Understanding Windows 10 Insider Preview Branches, Rings and Release Channels

When Microsoft started working on Windows 10 operating system and released the first testing version (also known as Insider Preview build) of Windows 10 to public, Microsoft announced that there will be no more newer versions of Windows OS like we have seen in past such as Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1. Now Windows works like a service and that's why Microsoft has named it as Windows as a Service model.

Now instead of launching newer Windows versions, Microsoft will continue releasing new builds of Windows 10 regularly to public just like the company did with the recent Windows 10 November Update which was actually a new build 10586 of Windows 10. The same build is also known as Windows 10 version 1511 or Threshold 2 (TH2).

Since Microsoft is willing to regularly release new builds of Windows 10 to public, the company needs testers to test the builds before releasing them to public so that Microsoft can find out bugs and issues in the builds and can fix them before providing the builds to public. Also testers can help Microsoft in adding new features to upcoming Windows 10 builds by providing suggestions and feedback.

That's why Microsoft is running Windows Insiders program which is open to anyone for free of cost. Once a person joins Windows Insiders group, he can start using Windows 10 Insider Preview builds on computers without spending any money. As far as you stay on Insiders group, you'll keep receiving newer builds of Windows 10.

You can join Windows Insiders group using steps given in following article:

[Fix] New Insider Preview Builds of Windows 10 Not Showing on Windows Update

But there are different release channels and branches of Windows 10 and people get confused between public builds and Insider Preview builds of Windows 10. That's why today in this article, we'll try to understand different flighting rings, release channels and development branches of Windows 10.

Initially Microsoft provided 2 release channels (also known as flighting rings) of Windows 10 to Insiders which were as following:

  • Fast ring
  • Slow ring

But now Microsoft has added a new channel or ring to this list which is "Release Preview" ring, so now there are 3 release channels or flighting rings of Windows 10 Insider Preview:

  • Fast ring
  • Slow ring
  • Release Preview ring

Now the question comes, what's the difference between these rings or release channels? Following is the official description of all 3 rings from Microsoft:

Fast ring: Best for Insiders who enjoy being the first to get access to builds and feature updates, with some risk to their devices in order to identify issues, and provide suggestions and ideas to make Windows software and devices great.

Slow ring: Best for Insiders who enjoy getting early access to builds and feature updates, with less risk to their devices, and still want to provide feedback to make Windows software and devices great.

Release Preview ring: Best for Insiders who enjoy getting early access to updates for the Current Branch, Microsoft applications, and drivers, with minimal risk to their devices, and still want to provide feedback to make Windows devices great.

Windows_10_Insider_Preview_Rings_Level.png

If you are confused by the official description, here is the detailed description of all 3 rings in simple and easy to understand language:

Fast Ring:

This is the most advanced and risky ring or release channel of Windows 10 Insider Preview. If you use this ring to download and install new Windows 10 Insider Preview builds, get ready to face random issues and bugs as the builds released to this ring will be very new and less tested. Whenever Microsoft puts new features or fixes issues in Windows 10 builds, the company releases the build first to Fast ring. You are not supposed to use Windows 10 Insider Preview build downloaded from Fast ring as primary OS as it may crash and can cause issues. If you are a geek and want to test latest features of Windows 10 without waiting, you can join this ring.

Slow Ring:

This ring or release channel is less risky than Fast ring. When a new Windows 10 Insider Preview build is released to Fast ring and tested by Insiders for a few days or months, Microsoft releases the same build to Slow ring so you get a thoroughly tested build of Windows 10 on this ring. But again the build is a testing build, so you can still get bugs and issues on this ring. If you want to try and test new features of Windows 10 but want to take less risk and can wait for some days or months, then you can join Slow ring.

Release Preview Ring:

Release Preview ring or release channel is the least risky ring of Windows 10 Insider Preview. Microsoft will not release latest testing builds to this ring. Users on this ring will get the current public build but they will receive cumulative updates and newer apps in advance which will be released later to public in coming days or months. So if you want to stay on safer side but want to receive early updates and apps, you can join this ring. But don't expect latest testing builds on this ring which are delivered to Fast and Slow rings.

