Every ChromeOS device gets an OS update almost every 2 weeks, and most users will never notice it. If you are on this page, you know about ChromeOS channels and want to learn more how they work and understand which Channel is the best for you.
Every device sold by the manufacturer today is on “Stable channel” by default which is updated roughly every 4 weeks. And most stable releases get one or two security updates as well.
There are six ChromeOS update Channels
Each of them is designed with specific use case in mind and have different levels of stability and I’ll go over them one by one.
Canary channel is ideal to test brand new features
This channel has the latest and greatest changes for your device and its updated almost every day or two. Its also the most unstable OS build you can ever find. Unless you are actively looking to test a specific feature you should never be on this channel.
However, Canary channels are often used by Developers within and outside of Google to get early indicators of how new features are shaping up. Expect daily changes to those features as they are being built, tested and updated. Any bug fixes made recently on ChromeOS should generally show up here within a few hours or days of the upload.
Dev channel is ideal for developers testing app compatibility
The first step for creating a stable ChromeOS release requires an agreement on what Features are part of the release and what is isn’t. This is called a “Feature Freeze” and its the trigger point for creating the first build for the Dev channel.
Dev builds are slightly more stable than the Canary builds since it would only have features which are expected to be stabilized within a few weeks. While these builds cannot contain any new features, expect heavy development in the features which are part of the release.
Dev channel is first released about 8 weeks before the scheduled Stable channel release. For example, if m105 is scheduled to be released to stable on Aug 30th 2022, then the Dev channel release would start sometime around Late Jun.
All web developers and app developers are strongly recommended to have some form of manual testing involving Dev channel of Chrome. It will help you ensure none of API changes are going to break the apps. And if they are breaking the app, you will get about 8 weeks to find a solution (or report the bug to Google to get the bug fixed on ChromeOS side)
Beta channel is for Enterprises/Developers for early warning of issues
The Beta channel generally ships about 4 weeks before Stable channel. The Beta channels are stable enough for developers and IT Admins to use on their primary device.
This particular release should have most of the stability fixes, the features should be mostly complete, and only high priority bugs would be fixed to limit introduction of more serious bugs into the channel.
Developers are recommended to have Beta devices setup in automated test environments to find edge cases which may have been missed in manual testing.
Enterprises are recommended to keep between 3% to 7% of their devices on Beta channel to get early feedback from their users about version compatibility with their infrastructure. Enterprises with CEU licenses can control OS rollouts. The feedback from the users of the Beta channel can help the internal IT teams decide on whether they need to do anything special to prepare for the next stable release.
Stable channel is for everyone
Considering that most folks don’t bother about changing channels, its fairly safe to assume that over 99% of the ChromeOS devices are in Stable channel and hence it is the most stable releases and Google takes a lot of effort to make sure no critical bug makes it to this version
And if they do find bugs, they have a team which actively work on pausing the OS rollouts until patches are available to unblock the releases. Google has been known to be very quick at patching and fixing serious issues found in Stable.
Its important to note that while some bugs impact all platforms, there are others which sometime only impact a specific set of devices. Google has the ability to control version rollout for each device individual. The latest status of rollouts are published here.
LTS channel is for EDUs and Enterprises with more than 1000 devices
If you manage an organization with 100s or 1000s of ChromeOS devices, or if you require significant QA testing effort to validate every build before you deploy them, you should consider using LTS (Long Term Stable) channel which is updated only once every 6 months.
Its important to note that just because the OS features are frozen for 6 months doesn’t mean that the device won’t get any other updates. Chances are that you will still get security updates every 2 weeks, but they won’t include any new features which is the larger customers want.
LTC channel is the beta version for LTS
LTC channel (Long Term release Candidate) is updated roughly 3 months before LTS release. If you are using LTS for your fleet, you should consider using LTC to do all QA testing starting 3 months before the release. This is a super stable release and will get all the security updates which stable channels get.
You can read more about LTC and LTS channels here.
How to change channels
There are essentially two ways to change channels.
- Change your channel using ChromeOS UI – documentation
- Change your channel using Admin Platform UI – documentation
- Most folks should stay on Stable Channel
- Developers should use Dev channel to test compatibility
- Most organizations with more than 20 devices should consider putting 5% of the fleet on Beta channel
- Organizations with more than 100 devices or with strict stability requirements should consider using LTS, and should have rigorous testing program using LTC channels
- And only the bravest of you all, who want to test and discover new features should be on the Canary channel. Please make sure you have a backup device in case you need to re-image the device.