Digital Editions and Version Numbering

Author : Paul A. Broyles

Digital editions are easily modified after they are first published — a state of affairs that poses challenges both for long-term scholarly reference and for various forms of electronic distribution and analysis.

This article argues that producers of digital editions should assign meaningful version numbers to their editions and update those version numbers with each change, allowing both humans and computers to know when resources have been modified and how significant the changes are.

As an examination of versioning practices in the software industry reveals, version numbers are not neutral descriptors but social products intended for use in specific contexts, and the producers of digital editions must consider how version numbers will be used in developing numbering schemes.

It may be beneficial to version different parts of an edition separately, and in particular to version the data objects or content of an edition independently from the environment in which it is displayed.

The article concludes with a case study of the development of a versioning policy for the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, and includes an appendix surveying how a selection of digital editions handle the problem of recording and communicating changes.