Today's submission comes from someone going by Albert Einstein. Before we look at what they sent us, let's talk a little bit about version numbers.

Version numbers, if you think about it, are a deeply weird construct, and they're trying to balance a lot of difficult goals. At its simplest, a version number is meant to order your releases. Version 2 comes after version 1. Version 3 comes next. But even this simple goal is surprisingly difficult, because your releases only exist in order if you only have one chain of history for your product. The instant you have to have a custom build for one customer, or you start doing AB testing, or your library has to provide multiple interfaces for different deployment conditions, or one developer down in the basement decides to fork and not tell anyone- releases cease to have a linear order.

Well, those kinds of disordered changes and branching versions sounds like a directed acyclic graph, which not only sounds extremely clever, but is how Git manages your history. We could theoretically just tag our releases with the commit hash, giving us a unique version number that allows us to quickly and cleanly know what version of the code we're talking about. But commit hashes are opaque and meaningless- which brings us to the other goal of version numbers.

Version numbers not only order our releases, they also are meant to convey information about the content and delta between those releases. Semantic versioning, for example, tries to guarantee that we can make certain assumptions about the difference between version 1.0.1, 1.0.5, 1.1.2, and 2.1.1. Changes to the last digit imply that it's only patches and bugfixes, and shouldn't change behavior. That can get you pretty far, assuming you don't bump into one of those cases where "every change breaks somebody's workflow". Even then, though, incrementing the major version number means there might be breaking changes, but doesn't require that there are, which is why Angular is on version 247 but hasn't seen much by way of breaking changes since version 4.

And that's another thing version numbers need to accomplish: they're a marketing/communication tool to educate your public about your product. Anyone who can count can understand that higher version numbers must be newer, and thus be the preferred version. People watch those version numbers tick up, and it gives them a sense that active development is ongoing.

With all of these goals, I don't think there is a single way to solve the version numbering problem. Maybe you use semantic versioning. Maybe you go the Chrome route and just increment the major version every Tuesday. Maybe you go the Microsoft route and have piles of hot patches and fixes with no clear order or relationship to their application.

What you probably don't want to do is go the route which Albert Einstein's company has gone. What follows is a full listing of every version, in chronological order of release, for a single product. Each entry on this list represents a single release.

v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.4.2 v2.5 v2.6 v3.0 v3.0 v3.0.1 v0.1 v0.1 v0.1 v0.1.1 v0.1.2 v0.0.1 v0.0.2 v0.0.3 v0.0.4 v0.0.5 v0.2 v0.2 v0.2 v0.2.1 v0.2.1 v0.2.2 v0.2.3 v0.2.4 v0.2.5 v0.2.6 v1.0.0 v1.0.2 v1.0.3 v1.0.4 v1.0.5 v1.0.4 v1.0.5 v1.0.6 v1.0.7 v1.3.4 1.3.5 v1.3.6 v1.3.5 v1.3.7 v1.3.8 v1.3.9 v1.3.10

I believe there's no guaranteed good way to generate version numbers. But there's definitely bad ways to do it, and whatever this is, it's one of the bad ones. God might not play dice with the universe, but someone's been playing dice to generate version numbers.

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