Now when we have talked about different rings or release channels of Windows 10 Insider Preview builds, now lets understand different branches or Windows 10 development:

Microsoft has divided Windows 10 development and release schedule into 2 main branches:

  • Development Branch
  • Current Branch

Development Branch:

Development branch contains the testing builds of Windows 10 which are delivered to Fast and Slow rings. These builds contain new features and improvements but might also come with bugs and issues. If you are on Fast or Slow rings, you get Windows 10 builds from Development branch. At the time of writing this article (i.e. Feb 11, 2016) the build on Development branch is build 14257 which is also known as Windows 10 Redstone build.

Current Branch:

Current branch contains Windows 10 build which is the latest build released to public. For example, at the moment the latest public build of Windows 10 is build 10586. So the current branch contains Windows 10 build 10586 at the moment. When Microsoft will release a new build to public, the same build will be considered the build of Current Branch. If you are on "Release Preview" ring, you are a part of Current Branch and you'll get early cumulative updates which will be later released to public. When a new update is released to the build on Current branch, the build number is incremented by decimals such as build 10586.104, etc.

So now you should have no doubts or confusions about different branches and flighting rings or release channels of Windows 10:

  • Development Branch - Fast ring and Slow ring
  • Current Branch - Release Preview ring and Public builds

If you want to test latest features of Windows 10 and are ready to get issues or bugs, you should use Fast or Slow rings to get builds from Development branch.

If you want to use Windows 10 as primary OS and don't want to face issues or bugs, you can either use "Release Preview" ring of Windows 10 Insider Preview or use the publicly released build of Windows 10. Both builds will be released from Current branch.

Now you might be wondering how to choose and select these different rings? Its very simple, you can change or select the flighting rings of Windows 10 using Settings app as mentioned in following steps:

1. Open Settings app from Start Menu or press WIN+I keys together to launch Settings app.

2. Now go to "Update & Security" section and click on "Advanced options" link given on "Windows Update" page.

3. Here you can select desired ring by adjusting the given slider level. You can change between Fast, Slow and Release Preview rings with the help of the slider.

Change_Windows_10_Insider_Preview_Ring_Channel.png

NOTE: Remember since the new "Release Preview" ring is a part of Current Branch, it'll not be available if you are using a newer build of Windows 10 Insider Preview downloaded from Fast or Slow rings. You can only use "Release Preview" ring option if you are using the publicly released build of Windows 10 which is build 10586 at the moment. You can download and install the latest public build of Windows 10 from Current branch using Media Creation Tool or using offline ISO files downloaded officially from Microsoft website.

In future, if you decide to leave Insiders group and use Windows 10 public builds only, you can do it with the help of following tutorial:

How to Leave Windows Insider Program in Windows 10?

Also Check:

Windows 10 Preview Builds Changelog and History





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Posted in: Windows 10


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Comments

  • Great article, VG!

    Also, I am currently running Windows 10 on fast ring and haven't been having any issues at all lately. Everything has been running great so far. Of course this may very well change with future builds.

    I have a question for you. Is there a risk of actually damaging any of my pc components and/or devices by using these "beta" builds?

  • VG

    ^^ No. These testing builds will not harm the hardware but you may face bugs, crashes or performance issues.

  • Vishal apologies if I interpreted it wrongly but you said it is open for anyone for free which isn't true.
    Insider program is only available for PC's running genuine windows 10 either upgraded from 8 or
    7 or a fresh Install.

  • VG

    ^^ Anyone can download Windows 10 Insider Preview ISO file and then perform clean install of it. Its not related to pirated or genuine Windows versions. ;)

  • As of now there is no Insider ISO available(you get build 10586 redirect when you go to Insider preview ISO).I ll set up in VM as soon as an ISO becomes available to the slow ring

  • VG

    ^^ You can install that build and then join Insiders using Windows Update -> Advanced Options.

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