Smaller Windows updates thanks to differential packages

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 3, 2017
Updated • Jul 14, 2018

Microsoft began to roll out its new Unified Update Platform last year, first on mobile and then for Windows 10 Insider Builds as well.

One of the advantages of the platform was the use of differential update packages. This meant, all in all, that update packages would be a lot smaller going forward.

While updates are released regularly for retail versions of Windows 10, the advantages of differential update packages become visible the most when feature updates are released.

Microsoft notes that retail users will be able to take advantage of the new Unified Update Platform along with its differential update packages when the Windows 10 Creators Update is released.

Differential updates transfer only the bits of the update package that have changed or are new, and not bits that are already on the user system.

So, instead of delivering a full Windows 10 Creators Update update package, only the bits that are new or have changed are transferred to the user system.

The effect is that the update size will be considerably smaller when compared to previous feature updates for the Windows 10 operating system.

Smaller Windows updates thanks to differential packages

Windows 10 differential

Microsoft uses new terminology when it refers to updates and builds. A canonical download package, or full build for instance is a package that is a self-contained as it includes all files required for the update and does not rely on any files on the target system the update is installed on.

So how big are download packages when differential update packages are used? That is not that easy to answer, as it depends a lot on the update itself. Microsoft revealed median download sizes of the Windows 10 Insider builds 15025 and 15031 recently. Build 15025 had a median size of 910 Megabyte, build 15031 one of 2.56 Gigabyte.

The screenshot above shows differences in download sizes for the update packages. One explanation for the differences is that some systems may not have been up to date when the latest Insider build update was downloaded.

Some smaller updates may not have been installed on systems with larger downloads, but it is also possible that some systems were not on the previous build but one of the builds prior to that.

The relatively small update size for some Insider Builds is explained by the frequent release of new builds. Insider Builds are similar to feature updates for Windows, only that they happen more often. It should be clear that frequently released builds have less differences than an update from the Anniversary Update to the Creators Update.

According to Microsoft, Windows 10 feature updates will see a size reduction of about 35% on average when they are downloaded starting with the Windows 10 Creators Update for retail channel systems.

Updates will be downloaded faster thanks to differential update packages. That's good as it saves bandwidth and speeds up the updating process as a whole as well.

Now You: Do you care about Windows update sizes?

Smaller Windows updates thanks to differential packages
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Smaller Windows updates thanks to differential packages
Windows 10 retail users will see a huge update size decrease with the release of the Windows 10 Creators Update thanks to differential download packages.
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  1. Richard Steven Hack said on March 8, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Wonderful…Microsoft has found a new way to screw up Windows Update…

    i love watching my Linux box update itself a half dozen times a day…takes a minute or two at most, invisibly, no reboots even with a kernel update…Only problem is that it tells me there is an update TWICE every time there is one. Dumb, but much more livable than Microsoft’s disaster of an update system…

  2. LD said on March 3, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    My retired in-laws were doing well on a 2GB/mo data plan before W10 was installed on their Win 7 laptop (that freebie). They were talked into increasing their data plan to 5GB/mo so they would not incur overage charges. This increase in cost was only required to accommodate MS updates. Fifty percent or more of the usage in a particular month is not uncommon.. We are currently discussing a new Chromebook for them. Windows is no longer for the 5GB/mo user, even with UUP.

    I have seen a W10 windows update crash at 90% complete and then immediately restart the process. It is not the ‘pause and resume’ state, it is a crash, so it downloads from the beginning. It can repeat the process several times before it finally stops. That on any metered data plan is a killer. When yourself and your friends are computer techies or consumers of quite a bit of online content, the unlimited data plan is the norm , so UUP will make no difference (unless the plan has very restrictive conditions).

    There are several ISPs that do not offer unlimited data plans, so UUP will be appreciated. That combined with being able to delay a W10 update (for consumers and small business) is an improvement and offers some cost and anxiety relief.

  3. chesscanoe said on March 3, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Lately I’ve been closely approaching my unrestricted limit of 30 gig/month. Smaller update downloads should help me to stay below that limit. Hope no serious bugs turn up with the new process. I’d like to see other huge application download updates like LibreOffice and Stellarium take a similar approach.

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