A 12-Step Solution for Patching SharePoint: Part 1

Part 1

The Fears of Patching SharePoint

Ever since the days of SharePoint Team Services, the most intimidating process a SharePoint administrator must manage is patching a farm. The term “PSConfig” instills fear in all but the most savvy, thrill-seeking SharePoint administrators. And then there’s the downtime.

Despite the pitfalls of patching and the off-hours work required, patching your farm doesn’t have to be a dreaded, uncertain process. There are ways to control that process so that installing an update on SharePoint goes relatively smoothly and without unrecoverable, time-consuming errors.

Today, I’ll start by defining the three types of updates. Each of them has its own characteristics.

  • Hotfix or Critical On Demand (COD): A hotfix or COD patch is a patch that is critical and can’t wait for a Cumulative Update or Service Pack. It might be security fix, or it might be a functionality fix. It’s issued as a one-off fix for a specific issue. Usually, a SharePoint customer has requested this fix to resolve an active issue on their farm.
  • Cumulative Update (CU): Cumulative Updates (CUs) come out every month. They contain all the patches from the previous CUs since the last major patch (RTM or Service Pack) and all the hotfixes released since then. The “cumulative” part means if you install the August 2012 CU you don’t need install the June 2012 CU first. CUs are also cumulative in the sense that the SharePoint Server patch includes the patches for SharePoint Foundation. The Project Server CU includes the SharePoint Server and SharePoint Foundation patches as well. You only need to install a recent CU for the product you have.
  • Service Pack (SP): The big daddy of the SharePoint patches, the Service Pack. Service Packs contain all the patches that come before them. They are a major patch release. They go through months of testing before they are released and sometimes have beta releases. Service Packs are also language specific.

Now that the different types of patches are defined, we’re ready in our next blog to look at a typical patching experience and why it instills fear in most of us.