters, then I would call it installer. The distinction is not so clear, though. – kiamlaluno Feb 24 '11 at 10:11

I think “apply a patch” is much more in line with the pre-computer era usage of the word “patch”, and so might fit better with the image conveyed by the word (the analogy between a cloth patch and the software patch).

Both options are perfectly understandble, however, which is the most important issue!


Install implies that something is individual or separate (a component or an entire program) ; apply refers to something that is added to enhance an existing component.


"Apply a patch" is correct, in my view. This usage goes back to at least the mid-1960s on mainframe computers. I speak from personal experience!

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