The term “patch”, meaning a software update, originates from the days when computer code was written on physical cards with holes punched in them. If there was a change in the code, you would “patch” that section of the card with a piece of tape, covering it, and if necessary, changing it.

Patch (computing)

A program tape for the 1944 Harvard Mark I, one of the first digital computers. Note physical patches used to correct punched holes by covering them.

Historically, software suppliers distributed patches on paper tape or on punched cards, expecting the recipient to cut out the indicated part of the original tape (or deck), and patch in (hence the name) the replacement segment. Later patch distributions used magnetic tape. Then, after the invention of removable disk drives, patches came from the software developer via a disk or, later, CD-ROM via mail. With widely available Internet access, downloading patches from the developer’s web site or through automated software updates became often available to the end-users. Starting with Ap… Continue Reading (9 minute read)

12 thoughts on “The term “patch”, meaning a software update, originates from the days when computer code was written on physical cards with holes punched in them. If there was a change in the code, you would “patch” that section of the card with a piece of tape, covering it, and if necessary, changing it.”

  1. TC_ROCKER

    The punch card days.

    Also, in graphics, when it was actually cut and paste…

  2. chishiki

    a “library” used to literally be a collection of cards that you could cut and paste into your code

  3. BrokenEye3

    Oh, I thought it was just a metaphor.

  4. theannoyingtardigrad

    I saw this thing earlier in the week, but just the image of the patch sheet, and know it’s in a TIL form.
    It’s like a repost without being a repost, it’s a new level reposting.

  5. jqbr

    That’s not what the citation says. You are misunderstanding what “tape” refers to–paper tape came on a roll or fanfolded and had holes punched into it–it wasn’t adhesive. Patching paper tape was like splicing video tape. (It was possible to manually punch or cover up holes for a minipatch, but that’s not what the article refers to.)

    Putting adhesive tape on a punch card would be a good way to gum up the card reader … it’s not something that was done. Patches were a set of cards that replaced or augmented cards in a deck.

  6. GarbageEnthusiast

    My mind just exploded

  7. BoerseunZA

    Now this is genuinely interesting. Thank you.

  8. Biased24

    I thought it was how you patch a shirt or something, it’s broken so you fix it, to patch.

  9. Oldhornetsailor

    I am old enough to have actually done this with paper tape.

    There were little jigs to hold the tape in place, you put sticky tape underneath, then the tape you were fixing. You could then fill unwanted holes with a chad from the tape punch, or make new ones with a little single-hole punch.

  10. Slartibartfast39

    I assumed that it had originated from clothing where you might patch a hole in a sheet.

  11. TotallySnek

    Ah yes, tech evolving faster than language. It’s why we still call it the movies.

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