Update your product, update your customers

Changelog vs. Release Notes: Differences and Examples

Should you use a changelog or create a release note? Which is better for you, your team, and your customers? We'll show you the benefits of each.

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"Have no fear of perfection; you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dali

Nothing is ever truly perfect. And your SaaS products are no exception.

Just when you think you've got it all worked out, some weird, unexpected, nearly impossible bug rears its ugly head.

Or maybe you just decided that your nearly perfect software could be just a touch better, just a pinch more perfect. And so you update it. Make a few tweaks here and there. Give it a new bit of functionality. Dress it up a little more.

But how do you tell your customers and stakeholders about what you've done? How do you keep everyone in the loop? Do you use a changelog or create a release note? Which is better for you, your team, and your customers?

That's what we're discussing today. We'll show you the benefits of each option and give you some noteworthy examples. We'll compare the two side-by-side, and by the time we're through, you’ll have a better idea of which choice to make.

Changelog Vs Release Notes

Having acquainted ourselves with the basics, let's delve into the distinctions between changelogs and release notes. On the surface, both appear to serve similar purposes, and it could be easy to mix the two up. However, they are two very different things, each with their unique functions and audience.

Firstly, a changelog, my dear reader, is a chronological record of all modifications made in a particular software project. It encompasses everything, from minor bugfixes and tweaks to major overhauls and new feature additions, providing a highly detailed view of a project's evolution. If we liken a software development process to a story, then think of a changelog as the narrative that documents each and every plot twist and turns along the way.

In contrast, release notes carry a succinct summary of changes that are pertinent to the end-user with a new software update. They are typically more streamlined and selective than changelogs, focusing on major changes and improvements that directly impact the user's experience. If a changelog resembles the intricate tapestry of a story, then release notes would be the highlight reel, outlining the most essential scenes and developments.

In essence, the key difference lies in their target audience and depth of information. Changelogs are designed for those engaged in the software development process, offering a comprehensive documentation of a project's evolution. Release notes, however, are crafted with end-users in mind, shedding light on changes that they would encounter and need to know about.

While noting down these points, it's also good to remember that the execution and structure of both changelogs and release notes can vary greatly across different organizations, reflective of their unique workflows and audience needs. In any case, both serve as critical means of keeping relevant parties informed about the software's progress and developments.

Investing in a clear, concise, and informative changelog and release notes can be the difference between leaving your users in the dark and engaging them with your software's journey. Stay tuned, as we will be touching on the best practices for crafting these essential elements in the upcoming sections of this article.

Benefits and Examples of Release Notes

Before we get started, let's get crystal clear as to what a release note actually is.

Release notes are a set of textual documents created for your customers to provide a description of the changes made in a new version of a product or service.

Your original product or service had some sort of user guide or other support documentation that was created to instruct the new user on how to use it.

Release notes are created to fill in the gaps between that original documentation and the changes made to any new versions of the product or service. They are customer support in document form.

The image below is from Slack. It shows their release notes for changes made in  March 2024 They make so many revisions and fix so many bugs that they often do daily release notes just to keep everyone up to date.