Which Version of Chrome Do I Have?

Chrome is Chrome, right? You download Google’s browser—now the most popular in the world—and you’d think you have the same experience as everyone else. But like most large software vendors, Google releases Chrome in differing “channels,” testing out features in more unstable versions before they get to the release build that hundreds of millions of people use every day.

Whether you want to know what version number you’re on, what development channel you’re using, or whether it’s 32-bit or 64-bit, the About page will tell you everything you need to know.

Click the primary “Menu” button (the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the window), then click Help > About Google Chrome.

This will show you the Version, followed by a long number, and possibly a few values in parentheses. If it’s been a while since you updated Chrome, the browser may automatically start a download and ask you to relaunch when it’s ready.

So what do all these things mean? Let’s go through them one by one.

Version Number: The First Two Digits Are What Matter

When people talk about Chrome’s “version,” they generally mean the larger releases, sent out by Google approximately every two months. There are smaller patches for security and speed tweaks, but the big releases are what holds changes to the interface and new user-facing features. The major version bumps are the first two numbers in that big string: the computer above is running “Chrome 56,” which changed HTML5 to default, added Bluetooth API settings, and added support for new CSS tools.

Release Channels: How Stable Are You?

The standard edition of Chrome just uses a number code for its version identifier. But if you see “Beta,” “Dev,” or “Canary” after it, that means you’re running a pre-release version of Chrome. You can switch between these versions using these instructions, but here’s what they mean.

Chrome Stable

If you don’t see any of these identifiers after your version number, you’re running the stable version of chrome. It’s the one that most people use, the one that Google links to when you search for “download Chrome” in Edge or Internet Explorer. The stable version has had the most extensive testing of the lot, and is what Google wants most people to use. It’s the last to get new features, but if you want a safe and stable browsing experience with no surprises, this one is for you.

Chrome Beta

The Beta channel is an earlier version of the software meant for testing out new features before they come to the much wider audience in the Stable build. Google updates Beta approximately once a week, with major updates coming every six weeks. It’s generally one version release ahead of stable. So when the stable version of Chrome was on 50, Chrome Beta was on 51. Newer features include tweaks to the rendering engine for speed or accuracy, adjustments to the user interface, new options in the Flags menu, and so on.

Chrome Dev

Now we’re getting into the deep end on the pool. Chrome Dev is one or two versions ahead of stable, usually updated at least once a week, and it’s used to test out more comprehensive changes to the browser that may or may not make it into the general release afterward. The Dev version is more prone to crashing, hanging tabs, rendering errors, incompatible extensions, and similar problems (though for most websites it will be okay).

Chrome Canary

This is the Wild West of Chrome. It’s three full versions ahead of the Stable release, updated daily, and that Canary title is indicative of its purpose. Like a canary in a coal mine, if something’s going to go wrong, it will go wrong first in this build. Canary is mostly a tool for developers testing out compatibility issues. Unlike the Beta and Dev versions, installing the Canary build will not overwrite a standard Chrome installation in Windows or Mac OS—you can run them side by side if you want.

32-Bit or 64-Bit: How Much Memory Can Chrome Use?

Lastly, you’ll see either “32-bit” or “64-bit” in parentheses next to your version number. The 64-bit version of Chrome is the one to get if you have a 64-bit capable computer. (If you aren’t sure, here’s how to find out.)

In addition to having access to larger pools of memory for better efficiency (which you’ll want, since Chrome gobbles up memory like Pac-Man pellets), the 64-bit version has several improved security features.

On macOS and Linux, Chrome is now 64-bit by default. Windows users should be automatically directed to download their correct version from Google, but if for some reason you’re running the 32-bit version on a 64-bit machine, you should definitely upgrade.

How to Upgrade or Downgrade Chrome

If you’re using a lower version of Chrome on your desktop and you want to go higher, like moving from Stable to Beta or Beta to Dev, simply download and install the newer version from the relevant page on Google’s web site.

Unfortunately, downgrading isn’t so easy: you’ll have to completely uninstall Chrome from your operating system, then re-install the older package. Remember that Canary is a stand-alone program, and will be installed and uninstalled separately from Chrome Stable, Beta, or Dev.

On Android and iOS, things are a little different: all versions of Chrome are completely separate. So for example, if you wanted to, you could run Chrome Stable, Chrome Beta, Chrome Dev, and Chrome Canary all at once—you just need to download the ones you want from the App Store or Play Store. To remove any of them, just uninstall the app.

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.